February 26, 2014 4:40 PM | Lena LeRay
Chainsawesome Games has recently released BeatBlasters III, a game in which platforming and music have been blended into a fresh experience. Most music games require players to do everything to the rhythm of a song that's playing, but BeatBlasters III breaks that mold by instead having the music change depending on the player's actions and only requiring rhythmic button presses to recharge abilities. Add to that the fact that no two stages are the same and all of the stages have silly scenarios and you come away with an all-ages game that deserves a spot on any game connoisseur's digital shelf.
We've talked about BeatBlasters III before, but here's a recap: two kids, Joey and Gina, arrive in the town of Accapella with their headphones on and their favorite jams blaring. The music-hating butcher literally kicks them far, far out of town, and the two must make their way back. Along the way, they help out a flying pink cow, a guilt ridden ghost, and other characters they meet. Both characters have the same three basic skills: a long-ranged attack kind of like a fireball; a shield bubble, which can also be used to push things; and jet boots that allow them to travel forward faster or reach new heights. Each ability has a limited energy pool which can only be recharged by jamming to the beat of the music using the same button that triggers the ability, which means that while in recharge mode no abilities can be used. Once enough time has been spent rocking out in recharge mode, a special ability becomes available. The special ability is a little bit different for each character, but what basically happens is that attacks go flying off in all directions and all abilities can be used without expending energy for a limited amount of time.
The two playable characters aren't that different, mechanically speaking. The basic abilities work identically, and even though you can upgrade their attacks, the upgrade path is the same for both characters. Joey's special ability shoots small attacks out in four directions simultaneously over and over again, with the directions rotating so that it creates a spiral of ouch that fills the screen. Gina shoots two normal attacks at a time, which also kinda spiral around, but since that doesn't cover as much real estate as Joey's special attack, hers will home in on nearby enemies. That gives each character a slight edge in some situations, but generally makes the choice one that won't really impact the ability to get through the game.
Joey and Gina have very different aesthetics, though. Some of it is visual, such as gender and the color of their abilities. The main area where their aesthetics differ, however, is in the music. Each stage has its own base music track that suits it thematically, but that music track is a little bit different when playing with Joey than when playing with Gina. Furthermore, using abilities adds more layers to the music, and what gets layered on is different for each character. The game reacts musically to how you play, keeping the music at the forefront of what's happening. It makes for smooth, seamless transitions into rhythm recharge mode, which is important because you need to recharge your abilities every chance you get. The music ties everything together.
All of that musical goodness is backed up by good level design. By imagining so many wacky scenarios, Chainsawesome Games has given itself room to ensure that each level feels unique. Although I wouldn't call BeatBlasters III a physics game, there is some physics involved with items that can be pushed around. It leads to some really funny moments, such as carefully pushing a pile of six or seven penguins forward so that each penguin hits a launcher individually instead of falling to its doom in a pit in the floor.
One thing to note is that the player is never in any danger. It is possible to fail a level, but never through death. Every level has an objective and some kind of limit on how many times the player can mess up. Mess up too many times and the level must be retried. Success is rewarded with one to three stars, which are used to unlock different, more powerful attack types. There are three levels of difficulty and the player can switch difficulty levels on the fly between stages, though the hardest difficulty mode is not available at first.
Overall, BeatBlasters III is a humorous platformer with strong musical elements and lovely aesthetics all around. It mixes things up in a good way, though some might be disappointed by its lack of multiplayer capabilities. BeatBlasters III is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux for $9.99 on Steam and is best played with headphones and a controller.