Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Game Review - Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians (Xbox One, 2015)

Despite developers' best intentions, a lot of games lean very heavily on one of their major features: a fun mechanic, a compelling story, or a beautiful setting.  Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians falls solidly into that last category, with amazing aesthetics but lackluster gameplay.  Let's just get into it:

The Basics

In Beatbuddy, you play the titular character as he works to save his aquatic world, Symphonia, from... something.  Honestly, the plot wasn't very clear to me until near the end of the game.  All you know at the start is that somebody is trying to "take the temple" and "control the music," which is apparently a terrifying proposition.

A gate, a submarine, and a little blue dude.
To accomplish this goal, Beatbuddy will have to navigate strong currents, break down barriers, and activate switches.  It's essentially a puzzle game, where figuring out how to get from A to B is usually more challenging than actually doing it.  As the game progresses, there is an increasing emphasis on fairly simple combat (you can punch and dash and that's it), but it is relatively minor even in the final stages.

The Good

This game is absolutely gorgeous.  Each of the game's six levels has a unique feel to it, and every detail is fantastic.  The art style and implementation are amazing, and it's generally a pleasure to look at.

Look at that big, dumb fish!
The soundtrack is similarly fabulous.  Each stage features a single prominent theme woven throughout it, and that music is integrated into the gameplay itself.  While this integration isn't terribly clever, as it's mostly just objects pulsing with the beat and a few rhythmic punch combos, some on-screen features affect the music.  For example, when certain types of creatures are on display, bass drums or hi-hat cymbals may be emphasized.  It's kind of a minor feature, but it makes for a surprisingly dynamic experience.

And that's the best thing I can say about this game: it's a great audiovisual experience.  Fantastic music paired with a charming world does a lot of work.

But that's it.

The Bad

Everything else is mediocre at best.

I don't think it's entirely fair to criticize the tissue paper thin storyline, as that's obviously not the focus of the game, but they put enough into it for the plot to be disappointing.  There are many brief bits of dialogue, but they don't do anything except distract from your exploration.  It doesn't quite reach the point of being frustrating, but the game would be better without such a feeble attempt at a narrative.
Because a game can't exist without some attempt at story these days.
The biggest problem, though, is that the gameplay is incredibly shallow.  For what seems to be a puzzle game, just about every obstacle you encounter is pretty straightforward, so it's pretty mindless.  The biggest exception is a puzzle that involves switches opening and closing various gates, but this puzzle spans several screen-lengths.  It's "challenging" because you can't see which gates each switch opens without swimming around the whole area, so it feels like a terrible design more than anything else.

To be fair, little to no challenge is not necessarily a problem.  With such fantastic aesthetics, the simple act of exploring the world could be reason enough to play the game.

Except that there's very little to explore.  I completed the full game in about 3 hours, and I don't feel any drive to play through it again because there's absolutely nothing to look for off the main path.  There are some collectibles, "beat points" that unlock concept art and the like, but they're mostly in little caches here and there.  There are never multiple pathways or side areas; everything in the game is a piece of normal progression.

The pipe organ of the sea.
The combination of linear worlds with few challenges but awesome presentation makes the game feel almost like a glorified slideshow.

And I think that summarizes the experience quite nicely - shallow but pretty.  With more entertaining gameplay, Beatbuddy could have been one of the best games of the last few years.  As it stands, though, it's probably not worth the investment, but you're not setting your money on fire if you decide to give it a shot.

My Rating: 4/10 - mediocre.

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