Thursday, February 10, 2011

Steam Indie Beat Pack Mini-reviews

This post is five reviews in one.  Except that instead of them being really long and accompanied by screenshots, they're short and imageless.  Enjoy.

Beat Hazard

I've posted about it twice before, and there's not much else to say.  So instead I'll summarize.  Select a song from your music collection to be BGM for the game, and the game generates enemy waves and boss attacks based off of the music.  Got a new album?  Congratulations!  More levels!  Simple, yet challenging and fun at the same time.  Plus, Beat Hazard Ultra is coming soon, with more enemies, bosses, powerups, and the ability to play online in both co-op and head to head modes.  It'll be $5 DLC for owners of Beat Hazard, no clue how much it'll cost standalone or if it's just going to be DLC.

Rhythm Zone

It looks kinda like Guitar Hero would if Guitar Hero only had four buttons (i.e. the DS games).  I was expecting it to be pretty fun, but unfortunately, this isn't the case.  First problem: You have to import each and every track you want to play into your library.  What this entails behind the scenes is that the game transcodes the track from whatever format it's in to OGG Vorbis, and stores it in its data directory, along with files it generates based on the audio that basically become the chart you have to play.  So basically every track you import gets duplicated on your hard drive.  Second problem: The automatically generated charts.  They're completely arbitrary.  Sometimes a sequence of notes will make sense, but most of the time they don't.  Third problem: If you couldn't infer it from the first problem, the transcoding and analyzation process takes a long time.  And one of the achievements is adding 10000 songs to your library?  No thanks.  This game really just makes me wish I was playing Guitar Hero instead.


This is supposed to be a puzzle game where the gameplay depends on the music you select as BGM, but it mostly fails at that.  Its beat detection is essentially random and hardly ever finds the BPM of the song.  Given that you're trying to keep the space from filling up by eliminating blocks, naturally, you're trying to work as fast as possible.  This makes the bonuses for eliminating blocks "on the beat" either unrealistically difficult to get, or so easy you don't even realize you're doing it.


So to even get this game to run, I had to modify its startup options in Steam to add -novideo.  It bitched on startup about not being able to find a decoder for video.  What kind of exotic codec are they using that isn't in ffdshow?  And if it's needed by the game, why isn't it installed with the game?  The support boards suggested installing Windows Media Player 11, but fuck that, I don't use that piece of shit.  It's still whatever version it is that comes with Windows XP.  Media Player Classic Homecinema all the way.

Anyway, the gameplay reminds me a little of Lumines on the PSP, except it's way easier.  In Lumines I never got much past the first or second level because of the difficulty, but here you can just move the mouse around to put the piece where you want it.  Your objective is to create 3x3 blocks (or larger), which it calls "quads".  There's a line that sweeps over the field and turns finished quads into covered areas, and you need to get 50% coverage to beat a level and progress to the next.  There's a catch to that though: when you make a quad, it begins to fill up.  Adding more pieces onto the sides of it will expand it and reset the fill progress.  Being that larger quads give more points, this is entirely desirable.  The sweeper line won't do anything to it until it fills all the way up.

Level-wise the game is pretty short and doesn't allow for using your own music.  Instead you get a selection of six tracks, most of which are random techno, and the last of which is some weird version of Still Alive from Portal where the lyrics are randomly spaced out and is impossible to sing along to while playing the level.


First strike: the game defaults to 1280x1024, a fringe resolution for old LCD monitors made by like two manufacturers that nobody bothers with anymore because you can get full HD LCD monitors now.

Second strike: it forces my monitor into a 60Hz refresh rate, which I can see refreshing and which also nauseates me.

Okay, so I finally get into the game after having to configure it to run in a 1280x720 window.  The graphics have been deliciously retro the entire time and continue to be so during gameplay.  The entire thing looks like Atari 2600 graphics.  The sounds go beyond what the 2600 could handle, but whatever.  So it's basically a really long game of pong to the beat of the music.  You move your paddle up and down and block the balls that come your way.  At first it's fairly simple, but the patterns get more complex as gameplay goes on.  If you beat the first level, the second unlocks.  Beating the second unlocks the third, and even on Easy the third gets really crazy and I failed.  It's... an interesting game to say the least.

Overall: Beat Hazard is the best of the pack by far.  However, because during the Steam holiday sale the pack was as much as Beat Hazard was outside of the pack, I can't really complain.

The grand inequality: Beat Hazard > Chime > BIT.TRIP BEAT > ( Rhythm Zone = Turba )

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