Review: Beaterator (Sony PSP)

Beaterator
Genre: Music Creation Tool
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: 09/29/2009

Every once in a while Rockstar will take a break from its proven franchises to take a unique genre in a new, ambitious direction. This is perhaps when I enjoy the company the most as evidenced by the stellar outing the company enjoyed with Rockstar Presents Table Tennis on the Xbox 360 – the releases seem to come out of nowhere, but in typical Rockstar fashion, a lot of thought is put into the release and it stands out among the crowd. The most recent example of this comes courtesy of Rockstar Leeds and Beaterator, which, in collaboration with Timbaland, has released to the Sony PSP.

Right up front here, I’ll want to stress that Beaterator isn’t a game, at least in the traditional sense, but rather, it is an application that serves as a tool to allow its users a streamlined mean in creating music on the PSP. This might turn off people expecting to find a new DJ Max-style game or such on the system, but don’t walk away just yet as anyone interesting in piecing together their own music can still pull fun out of the title even if Beaterator is more of a tool. A gamer’s mileage will definitely vary with this one, but that is entirely dependent on how much patience one has and how much they are willing to put into this title.

Beaterator revolves around two modes, but, surprisingly, both are very robust. The live play mode serves as the entry gates for getting into the title – it is much easier to use and while it doesn’t give users as much freedom and customization as there is to be found in the studio mode, there are still a number of options and functions to utilize with easy-to-understand button icons that are situated around the virtual Timbaland. Users can even record sessions from the live play mode and paste them as loops into the studio mode for tweaking and customization, doubling the usage of the feature. In this initial mode, while there isn’t much to it, it’s easy, accessible and users will be able to pump out some decent tunes in no time flat.

Once users roll over into the studio mode, however, Beaterator becomes a different beast, reflecting more of what you would expect to see in an eJay studio or any other PC tool that costs more than Beaterator. Users will be menu surfing through a string of complex options, which will no doubt intimidate some. There are tutorials tucked away in the game, but given the simplistic PSP layout, users will find the menu navigation to be a tad bit clunky as opposed to a similar mouse-and-keyboard setup that allows commands to be quite spread out when compared to a cramped PSP screen. Navigation and complexity aside, though, the user is given a number of impressive tools that dictate a mass of musical functions that even allow users to control settings on individual layers.

As an application, the modes offered weigh heavily on the quality of the overall package and, thankfully, Beaterator pulls through on these offerings. You can spend 15 minutes in live play fooling around or 15 hours mulling over every single detail of a creation in the studio mode, which tells me Rockstar Leeds understands how to craft a title fit for a portable system. That being said, however, there are some nuances to be had given the limitations imposed by the PSP’s layout that hamper the controls and the nature of the title and its depth certainly won’t be for everyone. Even so, Beaterator meets the goal it set out to accomplish, giving players a solid music application on the system and rewarding dedicated users with the fruits of their own labor.

With the game’s online functionality in tandem with a PC, users can share that fruit with other users, building a sense of community that is missing from the portable system outside of any game with Monster Hunter in its title. With Rockstar planning to host contests and highlight feature submissions, these motivations will intensify the dedication of serious users and if being able to endlessly create your own music doesn’t serve as replayability, this certainly fuels the fire a little more. If you can get lost in music like I can, it won’t be hard to get pulled into the community and it’s hard to put down the system until you finish a song or get a section of a song just right. It also helps that Beaterator is a one-of-a-kind title on the system right now, as while it is hardly the first console creation tool and definitely not the first on the PC, the online functionality and live play mode really brighten the appeal of the title, especially for music fans.

Honestly, while using Beaterator, users will be staring at a lot of menus in the studio mode, making the appearance of the title a standard affair. As a tool, this is generally forgivable as what is provided for users isn’t bad, it just does its part in giving players some visual feedback on what is going on and nothing more. You do get a few videos and Timbaland avatar moments that stand out, but, clearly, overall, the sound takes the full presentation stage in the title. Surely, not every user is going to agree on what genres, instruments, etc., should be represented but there is a healthy mix of samples provided in the game with a chunk coming straight from Timbaland himself. While some users might not find some of the samples useful, the samples do what they should and ring through pretty clearly (although this is definitely a title where headphones or earbuds are a must). You’ll also get a number of standard clicks and such for the menu navigation, but, as expected, the audio is where Beaterator truly shines.

That being said, though, there are some disc access quirks with the title. Samples can take a bit of time to load up, making the previewing process a bit of a pain. I also occasionally received messages stating the title couldn’t locate a sample on the disc and then played or loaded the sample anyway. These are just a few setbacks I encountered with the sound’s implementation, though, as I found the title’s sound to be very solid and I was able to create a few decent tracks just through goofing around and then tweaking the sound in the studio mode. Relying on loops and electronic production, the samples revolve around electronic genres such as D&B and U.K. garage and dabble into others such as hip-hop. Typically, I always make a point to say that tastes in music are subjective, but, perhaps this is one of the few cases I can say if you don’t like the music in the title, it’s most likely your fault for creating it. On that note, however, if you are a hater of the pre-made loops, Beaterator gives you tools to create your own loops as well as to import various sounds. The depth is great, however, again, the only thing holding users back from creating a masterpiece is their patience with the software’s complexity.

The Scores
Story/Modes: VERY GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: INCREDIBLE
Control/Gameplay: ENJOYABLE
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GREAT
Originality: VERY GOOD
Addictiveness: INCREDIBLE
Appeal Factor: VERY GOOD
Miscellaneous: GREAT
The Final Rating: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

Beaterator is a cheaper alternative to the great PC music creation tools, yet it still manages to hang with those offerings in terms of customization and content. Gamers will have to know straight up, Beaterator is a tool as opposed to a “game,” but those that stick with it will be able to make satisfying compositions, even if the title is a bit difficult to work with due to the PSP’s layout. The community features for the title will have dedicated users going on the application for quite some time, meaning anyone serious about creating music will get their money’s worth here. The live play mode allows users to jam for a short time, while the studio mode can keep players wrapped up for hours, making it a perfect portable music tool. The title has a couple of setbacks to iron out, for sure, but Beaterator easily hangs with the best of the bunch in the console/handheld music creation group.

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