Beat da Beat (PC) Review
Clever level design
Addictively difficult and satisfying gameplay
No hardcore mode
Limited sound and video settings
No color blind-assist
A few glitches within the BETA build
Dubstep driven bullet hell. My ears are still ringing. Originally for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone and now available on PC, Beat da Beat is Russian developer Nekki’s aptly deemed “bullet hell rhythm game.” Highly addictive, tough as nails, and rife with hard-hitting tunes, clever enemies, and mesmerizing visuals, it doesn’t take long for this scrolling shoot-em-up to wholly entrance you. Just don’t hit mute.
You start off flying the Helix M-2, a “standard civil ship” armed with a meat-and-potatoes, rapid-fire cannon and a bullet-time special, and quickly delve into the process of acquiring new ships. Gold collected during Story mode can be used to upgrade your ship’s health, weapons, and bomb capacity or to purchase new ships. Each of the ten unlockable ships feature unique weapons and specials, inviting players to try on a multitude of playstyles. For example, Ghost Needle, my preferred ship, features a force field for dire situations and fires homing lasers that allow you focus less on aim and more on evasion.
Gameplay is fast and fluid and features four difficulty modes – Casual, Normal, Hard, and Badass. Heightened difficulties increase the number of enemies, projectiles, and the density of bullet patterns as well as the value of gold coins. As ships, upgrades, and cash carry across difficulty settings, the upgrade and unlock process, which sometimes feels essential to progress, can be expedited if you’re up for a challenge.
Gameplay shines in Badass mode where you take on the full spectrum of tightly-knit bullet sprays; and trust me, few things feel better than weaving your way through a screen ablaze with bombs, bullets, and lasers. Casual and Normal serve as decent entry level modes but can feel quite boring after playing on Hard or Badass and drudging when you realize you need to complete every difficulty setting in order to unlock the final five ships. While Badass mode seemed sufficiently challenging to me, I did feel like the game was missing a fifth, hardcore, one-hit-death difficulty. An even denser ultimate bullet hell may not have worked well on the game’s previous mobile platforms but could have been a feasible addition to the PC version, given the precision capable with a mouse.
Every level features a memorable track and unique enemy encounters. Even after just a few runs, I began to associate bullet patterns with their corresponding musical segments: Enemies might stack up during the build to a chorus, peppering the field in step with sub bass pulse, until suddenly, “BAM,” the song drops into a headbanging half-time chorus as all the lights on-screen seem to supernova. It’s amazing to watch and even better to play. I particularly adored Level 3 which features line-stepping ships and a wild laser show kicking in to the heavy drop chorus of JBroadway’s “Lucid Dream.” It’s jaw-dropping.
Bosses feature their own “evil” musical themes and clever attack patterns. Boss “Evil Twins Boom and Bam,” for example, splits into two ships to launch criss-cross bullet patterns simultaneously from above and below but then unites directly in front of players to launch a devastating barrage. Boss attack patterns take some time to memorize but are especially fun to overcome without relying on specials or bombs. The BETA build submitted for review did have an annoying albeit occasional glitch during boss levels wherein my ship would cease fire and the boss would return to full health from the brink of death. Hopefully developers resolve the issue for the launch version.
The brilliantly executed interplay between music, content, and visuals is what truly makes Beat da Beat stand out among other bullet hells. While the concept of rhythm-based bullet hell has been visited before in games like Beat Chaser and Bullet Audyssey, I don’t think it’s ever been done so well. The dubstep cohesively sells the futuristic, star-fighter setting and space-punk ship designs just as the rave-worthy bullet hells beautifully embody the dubstep. Furthermore, small details like the loading screen that reads “use headphones for maximum awesome” and the purposefully broken volume adjustment in game settings – the cosmetic volume slider actually looks like someone shot it with a ray gun – speak volumes about the developer’s admiration for its composers, and rightly so. The game couldn’t have done it without its soundtrack.
Despite its mobile ancestry, the port holds up relatively well, outside of a few missing, user-friendly options and, in fact, plays much better on PC, thanks to the mouse and larger display. Gameplay runs smoothly and feels responsive with even the busiest screens maintaining a steady, high frame-rate. Laser effects, bullets, and dense patterns aren’t demanding but are consistently pretty and, more importantly, always distinguishable from backgrounds. While the game sounds great with and without headphones, presets for Dolby Digital 5.1, headphones, or built-in speakers would’ve been much appreciated, as the soundtrack is absolutely worth listening to in an optimal setting. Disappointingly, there currently aren’t any video options to make gameplay suitable to colorblind users or those susceptible to seizures. Options to limit screen flashes or dial back vivid colors as well as various colorblind assists would help the game become much more inclusive.
There isn’t much left to say about Beat da Beat other than “it’s fantastic.” It’s artful, clever, worth dozens of hours of play, and thus far one of my favorite games of 2016. Even if you aren’t a fan of bullet hells or dubstep, you’ll still find something to love.