Review by Alessar

"The Beats go On and On"

Introduction

Beats is a downloadable rhythm game for the PSP. The primary play mode uses mp3s already on your memory card to power the game. The game also comes with some generic music you can use for this play mode, and a mixer applet. The game requires 236 megabytes of storage space, not including save files. The U.S. price for this game is $4.99.

Gameplay
The basic play mode of the game "My Music Challenge" follows a pattern that fans of rhythm games will find familiar. Icons matching the four Playstation buttons float onto screen and gravitate toward one or more hot spots. Players use the left and right directional keys to move focus between these spots and then press the Playstation button matching the moving icon as it hits the center of the spot. In the novice difficulty setting, there is one hot spot in the center of the screen. In Normal, Hard or Extreme dificulty, there are 3, all in a row.

Striking successful beats in a series slowly raises a combo meter on the right side of the screen. Certain of the icons glow, and successfully matching them raises a powerup bar on the left. When the powerup bar is maxed, the L1 trigger button shifts the game into overdrive for approximately 10 seconds, and new icons coming on screen glow to mark their powered-up state. All successful glowing beats boost the combo bar markedly during that time. Perfect strikes count for more than merely 'excellent' strikes. Missing a beat lowers the combo bar, but there is no "game over" for failing a song. Success is measured strictly by numeric score with a performance bonus awarded at the end for max chain.

In addition to the main gameplay, the game also includes a mixer applet, the ability to "jam" along with friends on their PSPs, and the ability to save and share your mixed songs. However, the regular gameplay mode dominates the usefulness.

Graphics & Audio
Beats comes with nine different themes to skin the overall game as you'd like. It also contains seventy different visualizers to change the background during regular gameplay. Some of the visualizers are variations of the main themes, but most are unique. The visualizers contain a color scheme, animated abstract background graphics of varying complexity, and an enhanced version for the overdrive mode. None of the visualizers reskin the basic play buttons, which are are clear and distinct and marked with consistent primary colors in all play modes.

The challenge and patterns of the game completely depend on the mp3 being used, and songs with pronounced rhythms generally produce more interesting gameplay experiences. Trying out new songs to find more interesting challenges adds to the gameplay fun.

Problems
The game plays most mp3s but some users have reported problems with some which either will not play or which will cause a playback error at the end. Reencoding the mp3s with a standard codec generally fixes this, but the exact cause of the problem is unknown and it is difficult to reproduce consistently. It does seem to be linked to some of the newer encoding codecs used by the current generation media players and online stores. For instance, some MP3s sold by Amazon.com will cause this error, but others will not. Some MP3s with embedded album art will cause this problem, but others will not. However, this is generally only a minor annoyance.

Audio quality during playback is normal for a PSP, though the sound may occasionally jitter while processing a high bitrate mp3 and streaming heavy graphics at the same time. It is not enough to interrupt gameplay.

Overall
The game is extremely immersive. It is very easy to play for a few minutes or an hour. Basing the game almost entirely on music that the consumer already owns and enjoys increases the fun of the game. It can either be though of as an active way of listening to music, or as a game that has a custom soundtrack created by the user. The play value, especially for just $5, is enormous. It may be the best $5 you ever spend on a video game.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/08/08

Game Release: Beats (US, 12/06/07)


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