Beat The Game Review: A Music Producer's Bizarre Adventure
Imagine, if you will, that Tim Burton decided to make a music game. What exactly would that be like? Well Beat the Game by developer Worm Animation answers that question. The game is a surreal trip that captures the intricacies of music making. Does this title fall on a flat note or does it make beautiful music? -- Find out in our review.
In Beat The Game, players take control of Mistik. Our hero finds himself in another world after a bike crash. He's not your average protagonist; he's a music producer and a DJ. Throughout the game, you are on a journey to find new sounds. As you traverse the land you will eventually create the ultimate soundtrack.
In essence, the game represents the journey a real world music producer takes when creating. Some say that crafting music is something like lucid dreaming: It involves searching, inspiration, interacting with the world, and ultimately bringing it together. In this title it presents this intimate process in abstract fashion.
Life Directed By My 808
Upon taking control of Mistik, players will notice he doesn't have much...except for his device. This device, for those that don't know, is an 808. It's actually a nod to the 808 drum machine. The device was used by producers for electronic music during the early 1980s, and set a standard for music creation since then. So, it would make sense that our hero is lead by this iconic piece of music machinery.
Your task in this nameless world is to locate sounds. The device can detect sounds, and the louder the sound is the closer you are to them. Sound itself serves as your compass. This is something of a relief because you are given no directions. Instead of being intimidating, it's actually rather refreshing -- you can take your time.
Upon discovery of a new sound, the 808 will record it and add it to your collection. You'll find sounds from a variety of things: a wind pipe, an otherworldly creature, a lamp fixture, and much more. If you've ever read a producer describe their creative process they'll mention that a lot of the sounds they create and their inspiration come from unorthodox of sources.
The goal of the Beat the Game is to find all the sounds in the world and perform for the people. Traversing the world and seeing the sights is certainly worthwhile and adds to that sense of wanderlust. You'll never know where you'll find the next sound.
Cassettes and Tape Deck Experiences
Another part of Beat's charm is discovering the places where you'll find these elusive sounds. It's a unique experience to watch how Mistik stumbles across this music.
For example, you find yourself watching another DJ perform. After the performance, you obtain the sound-- after all artists are normally inspired by other artists. Sometimes a new sound can be found at a random party upon hearing an awesome beat. The games make these "aha moments" of finding music really personal. If you remove the surrealism, these discoveries occur a lot like the do in real life.
Aside from the music, you can also collect other items. A floppy disk here, a drumstick there, and so forth. They are all seemingly random...at first glance. One of your discoveries is a cassette tape. You move on and don't think much about it. Later on, you discover a lifeless robot with a cassette tape deck interface. Mistik brings the robot to life much to his surprise. It can then help you search the world for items you may have missed.
I found this aspect and adventuring in a whacky world to be very fun part of Beat the Game. While in the end things made sense, there were times were they didn't. Making music is often like that--you wander around for awhile before it all comes together.
The Thrill of Victory By The Turntable
Some DJs/producers would agree that success starts and stops at the turntable. The mark of your music's impact can only be measured if people enjoy it. In the case of Beat, this turntable and goal is made clear to you from the beginning. It's constantly on your mind too as you see nameless NPCs gather around your turntable as time passes.
You must use your arsenal of sounds to create a successful performance.
This is then where the game becomes something of a puzzle. You have to piece together the sounds to increase your success rate as the performance goes on. This isn't easy because it also requires you to add effects and control the volume. You have to warp and craft the music as you see fit. It's a question of what to do and when to do it.
Like a real life performance, there's pressure on the DJ. In this case, however, you have all the time in the world. It's exciting to see...I mean hear what sounds you'll create to move the crowd. Reaching this end goal is what makes Beat The Game so special. No music game really captures the production journey quite like this.
Production Under The Hood
Beat The Game has an interesting production behind it. Characters are uniquely outlandish but not to an extreme. Mistik fits right into the dream universe. The dream landscape feels empty and at the same time doesn't. It's littered with machines, elaborate background monuments, giant sand, creatures and other wondrously odd things. This small world has a lot going, and it's not telling you all of its secrets. You have to take the time to notice them.
Ah, so what of the game's music? Glad you asked. All of the music within the game was scored by Marc Houle. As a veteran house and techno producer he was able to help create authentic sounds where players can create whatever their minds lead them to make.
Beat the Game is a unique title for sure, but it's not without elements that people may considered to be flaws. People may feel that the game is small. The world is more like a sandbox compared to other games. This matter of scale may give off the impression that it's not complete. Another issue players may not enjoy is that the journey has no real direction. Some people enjoy games where they know where to go next. Some folks don't like two seconds of feeling lost, never mind a whole game. In addition, this title has no danger, no competition with others, and is very mellow. For some, these elements, or lack thereof, may be considered boring.
To be honest, Beat The Game isn't for everyone. I would argue that everyone that enjoys music and gaming should play it. Personally, I've never been so enamored with a game as I was with this one. In my spare time I'm learning music production for the sake of learning it, so maybe the game resonates with me because of this. In my opinion, no music game has done what Beat the Game has done. The journey of creating music and how weird the process is was captured well by Worm Animation and is well-worth playing.
Beat The Game is available now on Steam.
Editor's Note: The developer provided a copy of this game for review purposes.