Preview: Beatbuddy is a music-loving underwater adventure
You could argue that underwater levels have no place in video games. When you think about it, our fondest memories of Mario are usually of guiding the plumber dude through clouds and castles. Sonic was always cooler when he was going fast — not when he was stuck underwater as that hideously stressful music played on. Now that I think about it, the Gloomy Galleon world in Donkey Kong 64 wasn't really as great as I thought it was. What about games that are strictly underwater affairs, though? Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is one of those games, and it's a superbly promising endeavor that mixes in lovely hand-drawn art and stellar music.
In development by the Hamburg, Germany-based Threaks, Beatbuddy can probably best be described as a rhythm-reliant marine platformer. While the game isn't as heavily grounded in strict music awareness as other tune-heavy titles, the core experience requires you to listen to various themes so you can progress more easily. No, not every single aspect of Beatbuddy tasks you with paying attention to every thump, snap, chord, and pound. Instead, you move around freely and use the music as part of the environment to help you get through certain obstacles, and by triggering certain events, you can add to the music, as well.
If I had to use a reference point, I'd probably compare Beatbuddy to The Legendary Starfy on the DS. Though that little-known title featured actual dry land sections, the swimming sequences were dedicated parts of the game that didn't feel like the usual old underwater levels people detest so much. Beatbuddy is like that, and because the entirety of the game takes place underwater, it's easy to see that the gameplay is based entirely around the concept of swimming, so you don't have to deal with wrongly placed physics or tacked-on mechanics. Also, you don't need to worry about oxygen and an annoying warning theme, which is always nice. (I'm looking at you, Sonic.)
You control the titular protagonist Beatbuddy and swim around corridors and open spaces alike. Tighter areas usually feature moving obstacles that can either harm you or just block your way. A lot of the time, getting through requires you to pass through at just the right moment. These sequences rely on the musical aspect of the game, but they're not particularly brutal in difficulty. You're bound to come across some parts that are tougher than others, but overall, the challenge isn't too taxing. That's not a bad thing, though, because Threaks is creating a game that's primarily about having a good experience as opposed to necessarily making you hurl controllers and punch your mom.
Speaking of punching, you can definitely strike some baddies, though combat isn't a huge element. Instead, certain shelled sea critters can be hit to cause other nearby threats to hide, thus opening the path before you. These enemies pop back up after a few seconds, so swimming through narrow areas quickly is a must.
Beatbuddy changes things up from time to time, and one such shift comes during the game's shoot 'em up sections. While not particularly overwhelming, these parts put you inside an underwater vehicle and allow you to shoot projectiles to knock down obstacles and enemies. The interesting thing here is that the vehicle moves to the beat of the music, so if you're trying to move to the right, for example, you'll do so, but in a thump-thump-thump rhythm rather than freely. (Screw you — that's the best description I could come up with.)
Due to the fact that music is part of the gameplay experience in Beatbuddy, it makes sense that the actual tunes are enjoyable. While a number of composers are collaborating on the soundtrack, easily the most recognizable name on the marquee is Austin Wintory of Journey fame. He's not the only featured industry icon, though. Helping to pen the lighthearted script is Rhianna Pratchet, who most recently wrote Tomb Raider and contributed to BioShock Infinite, as you may have already been aware.
We don't get too many underwater adventures in the same vein as Ikachan and the aforementioned Starfy. It's refreshing then that Threaks is out there giving us exactly that. Throw in a beautiful hand-painted graphical style and some light music-influenced mechanics, and you've got something truly rad to look forward to. Also, it's summer, and if playing Super Mario Sunshine taught me anything all of those years ago, it's that playing games with water themes in them during this season is actually kind of fitting.
Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.