Demo Driver 8: BeatBlasters III

Albeit without the dubstep.

I am relatively sure that this is the place where Kirby bosses are born.

Sometimes games wind up with poor scores simply because no one can really categorize them, even if they want to.  BeatBlasters III is kind of terrible at basically everything it appears to be, and it’s only when you start to get a feel for what it actually is that the game goes from being “bad” to “fun.”  Although I freely admit that not everyone is going to feel even remotely the same way as I do about the title.

See, BeatBlasters III is not a platform game, although at a glance it sure looks like one.  There are platforms and you move between them, but that is hardly the point.  Nor is it a rhythm game, although there is a rhythm element to the game.  It’s some very odd combination of both, and yet it manages to be neither, or at least not with any skill.  It’s a game with poor play control that’s part of the experience while at the same time being a game with perfect control for creating exactly the right sort of tension.

Perhaps I should start from the beginning.

But he can be saved with the power of music, apparently.

I get the distinct feeling that the king is not well-loved by his subjects.

At the start of BeatBlasters III, you get the excuse plot of all excuse plots, because the game doesn’t care about plot.  It cares about getting one of the two headphoned dubstep-jamming main characters into a weird little region where you can plausibly try to fight off miniature flying elephants from stealing peanuts from ants and beetles.  Or you can protect the king of monkeys as he slowly ambles to a helicopter, deflecting various monkey terrorists who would waylay him with mines and suicide bombs.  It’s not a game based around an epic plot, that’s what I’m getting at here; just quirky visuals and a distinct style.

You also get a quick tutorial on how your character works.  Naturally, you’re kind of hopeless.  You walk slow, you jump slow, and your only real saving grace is that none of the enemies you encounter are really interested in hurting you.  They’re interested in hurting other things around you, including friendly NPCs and the like, but you’re just sort of there.  Which is where the core of the game comes from.  Rather than navigating complex levels, your goal is to defend your allies whilst defeating enemies, almost like some sort of two-dimensional tower defense variant.

Your assets include the ability to erect an absolute force field around you and anything else you’re standing by, the ability to shoot bolts of energy, and a pair of rocket boots that turn your speed from “glacial” to “zippy.”  But none of these abilities are unlimited, and all of them drain energy the longer you use them, even though you can use all three of them as you wish in concert.

Recharging is where half of the game’s play comes in.  Holding down a button allows you to tap out the beat for the game’s background music in order to recharge.  So tap on your “shield” button to the beat, rhythm-style, and it recharges your shield energy.  The game quickly becomes an intricate dance back and forth between using your powers, charging them, and eventually unleashing a little mini-limit break when you successfully charge up enough.

Judging by reviews, people sort of hate it.

I can really tell why, too.  As a platform game, it’s terrible, and as a rhythm game, it is also terrible.  When taken for what it is in totality, however, a hybrid between the two with a very limited set of powers and an array of challenges based around using those powers, it’s something else entirely.  The game is almost closer to a puzzler than a straight run-and-gun affair, albeit with a fair space for errors without letting go of your clear rating.

Or maybe the guy in front is just staring up her skirt.  Hard to be sure.

Oh, come on, these guys actually have shields, they can take care of themselves.

Loving this game without liking the soundtrack, the quirkiness of the concept, and the actual implementation of same concept is impossible.  You have to go in expecting some weird, almost bizarre hybrid of incompatible game styles that makes something really odd, and at $10 for the game I don’t know if I can say it wholly justifies the price tag even if you like all of the above.  If protecting anthropomorphic trees from a chainsaw-throwing robot as a miniskirted hipster doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, you’re not going to like this game, and the fact of the matter is that that’s fine.  It’s not even an overly length game – there are sixteen stages in total, each of which presents its own little challenge, and a grand total of 96 stars to complete by getting three-star ratings on the levels.  (The “Insane” difficulty isn’t unlocked for the demo; I cannot tell you how insane it actually is.  Quite possibly sane indeed.)

And yet if it hits all of the right notes for you, it’s going to do so in a way that no other game on the market manages, because it’s unique.  It’s one of those games where I play it and I recognize that I have seen nothing quite like it, that the simplicity of its various mechanics works to its advantage simply because you already have such a strange and idiosyncratic system that even an ounce of additional complexity would cause a catastrophic chain reaction pushing it over the border from “neat” to “frustrating.”

Maybe it’ll cross that border for you as soon as you load it.  The exact rhythm for the music can be irritating.  The oddly surreal graphics and setting might turn you off.  The strangeness of the platforming or the controls might be too much for you to overcome, or perhaps you’ll just be annoyed by the game’s distinctions of things you can shoot and things you can’t which isn’t always immediately obvious.

I liked it quite a bit, though.  It’s not going to be a game that dazzles everyone, but it’s the sort of thing you can only get a feel for by playing the demo a bit and getting an idea of exactly what ride you’re going on.  You’ll love it or (quite possibly) hate it, but you’ll at least see that it’s a different beast.

About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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