I like videogames. I like music. I like having my retinas assaulted by swirls of colorful space dust.
If you enjoy treating your brain to videogames and music like I do, and are enthralled with the amalgamation of the two, then there’s a good chance you’re going to enjoy Beat Hazard as well. The twist is that Beat Hazard uses your own music to create custom levels.
Beat Hazard uses songs from your computer, so you can choose which song you want to play and the game creates a level around it. Levels begin like the arcade classic, Asteroids, where you reduce large hunks of space rocks into smaller pieces with your lasers before some mean old spaceships arrive to provide put up a fight. The unique aspect of the game is that everything from the velocity of the asteroids to the quanity of boss ships you fight is dependent upon the music.
Blasting enemy ships into space rubble provides power-ups, which increase your firepower and the volume of the music. Your weapons are also influenced by the tune of the music, so when a song is softer or hits a quiet spot, your firepower is greatly reduced. It’s like the gunner on the ship is a little kid sucking down fistfulls of Pixie Sticks. He’s running around screaming with his hands in the air one minute and the instant the song tones it down a bit, he is lulled to sleep.
In addition to determining the patterns of the enemies, the game’s visuals are also greatly affected by the song selection. As the ship is upgraded, its firepower is transformed from simple white blips into a seizure-inducing kaleidoscope of doom. Spots in the background that initially appear nondescript also pulsate and swirl with colors to the song’s beat. It’s something straight out of a Hawkwind concert (or Pink Floyd, for those not in tune with their ’70s space rock). The background effects intensify the point where it can seem like you’re trying to play a game through a late-90s Windows Media Player visualizer.
Did you ever watch those visualizers and imagine playing a game through it? Me neither. That’s because while the visuals are quite impressive and make the game infinitely more compelling for onlookers, they are also a serious hindrance to actually playing the game. I frequently find myself dying thanks to something that I either didn’t see or assumed was just a part of the background. I suppose it could be argued that the visuals are a way of increasing the game’s difficulty, particularly for longer songs.
Crazy psychedelic visuals and customizable soundtracks are about as useful as a chainsaw to a beaver if the game feels like a chore to play, and thankfully the meat of Beat Hazard is excellent. I find twin-stick shooters to be stressful at times because of the never-ending onslaught of ever-increasing enemies, but Beat Hazard is refreshing because your targets appear in waves. Depending on the song, you tend to have a few seconds to catch your breath before preparing for the next attack.
One of the unintended benefits of the game is that it gives me an impetus to root through my music collection and dust off some tunes I have not heard in awhile. I love shuffling through my songs and thinking “Hmm, I wonder what this song will be like?” I find that in general, songs tend to work better if they are more dynamic and have a lot of changes in their volume or beats.
The game does a great job of tracking your progress and keeping a tally of how many songs you have beaten, or if you have finished an entire album. Even if you don’t complete a song, the game still awards experience and you can still gain levels which add bonuses and a feeling of persistence. Achievements would be a fantastic addition to this game, but unfortunately are absent through no fault of Cold Beam Games.
Despite it being a little too mesmerizing for its own good, Beat Hazard is an amazing experience and quite the technical accomplishment. It is easy to recommend laying down the $5 for gamers who are music enthusiasts. Outside of the allure of playing your own music, Beat Hazard is an exciting and unique shooter and a great addition to the Indie library.
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