Release Date: June 17, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Arc System Works
ESRB Rating: “Everyone”
Magical Beat is a rhythm-based, Tetris style puzzler from Arc System Works, best known for the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear fighting games. Which shouldn’t be surprising, as the developer has a great habit of putting out smaller puzzle titles. Magical Beats takes the tried and true Tetris “falling block” game play, and mixes it up by tossing in some rhythm-based Lumines style mechanics.
Win by losing
There are some key differences between Magical Beat and Tetris (or its many other clones) though. One is that Magical Beat is always “2-player,” as even in single player you are competing against a CPU player. Also, all the blocks are the same “L” shape, differing only in their colors. Finally, there are timing mechanics rely on the beat of the soundtrack. Some of this works better than others. The core mechanic is that you need to drop your blocks in beat to the music.
There is a meter that moves up and down in time with the soundtrack, and you have to drop your block while in the blue area. Get it right and your block drops, get it wrong and it explodes, sending pieces of your block into random locations. Instead of building solid lines, you are just matching colors to remove them, Dr Mario style. The more you chain together, the higher your score, and the more unbreakable blocks get sent into your opponent’s field. It all sounds great on paper, but in practice it’s easy to wind up just positioning your block and staring at the meter. That Magical Beat meter is distracting. You can time your drops by listening for cues in the music, but depending on the track (or even part of the song) it is often easier to just watch the bar.
Being a rhythm based game, you’d expect Magical Beat to have some great tunes right? Well, yes and no. There is a wide collection of upbeat J-pop-y tunes and dance beats, much of it featuring Vocaloid vocals. The track being played does affect the gameplay noticeably, and the music fits the vibe of the game quite well. I personally don’t think the music is all that great to be honest, but it performs its job well, which in a game like this is more important than actually being “good”. The best thing about the soundtrack is that after completing the game once you can play using tracks from the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear games. This is much, much better than the sub-par Hatsune Miku impersonations (ironic, seeing as Miku’s Vocaloid “voice” is used in some tracks) you get the first time around.
I will give Magical Beat one thing: it’s cute. The characters are adorable, with cute nonsensical backgrounds. My personal favorite is Octoman, the octopus. Why? I really have no idea. Maybe because an octopus jamming out, wearing headphones is awesome. (Editor’s Note: I prefer Ulpaca, the alpaca gone bad, myself.) There isn’t a whole lot to say about the visuals aside from that, aside from them being clear and working very well.
Learning curve? What learning curve?
The bigger issue, however, is how easy it is to cheat the system. When you miss the beat and your block explodes, there’s a pretty good chance the pieces will be put together in matching groups on the field. Since they spread out, the tower doesn’t build up very fast. After a while, just about every block winds up connecting at least 3 colors, resulting in an instant win. I went through the entire “Normal” difficulty level without a single loss by just intentionally missing the beats on every block. Sure it’s cheating, and takes some degree of luck, but it’s also pretty broken when you can beat the game by trying to “lose” the entire time.
If you are playing legitimately, especially if you go off audio cues and not the meter, trying to go for a high score is a lot more engaging, fun, and rewarding. At higher speeds, Magical Beat can get extremely intense and requires a lot of concentration to do well. There are some pretty cool ideas here, but I can’t help but feel they could have been a bit more polished. Unfortunately, the game is also disappointingly short. Clearing all 3 difficulty levels of the game can probably be done in a couple hours, provided you have the skill. It feels like they could have added a lot more stages to give the game some legs, and maybe flatten out the difficulty curve in the process.
Speaking of difficulty curve, there really isn’t one. Instead, there are huge spikes when you reach the “boss” levels of each mode. Rather than get progressively harder each stage, there’s very little difference between them in Magical Beat. It’s when you get to the boss that it jumps up about 200%. Even on Beginner, pretty much just after the tutorial stage, it goes from boringly slow to brain-meltingly fast.
It’s extremely jarring, but with a bit of practice (or cheating) even the Bosses wind up not actually being all that hard for the first two difficulty modes. Then, after you beat those in about 15 minutes and have nothing left but “Hell Mode”, you suddenly feel like you have to have the reflexes of that guy who can beat 2 player Ikaruga by himself.
Rhythm n’ Blocks
So what do I think of Magical Beat all around? “Meh” sums it up pretty accurately. Magical Beat is certainly not a “bad” game, and the underlying concepts do work quite well. The problem is that there just isn’t enough meat on its bones. It’s too short and has ridiculously crazy jumps in difficulty. The first 2/3 of the game is easily broken by its own mechanics, and the last third may not even be playable for many people. The soundtrack does its job, but isn’t anything special in and of itself. The art style and general design is cute, but underutilized. It almost feels like somebody kinda gave up half way through making what could have been an outstanding take on the Tetris formula. For the price its fun enough, just don’t expect too much from it.
Site [Magical Beat]