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Beatbuddy Review: A Few Wrong Notes

Beatbuddy's beautiful underwater world is full of puzzles and music, the latter of which serves as a life-sustaining resource for the residents of Symphonia. These vital notes reverberate through the world's labyrinth, emanating from the dreams of three spiritual buddies: Melody, Harmony and Beat (also known as Beatbuddy). When the self-absorbed Prince Maestro kidnaps Melody to ensure that his songs fill Symphonia, Beatbuddy is awakened to save music from receding to the metaphorical depth of a kiddie-pool.

Beatbuddy paddles through his six-level journey by the guide of a joystick, treading forward with the tap of a button. Players swim from one blocked pathway to the next, defending themselves with simplistic attacks and earning advancement by conquering environmental puzzles. Hauling energy sources to powerless doors or navigating clusters of detached chambers to progress through a level are common tasks. Vehicle sections with a lovably dense sidekick, Clef, add variety by letting you blow through debris and larger enemies with a chain gun, but the game is solely about conquering puzzles to advance, regardless of your transportation.

Beatbuddy's strength stems from the role music plays in the oceanic surroundings and gameplay. Each stage has its own track, which combines with immersive environments to make each section really feel like its own space. The notes aren't playing from some detached jukebox in the background, however -- the surrounding sea life act as the instruments and emanate music. The persistent thump of a beat swells as you approach rhythmic animals and plants and fades as you swim through long, vacant tunnels. Instruments and effects gradually layer with stage progression, and it's enthralling to hear a basic beat thrive into a bumping hybrid of catchy loops and slick vocals. Some beasts and obstacles can only be bested by tapping the appropriate button in time with the beat, and Beatbuddy shines brightest when its rhythmic attributes have you involuntarily nodding your head to help keep yourself alive.

The colorful scenery is beautiful when swimming by it in a rush, but stalling is always rewarded with a chance to really take in the involved detail of every rock and creature. Collecting optional "Beatpoint" gems unlocks concept art and the game's four-year story of development, too, so there's a decent reason to stop and explore every corner of the game. Even midway through a particularly complex puzzle, Beatbuddy is an absolute joy to look at

Beatbuddy Review  A few wrong notes

Unfortunately, Beatbuddy's willingness to play with music rarely breathe life into its puzzles. Figuring out how to open a door, angling platforms to help open new paths, and rotating the camera to blast through a corridor are common tasks that wear thin before the game is over. The oasis lies within puzzles involving switches that trigger two different behaviors for an area. They're usually focused on clearing a maze of pipes or prying another door open, but certain elements of a song fade in and out depending on which state the switch is in. Switching can bring in enemies responsible for a new instrument in the song, too, which creates an interesting balance of figuring out a room while also trying to survive it. It's a subtle touch, but it's so noticeable because the non-rhythmic puzzles feel void of the infectious life that pulses from Beatbuddy's soundtrack.

The switch puzzles are fairly rare, however. The sheer repetition of the more common types drags the experience down quite a bit, and a sense of dread resonated in me every time I encountered a closed door in the last third of the game. My initial appreciation of their cleverness gave way to resenting them as obnoxious roadblocks, and that's really a shame given that there's plenty to love about the game.

Beatbuddy Review  A few wrong notes

Beatbuddy's incorporation of music into its gameplay is truly wonderful, but the repetition of its challenges holds the experience back. Despite the unwavering brilliance in its soundtrack and visuals, there are only so many pathways you can unblock before wishing for an unrestrained highway to the ending. With a few more musically inclined puzzle variations and a more varied ecosystem of sea life to threaten my life in unison with the beat, I would have been happy to dive right back into Beatbuddy as soon as I had finished. Unfortunately, the swim quickly became a fatigue of been-there, done-that with only the inspired setting and songs serving as a life-raft from the monotony.

This review is based on a Steam download of Beatbuddy, provided by Reverb.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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