Review: Beat City (Nintendo DS)

Beat City
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Universomo
Genre: Rhythm
Release Date: 04/20/2010

Even though the formerly white-hot rhythm game genre is cooling down in the U.S., some companies are still making earnest efforts to produce music-based titles that set themselves apart from the army of guitar clones that have backed-up the digital highway since Guitar Hero became a phenomenon. The latest of these releases is Beat City, courtesy of Universomo. Even though Beat City is the first non-mobile title developed by the company, the studio has taken its knowledge to the Nintendo DS platform without a hitch and perhaps it is due to this experience that Beat City is a vivid and fun music game that can enjoyed in bite-sized pieces while the player is on the go.

Beat City, at its essence, is a very simplistic game, but it still features a full story that unfolds as players progress through the title. The story finds Beat City being overrun by Dame Isolde Minor, CEO of the company Cacophony (yeah, you’re going to find a lot of music/sound overtones in this one). As a failed opera singer, Minor has sucked out all of the city’s rhythm, color and livelihood, leaving a dull, depressing, black and white world in its stead. In response, Groovy Whale, a small, flying whale that sports headphones, has descended upon the city from a far-away planet, searching for a citizen with a unique sense of rhythm. He finds this person and embeds a speaker into his head to transform him into Synchronizer, giving him the ability to embody “Beat” to bring back life and rhythm to the city.

The story unfolds in short, comic panel-style fashion, which could have been heightened with some voice samples or even some text to provide more of a story. Even so, the player will be able to understand what is going on in the story as it begins to add in other characters including your duck-shaped-hammer-wielding ally Beatrice and members of Cacophony. The annoying loading screens in between each story segment get old after a while, though, especially after players return to specific challenges at a higher level just to see the same panels repeat themselves. Nonetheless, the story contains the same graphical splendour as the main game and the wackiness is sure to get a grin or chuckle out of most players.

Beat City is a bit short on mode offerings; however, the short nature of each rhythm challenge will no doubt encourage players to re-play the game’s segments. While the player can revisit any location in the story mode at any time, a “mini-game” mode is available to allow the player to dive straight into a select number of the challenges at any difficulty at any point. Story progression will unlock a small handful of different challenges in the mini-game mode as well as character profiles of some of the wacky beings the player encounters during gameplay. Other than that, there are no further options, unfortunately, with further omissions to any types of multiplayer modes that could have taken Beat City an extra stanza further.

One of the first things players will no doubt notice in Beat City is its unique visuals. Most of the environment is simplistic, utilizing nothing but basic shapes for its design. The characters are a bit more involved but it is the urban-inspired tones and vivid colors that really pop everything off the screen. When the player begins a challenge, most of the environments are extremely simplistic and lack much color. However, as the player liberates that section of the city, not only will more color start flowing into the environment, but animations become more lively and more of the city’s citizens, vegetation and animals will join the fray to keep the screen jumping with animations. Players will also notice various elements of background pulsating to the beat, so the animations are not only just for looks, but they aid the player as well, which is a great tool for rhythm gamers. A little more detail couldn’t have hurt the title and perhaps the expanding animations can be more distracting than anything else; however, Beat City is still very attractive to the eyes and the visuals are amongst the highlights of the title.

Rounding out the presentation, Beat City thankfully has appeasing sound to go along with the action and visuals. The game’s music drives the gameplay as it should and while a few of the tunes are pretty basic fare, the songs that are derive based on chiptune influences are well done and greatly memorable. As the challenges begin to repeat, these tunes will as well and the story boards only feature one song to accompany it, so there is some repetition the player will experience, and it left me wanting more of a variety. Even so, everything here is well done and considering the on-screen action’s sound effect are rhythmically implemented, they work hand in hand to create some catchy audio. Sure, there are no licensed songs and other music games have provided more memorable tunes, but what’s provided in Beat City fits well.

It surely knocks down the originality of the title but the easiest way to describe Beat City is by saying it is exactly like Rhythm Heaven. The title uses the vertical orientation of the Nintendo DS, is entirely touch screen and uses three different touch commands – tap, hold and slide – to perform in-game actions. Pound for pound this is exactly Rhythm Heaven in a nutshell. Still, Beat City has enough spirit in its presentation and execution to keep from being a mere clone and its $20 price tag should be more appealing to the general player, especially considering the title is much more accessible than Rhythm Heaven.

The touch screen mechanics work effortlessly in Beat City and through my hours of gameplay with the title, I would consider myself robbed of an input maybe three times. While Rhythm Heaven was chock-full of charm, it was also extremely challenging and final judging for each stage was so strict, the player often wondered what they had to do to actually pass a stage. In Beat City, it is virtually impossible to fail and through my gameplay (just keep in mind I have nearly 13 years’ experience with these types of games under my belt), I only received less than 90% performance twice in the entire game. Much like Rhythm Heaven, though, the player is rewarded for performance beyond 100% (the max on each stage is 110% and players only need 30% to pass the stage), giving them a four-star rating. The Groovy Whale uses stars earned in gameplay to build a staircase (starcase?) back to its home and assembling this full climb is what will keep players coming back until it is completed.

Not only do loading screens break up the action but each challenge has a tutorial. My main complaint with the tutorials is it is sometimes not immediately clear what the player is supposed to do. If the player does not nail the commands in the tutorial, it is restarted, leaving a player frustrated when the process isn’t crystal clear. There is no text in each tutorial, instead, commands play out very similar as they will in the main game and the player will have to play “Simon Says” in an attempt to understand the concepts. In the long haul, players will be able to figure out what to do in each stage; however, there were times where I spent more time than I wanted to in the tutorials trying to nail down timings.

With just three commands, though, the gameplay is simplistic, yet fun, lending itself to the more casual crowd of the Nintendo DS. The three commands will allow players to do anything from shooting ice cream out of an elephant’s trunk to summoning a gigantic ape to distract an old man. The tasks between the handful of different challenges actually varies quite well, it’s just too bad they begin repeating themselves in short order. Even though this repetition comes with progressing difficulties, the story mode recycles some of the challenges way too soon, with some even coming in back-to-back stages. There’s nothing at all wrong with the gameplay and control in Beat City, it just gets really repetitive, especially considering there are very few unique unlockables like the ones featured in Rhythm Heaven.

Outside of the borrowed concepts and repetitive nature of the game, Beat City builds a great formula. The challenges are quick and simple, which, even though most players accustomed to the genre will clear it in a couple hours, creates a perfect fit for the portable format. Going for perfect scores or working on getting the building a staircase for the Groovy Whale will keep players coming back and the characters are charming enough that most players will actually care about unlocking the profiles. The stages build appropriately but, still, there is nothing too difficult in the game. For $20, this title is a good recommendation for anyone interested in the rhythm genre, especially those intimidated by difficulty.

The Scores
Story/Modes: VERY GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: VERY GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: ENJOYABLE
Appeal Factor: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GOOD

Short Attention Span Summary

If you thought Rhythm Heaven was too challenging for its price tag, then Beat City is the perfect substitute. Beat City offers up rhythm action contained within wacky situations and is fleshed out thanks to its superb visuals and sound. The simplicity of the title makes it a great portable title and it does offer a few perks to keep players coming back. While the repetitive nature of the title and lack of multiplayer will make it seem like there is less to do in the game, players can easily get a handful of hours of action out of the simple setup. The bottom line is, this rhythm title looks and sounds great and its accessibility makes it suitable for a wide range of gamers.



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