Review by Kwing
One-Stop Shopping for Rhythm Gamers
Introduction - Ah, Beats. The Audiosurf of the PSP. Use your own music to play game after game of this beautifully immersive game. Overall, Beats delivers nicely and offers what you think it will, but gets boring rather quickly, mostly due to the lack of difficulty in it.
Gameplay - In Beats, all you really have to do is select music on your memory stick (or music from Beats itself) and select your difficulty setting. During gameplay, you have three little nodes on the screen. The center one is default, while you have to hold down the left and right buttons on the d-pad to 'use' the other two. As the song progresses, pronounced bits of music (usually percussion) will manifest themselves as icons of the face buttons scrolling in from the left, right, or from above. As they overlap with the nodes on your screen, you have to press the corresponding face button, and if an icon advances on your left or right node, you have to hold that button while pressing it. I would have liked having up and down nodes for slightly deeper gameplay, but I can imagine those being too close to the edges of the screen for you to be able to react in time if that feature had been implemented. Still, the game feels a little too simple.
Like Rock Band, Beats has an overdrive mode you can trigger by hitting glowing icons to build up an overdrive meter. When your meter is full, pressing L triggers overdrive mode for several seconds, during which the background will change, your score goes up dramatically, and the icons will float from different locations. This can be partially confusing due to you not knowing where the icons might come from, but can also be handy since the icons are spaced out, which is very useful for loud, fast songs.
The annoying thing is that's really all there is to the game. The design of the game is nice, grouping many notes into a single face button to create a nice button-mashing effect while other times switching up the buttons you have to press during steady beats. This gives the game a nice balance of speed and precision, but gets somewhat easy once your peripheral vision gets used to all of the buttons. Additionally, the timing in this game is really nice, allowing you to score plenty of points through precise presses while also being lenient to less musically inclined players. Although I rarely score more than 75% perfect on the songs I play, I still find most of them to be a little boring when I'm in a gaming mood. In this sense, playing Beats is a lot more like listening to music than it's like playing a game.
The game also features somewhat of a song editor, allowing players to mix and match pre-made loops to create songs. When I first bought the game, I was annoyed at the filesize (235 MB) but am ultimately glad that they left in as much content as they did. While you can't do too much with the song editor, you can still use some percussion instruments to their full potential, recording drums in real-time. This is the closest you can get to complete customization over your songs, though. It makes me want to cry thinking that Beaterator exports WAV files instead of MP3, as that is the only filetype Beats is capable of playing. Beats also confuses a few MP3s once in a while, but I'm happy to say this is very rare. If you know even a little bit about audio files, you'll be able to re-export MP3 files through Audacity and they'll work fine on Beats. Plus, the 19 songs available for free on the PSN work, too.
It's also worth noting that Beats sometimes skips tiny bits of music when playing a song, for the tiniest fraction of a second. It's so small that it doesn't interrupt gameplay at all, but is a little bit annoying, and happens most frequently during loud parts of a song, in my experience.
When it comes to customization, my biggest complaint is that the sheer easiness factor really cuts down on the fun you can have with Beaterator. I've tried fast, complex, technical songs to try and screw myself up, but never found any game sequences to be as brutally hard as I would like. Although Beats can automatically assign buttons to a song, I would have REALLY appreciated an option to record your own button presses for a song, in order to make things a bit harder.
Also on the note of Beats getting old rather fast, I think the gameplay could have used some tweaking too. There are 9 title themes to choose from in Beats, and dozens of moving backgrounds to play the game to, but you can't change the gameplay at all. How sucky is that? I really wish Beats had an option to change the graphic style to look like Rock Band, DDR, Audiosurf, Patapon, Parappa the Rapper, and maybe a few others as well. If the game developers had done something like that to mix up the gameplay and graphics simultaneously, the game would have had scores more replay value and it would have appealed to just about everyone.
Graphics/Sound - Beats has flashy background graphics but wonderfully simple icons that allow for a really great experience without confusing or overwhelming the player. The built-in music is high quality and the sound effects are nice, although you don't hear any during gameplay (I can imagine some players liking something like that, it's too bad they didn't put that in as an option). Overall the game is very nice looking, although I think it's obnoxious that you have to go to the menu to change your background. Some people may take a certain liking to a particular background, but I would have just preferred if it was randomly chosen each time.
Play Time/Replayability - As I've already stated, you could replay this game for hours and hours because of the music selection, especially if you try and rack up an incredible score on a particular song. Annoyingly enough, however, the scoring system for the game is a little off; for instance, right now my highest score in Beats is a bit over 1.2 million points, from playing a 24-minute song I have while most other songs I have are about 6 minutes long. For a while my 2nd highest score was from a 15-minute song. Since the scores from different songs are grouped together, it's really imperative to come up with a scoring system that allows scores from songs to compete regardless of length, but the developers kind of botched that. Thankfully I don't really play the game for high scores, though I might if the scoring system were a bit better. Still, racking up combos and multipliers is fun.
Final Recommendation - This game is next to worthless if you don't have any music on your PSP, but if you do use your PSP as an audio playback device, I highly recommend you pick this game up. It's a really great way to indulge in the music. I just feel like it could have been done a bit better. I don't think I'll ever get sick of Beats permanently, but I won't be able to play it for hours and hours like I might be able to with some rhythm games.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Beats (US, 12/06/07)
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