Friday, June 20, 2014

Magical Beat (PS VITA)

Magical Beat is a delightful little pixelated puzzle game filled with five modes of play, a wacky cast of characters, a unique beat based gameplay system, and an underlying story about the world's inhabitants who were left in the wake of a great world war. At heart it's a game not unlike 'Tetris', or 'Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo". The only real difference between it, and the previously mentioned puzzle games lies with the applied art style, the Japanese songs that are included, and the beat based gameplay that helps the player to decide when it's best to drop the current block ...

As one of three humanoid cyborgs, an old robot, an alpaca, a grim flower, a magical cat, a ghost, a cyclops girl, a mythical bird, a block creature of unknown origin, or an octopus you will be trying to drop blocks (Beatons) to the current beat as the cursor between the two puzzle platforms travels up, and down along a blue and black bar in time with the current song. The goal, as you might imagine is to cause Beaton debris to pile up in your opponent's playing field, and get said debris to touch the top of it. You do this by completing color coded matches with the supplied Beatons while minding the blue bar, and the cursor that is passing through it in beat to the song that is being played. When the cursor hits the designated blue portion of the middle bar it's okay to go ahead, and drop the block using the (CIRCLE) button. Don't hesitate too long, or press the button at the wrong time though, because the Beatons will burst apart, and land randomly in your playing field. Should the opposing CPU, or Ad Hoc opponent do the same to you, and score a successful match blank blocks will land in your own playing field keeping you from making matches with the blocks you already had in place.

As far as the five modes of play go you will find that Arc System Works has included three difficulty modes (Beginner, Normal & Hell) as well as a mode titled "My Own Beat", and a multiplayer Ad Hoc mode for dueling it out with nearby friends. In the 'Beginner' mode you will be able to play through 5 puzzle matches whether you win, or lose any of them. There's no continues required upon losing, and your end score, which takes in account several things (Time, Drop Success/Failure ...) will be tallied up at the end of your playthrough giving you your overall score. It should be noted that before any mode starts you will be able to pick your favorite character from the cast that is made available, and see said character dance to the beat as you drop the blocks to the music in an actual gameplay scenario. Characters come complete with a mini bio, their state of origin, their likes, and their dislikes. It adds an interesting touch to the somewhat straightforward puzzle based gameplay that is offered.

The "Beginner" mode also doubles as a brief tutorial mode which will guide you through the basics of the game as you play through the first stage. Your score with each match (3, or more of the same color) depends on whether, or not you were able to drop the block when the cursor passed through the blue area of the side meter. A miss will not only result in a scattered Beaton, but it will also result in a "Bad"  drop score being tallied up at the end. If you drop the block on time you will either get a "Good" added to your end score, or a "Perfect". It's always best to try, and at least go for the "Good" drops, but it does get harder to do so during songs that have high BPM (Beats Per Minute).

Songs in the game, which are title and artist inclusive each have a 'BPM' rating that corresponds to the speed/tempo of the song that is being played. Faster songs will have a higher BPM, and will cause the cursor to move more quickly along the blue metronome bar. Quick reaction times are necessary during songs with high BPM, because of this.Thankfully the developer has included a variety of songs ranging from slow BPM songs to fast ones.

In the "Normal" mode of "Magical Beat" you will find that little has changed, but that the things that have changed are significant in nature. As before the same gameplay rules apply here though. You will be matching multi-color blocks in time with the music, and the provided metronome bar. The only difference this time is the difficulty is slightly ramped up, and continues actually matter. Should you lose against the CPU opponent you will be prompted to either continue, or speed up the continue countdown until the "Game Over" screen appears. Aside from the inclusion of optional continuations, and game overs you'll also find that normal mode carries with it a total of 10 matches/stages. In order to get that end score you must play to the end of the 10th match/stage, and beat the CPU opponent there.

Hell Mode, which is the third and final difficulty mode will test your mettle as a puzzle gaming pro. The same rules as before are applied along with the 10 matches/stages, and the optional continuations. The significant difference here is that the songs for each match/stage have the highest BPM, and will make the gameplay more frantic than it was in the previous to modes of play. It definitely earns it's name in that regard. The following mode which is the last of the offline modes is appropriately titled, "My Own Beat". The basic rules that applied in all the previous modes still apply here, but this time around it's a single match/stage playthrough that is set the way you like it. You get to pick the song, and the difficulty level before embarking on your quest to beat the CPU opponent. Once you have won your end score will be tallied according to your performance.

For those of you looking for some friendly multiplayer matches you will find that the developer has ditched the online capabilities, and went solely for an Ad Hoc versus mode. If you have a friend who has a copy of this game, and is within room distance of yourself you can pit your "Magical Beat" skills against them using the PS Vita's Ad Hoc function. All you need to do is select your characters, choose the song, set the difficulty level, and send them an invite via the player search menu. After that you are good to go!

About the Graphics & Soundtrack ...

If you have played "BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma", and have visited the online lobbies in it you will be familiar with the pixel constructed character sprites that are used within "Magical Beat". It's practically the same design, and some of the characters here can be purchased as a BBCP add-on for when frequenting the online lobbies therein. Fans of the pixel art style that is featured in a lot of well known indie games these days as well as in BBCP will no doubt fall in love with what Arc System Works has done with the game. It's kawaii, for the lack of a better word and it ties in perfectly with the lighthearted Japanese songs that are sung throughout each, and every match/stage.

Speaking of Japanese songs "Magical Beat" is filled with several songs that are both upbeat, and pleasantly accented by Japanese vocals. At times the songs can be catchy, and at other times they can be totally annoying. I won't lie. At one point I had to turn down the volume just to avoid the annoying sounds coming out of my PS Vita speakers. It was that bad. Regardless of the few annoyances the developer definitely went with a diverse selection, and in doing so kept the game interesting. Both the songs, and the pixel art that was used in "Magical Beat" are complimentary in nature. Nothing seems like it doesn't fit.

Conclusion ...

Magical Beat is kind of a hard game to judge. It has a lot going for it, but at the same time the lack of an online multiplayer feature really brings it's replay value down. As far as the gameplay goes the offline portion of the game looks, and plays beautifully. I personally loved the pulsating pixel art style that was applied, and for the most part the soundtrack that was included was pleasant as well. With the game's pleasantries also came some slightly unpleasant things though. Having to mind the Beatons (Blocks), and the metronome timing bar really didn't do the gameplay a huge favor. It was manageable, but at the same time it was mildly overcomplicated. I still loved the fact that 'Arc System Works' tried to do something innovative with the puzzle genre, and for the most part I think they succeeded in making a game worthy of the asking price by being as innovative as they were. If you can get past the slightly complicated gameplay setup, and can get used to minding the music and the blocks then I think you'll enjoy all that this game has to offer. For $9.99 it's not that bad of a deal.

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