I'll admit to being confused and curious when I first heard about Beatbuddy a few months ago. Developed by German indie developer Threaks, the game is being billed as an music-driven action adventure, and has recently been highlighted as an honorable mention at this year's IGF. I recently reached out to Threaks, who graciously furnished me with the pre-alpha IGF build so I could see what Beatbuddy is really all about.
The pre-alpha demo I played was ostensibly a tutorial meant to illustrate how the game's music visualization and interaction work. I assumed control of Beatbuddy--a cute gelatinous ghost wearing headphones--and began floating through a neon-soaked environment reminiscent of an underwater cavern filled with strange creatures and plant life.
Different music tracks from a variety of artists will serve as the foundation for each level. The Beatbuddy demo, for example, featured a funky dance track called 'Music is the Key,' performed by Jones Bonz and produced by M. Popescu.
Many strange plants and creatures inhabited the level, and each served a musical function. Glowing bass-drum plants pulsated to the beat, odd crab-like creatures would extend their appendages from rocky hiding places and tap out the percussive parts of the track, and turret-like plants would fire their ordinance in-time, adding yet another layer of sound. These are just a few examples of how the environment in Beatbuddy is brought to life.
Many of these animated elements not only provide visual illustrations of each song's individual musical components, but also have gameplay implications as well. Giant kick-drum plants rocket Beatbuddy around the level, and help him smash through barriers. Another type of plant expels puffs of air to compose a different part of the beat, and as they were often positioned near harmful crystal spikes, it was necessary to time my movements in between sound bursts.
The demo is structured in a non-linear fashion, as will all levels included in the final game. I ran into some of Beatbuddy's friends on my adventure, one of whom required that I retrieve three components of the level's song--a couple of synth tracks and another baseline--before I could proceed.
There are also hidden coins and orbs to be collected, some of which I found by dashing into spherical rocks scattered throughout the level. The exploration element--and, in fairness, much of the gameplay--isn't particularly challenging, but the interactive musical components of the level made it a fun world to explore, nonetheless.
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There were also some light action elements present. Red squid-like enemies were introduced, which could be dispatched by using Beatbuddy's dash-attack. However, one of the more interesting and smile-inducing segments had me piloting a vehicle that looked somewhat like a DJ booth while avoiding obstacles. The kicker was both Beatbuddy's "ship" and the glowing, yellow obstacles only moved in time with the level's bass track. I caught myself chair-dancing as I bopped through that portion of the level.
The full version of Beatbuddy will allow players to unlock each level's music track as an MP3 download, and Threaks is promising new interactive mechanics for every song, and different art styles for different types of music. It's still in active development and doesn't have a release date or price point yet, but the demo will be playable at IGF 2012 for those interested in checking it out firsthand, in the meantime.
I really enjoyed my time with the early demo of Beatbuddy, and the playful way in which it lets players experience music. Though I just got a sample of what's being promised by the developers in the final game, I can already see a ton of potential opportunities for Threaks to leverage the creative musical-gameplay symbiosis they've designed.