February 4, 2014 3:10 PM | Lena LeRay
Most music games require players to match the beat of a song to perform any actions. Upcoming platformer BeatBlasters III, however, turns this formula on its head, playing award-winning music that changes in response to the actions of the player and only requiring player rhythm to recharge abilities. BeatBlasters III is the first release (yes, first) from Chainsawesome Games, and if the idea of a unique, wacky platformer-music hybrid coming to Steam sounds terrible to you now, then let me convince you otherwise.
The game opens with an intro in which two young people, Joey and Gina, arrive in a town called Accapella with their favorite tunes blaring from their headphones. Unfortunately for them, the town is dominated by a music-hating butcher who literally kicks them out with enough force that they land far away. Thus starts their journey back to Accapella, aided by the power of their music. Each stage along the way features a different silly circumstance that presents different kinds of challenges to overcome, such as helping a flying pink cow protect her eggs or saving trees from a chainsaw-hurling robot. The better the player does on a given stage, the more stars they get, up to three per stage. As more stars are collected, new attack types are unlocked.
The player must choose one of either Joey or Gina to control, though they can switch at any time outside of a level. Both characters have a basic attack, a shield bubble, and rocket boots. All three of these draw from different energy reserves and can be used as much as the player wants until the energy is depleted. To recharge an attack, the player must stand still and jam to the music, matching the rhythm with the same button(s) used for the ability or abilities they want to charge. It makes recharging an ability a tactical choice. How long can the player hold out before having to recharge? How long can the player afford to sit there charging? On some stages, multiple abilities are required. On others, there are more than one way to solve the problem presented. All of the stages seem well balanced to ensure that smart use of lulls in the action to recharge will keep the player out of hot water. The combination of ability use and ability charging means that the game never really has downtime during a level. Subsequently, the music doesn't stop, either.
Each character also has a special ability which dishes out a lot of damage and provides unlimited energy for the basic abilities while active. The two special attacks are visually different, though both do a great job of wreaking havoc on enemies. Joey's special ability sends numerous small attacks spiraling out in every direction, whereas Gina's sends fewer, normal-sized attacks out which home in on enemies. Neither attack seems significantly better or worse than the other, and the two characters otherwise play the same. The only other big difference between them is their music. People who prefer to play a specific gender will find that neither gender gives a special advantage and others will still have plenty of aesthetic reasons to prefer one character over the other.
It would be remiss of me to say nothing about the music, since it's such an integral part of the game. BeatBlasters III took home the Intel Level Up Best in Sound award last year, with its soundtrack having been composed in-house. The music is dynamic, reacting to what actions the player takes and their accuracy. The transition from using abilities to recharging is so smooth that the player is free to keep an eye on the environment while recharging because the beat just continues on as before. All of the music is good to move to, which makes it very easy to find and track the beat.
BeatBlasters III is unique enough that it's worth keeping an eye on even if you don't usually like rhythm games. It's set to release sometime early this year for Windows, Mac, and Linux at a regular price of $9.99.