Despite the tongue-in-cheek title, don’t be confused into thinking that BeatBlasters III is a derivative sequel. Instead, go in expecting a pretty novel fusion of action platforming and timing-based rhythm mechanics. As strange and unorthodox as that concept might sound at first, the developers clearly thought things through here. The gameplay foundation is overall quite sound and though simple, has enough unique twists thrown in with each new level that things remain fresh, even if not every level hits a home run in pure fun.
The simple story, told through dialog-free storyboard-like panels in the intro, involves two music-loving kids named Joey and Gina taking a bus to the town of Acapella, only to be unceremoniously booted across the landscape by a rhythm-hating bully of a butcher. From there, it’s a journey through numerous varied but compact levels and environments to get back to their original destination and confront him.
It’s a very simple story, and though the two encounter other non-playable characters to help out in each level, dialog is brief, simple and text-only. Story definitely wasn’t the main priority with this game, but that’s okay, because the real focus is on the unique mechanics and how they’re handled in terms of controls.
Playing the game on an Xbox 360 controller, the left analog stick controls your character’s sidescrolling movement while three of the main face buttons offer three different abilities, namely the ability to jump, hover and move faster with jet boots, generating a protective forcefield around you and shooting projectiles with your titular BeatBlaster.
All three abilities are necessary to beat each stage, but the catch is that each one has a limited quantity of ammo that is easy to quickly use up. Instead of finding items in levels to refill each meter, players do so manually by holding the right bumper button and tapping the face button for whichever ability needs refilling to the beat of the current dance song playing in each level’s background.
Continuous successful beats will build up a multiplier and also build up a separate green meter in the top center portion of the screen that, when full, can activate a special mode. When enabled it gives you unlimited use of every ability at once without draining ammo, while still allowing you to refill if you desire.
This primary mechanic might sound difficult to wrap your head around, but the initial tutorial explains it successfully and it’s easy to get the hang of afterwards, although a few level’s music tracks are a little trickier to get the beat down for than others.
One of the great things about BeatBlasters III is that no one level in the game plays the same. While they’re generally quite short, averaging about five minutes each to complete, their objectives vary from boss battles to transporting vehicles and clearing obstacles. That being said, there is often a repeating element of protecting a specific character or object in each one.
If I had to voice one complaint about the level design it’s that some of them can go on a bit too long. I initially liked a challenge where I had to protect treasure chests from being stolen by waves of incoming pirates while chipping away at their captain’s health bar to complete the level, but it ended up wearing out its welcome due to a lack of variety and taking place in a single static location. Thankfully, other levels often have you navigating bigger environments or last just the right amount of time.
In a clever move, you’re graded on a three-star scale at the end of each level, typically on how efficiently you protected someone or how quickly you finished. Your cumulative total of stars goes towards unlocking upgrades for your powers, which can then be used when replaying levels you missed stars on the first time around. And if you have trouble with a specific challenge, some of which are definitely more difficult than others, you get access to the option to choose an easier difficulty for each one before starting as well as an unlockable Insane mode for each.
As for presentation, the graphics offer a charming hand-drawn style, though animation is a bit limited in comparison to such similar-looking titles like Rayman Legends. Also, despite music being such a key element, I didn’t find any of the tracks all that memorable. It doesn’t help that there’s a heavy reliance on dubstep either, which I’ve personally never been too fond of.
Despite some quibbles, BeatBlasters III does a good job of both executing a genuinely original gameplay concept and presenting a welcome variety of challenges. It’s not terribly expensive either and I think that there’s enough done well here to ensure that the game will provide an enjoyable time for fans of the rhythm genre or unorthodox platformers.
This review is based on the PC exclusive, which we were provided with for review purposes.
Not every unique mission in BeatBlasters III strikes gold, but the gameplay mechanics are both novel and fairly consistent in quality, making this one an enjoyable title overall.