Keep the Beat, Feel the Rhythm in BeatBlasters III

Despite my truest love of rock and metal, electronic music is currently a huge interest for me. Not just the modern stuff like Pendulum or Knife Party, but those older electronic artists like The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and (as you can probably tell from my profile avatar) Aphex Twin. These artists, like many electronica artists, use the beat to make their music exciting. You can’t dance to something without a beat to follow. BeatBlasters III takes that idea one step further and says that you can’t fight without a beat. While that sounds intimidating, Chainsawesome Games have built an entire game around beatcentric electronic rhythm. It’s ironic that BeatBlasters III’s objective is to take out an oppressive butcher, because the design in BeatBlasters III does more to tie you down and hold you back than let you break free and party.

BeatBlasters III makes a great first impression with its incredibly stylized graphics and exciting electronica soundtrack. The graphics hold plenty of character with a design that takes bits and pieces from Plants Vs. Zombies and even Rayman Legends. Goofy, but creative character designs and upbeat animations always keep a vibe of colorful enthusiasm to the gameplay. The soundtrack, as you might expect, is a big part of the gameplay, as keeping the beat with the on-screen metronome allows for faster renewal of energy (more on that later). The excellent electronic-inspired music mixes grubby dubstep with lighter keyboard rhythms, but the entire soundtrack takes full advantage of “beats.” The music adds more instruments during successful recharges, keeping the upbeat atmosphere stable and invigorating.

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BeatBlasters III follows youngsters Joey and Gina, two headphone wearing music fans whose town is overtaken by a constantly disgruntled butcher who wants to destroy all music in town. Joey and Gina, being the rebellious kids that they are, are thrown out of town. With the help of a number of people, animals and creatures, it’s up to Joey and Gina to take out The Butcher’s silence-enforcing rule and bring music back to their town. It’s a lighthearted journey without any real seriousness to speak of, but it never milks its goofiness too much to make it cheesy.

After you choose either Joey or Gina as your character, you’re dropped into the game to learn the rather interesting controls. BeatBlasters III is best played with a controller, and considering its use of 2D platforming and navigation, it’s the way to go for sure. Joey and Gina have three specific techniques to use on their journey: blasts, shield and rocket shoes. Each of these abilities has a specific button to command it, along with a gauge that holds energy for that ability. For example, if you blast too much, the gauge will empty and you won’t be able to use it anymore. To refill a gauge, you use the recharge metronome at the top of the screen. By holding the shoulder button and pressing the empty gauge’s respective button in time with the metronome, you can refill it. Better timing with the metronome’s beat means a higher amount of energy to refill the gauge with. You can walk around while recharging, but you cannot use any other abilities while doing so. After enough successful recharging from for ability, players can unleash a massive, bullet-hell style super mode which allows for unlimited use of any ability for a select amount of time.  I really enjoyed the rhythm game element used to recharge skill energy, as it exemplifies the importance of “beats” and rewards spot-on rhythmic precision. The movement controls are certainly wonky, as the rocket shoes tend hover instead of jet, making it difficult to navigate efficiently. This is especially hard when the game requires you to use more than one ability at a time, like rocketing around while shooting or hovering in place to guard with your shield.

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But BeatBlasters III’s great amount of abilities is criminally underutilized, because nearly every mission in the game centers on some form of defending concept. Sometimes you need to guard eskimos from pirate attacks, while other times you need to escort an extremely slow-moving horse to safety while bandits are chucking bombs at you left, right and center. At the end of each level, you’re rewarded a star ranking out of three, and the ranking is based entirely on how much damage your defender took. Good luck getting a perfect three-star ranking, because what you need to defend is usually a wandering imbecile that tends to make the entire procedure more frustrating than it should be. Your shield is the most important skill in the entire game because of this, but the fact that your shield isn’t just use to defend things, but also to push and move things makes it an absolute nightmare in missions where precision is key, like keeping a tiny robot on a very small elevator platform. The constant escort missions make BeatBlasters III a very repetitive endeavor. While the aesthetics change very frequently, the core mechanics of dashing around with the rocket shoes while protecting some wandering schmo is so bland and exhausting. The game becomes unnecessarily difficult when who you’re defending is so inept and you’re constantly running out of energy simply because the escort mission is so unbearably long.

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BeatBlasters III’s core skills are what make it interesting, along with its great use of rhythm gameplay. However, the way these skills are used in the game is a massive disappointment. The game currently has no release date, so there’s lots of time to add more variety to the missions to keep things from getting stale, but its current focus on protection missions undermines its excellent core mechanics. It has a lot of style and uses rhythm gameplay intelligently (by being integral, not intrusive), but there’s only so many times where you can fail at a mission because your defendees were lagging behind before your patience wears to a narrow sliver.