DROPPING BLOCKS AND DROPPING BEATS
Have you ever wondered what happened if Japan made Tetris instead of Russia? Have you wished that games like Rock Band required more thought than just reflexes? If you answered yes to those questions, please note that they were completely rhetorical, and I would like to introduce you to Arc System Works’ Magical Beat, a Japanese rhythm-puzzle game that recently made its way to the PS Vita. So, has this game hit all the right notes, or is it just tone-deaf?
CAN’T STOP THE ROCK
The best way to describe Magical Beat is the funky love-child of Tetris and Bejeweled. Players use falling bricks, which always come in trios, to match three blocks of the same color. You are always up against an opponent, so you must keep your blocks from reaching the top while your foe does the same.
However, there are two tricks that keeps this game different from other puzzlers. First, every match has your character shoot a weapon at your competitor, sending solid black bricks that block other bricks below it and beside it. The larger the match, the more of these bricks are sent. This keeps the battle fast paced, as these bricks are essential to winning. Beware, though, as your opponent has the same weapon.
Second, the gameplay utilizes the music in a unique way. When you drop your bricks, they have to go along with the beat. A bar and metronome help keep you on track. If you wait too long to drop the blocks, the bricks fall apart and fall in random places, giving you a “BAD” rating. This affects your send score, which judges you on time, timing, matches made and so on.
All the songs take some practice to get used to; as some are slower at 70 bpm (beats per minute) while others are fast and chaotic at 200 bpm. This adds some variety to gameplay, although with only 18 songs, you will be able to go through them quickly.
The songs, I must say, are some of the most deviously catchy songs I have heard in a video game. In a game like Tetris, the music was repetitive and got stuck in your head for hours, days, years at a time. All of the Kikuo-produced songs Magical Beat offers have the same effect as if they were made specifically with that purpose in mind. It makes me wish that there was more of it.
Lack of variety is the main issue of the game hindering it from a higher score. While the musical variety is great, the characters and gameplay all feel the same without much to change it up. The largest difference I saw was their personality blurbs that it gives before each battle. The backgrounds also change, but again it doesn’t matter much.
All songs are unlocked at the start to battle with, along with different skill levels to play against. Magical Beat also features ad hoc multiplayer, but sadly no online multiplayer. In a game like this, online would have been great, even if it was completely random matches (like Hearthstone). Overall, this is one game that I would have liked to play online besides ad hoc and traditional leaderboards.
The game will take an hour to complete each 10-battle story mode, but the game has awesome replayability. Each battle could take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes depending on your skill level. Also, there will be DLC coming from other titles from Arc System Works, like XBlaze Code: Embryo, BlazBlue, and Guilty Gear. In addition, pixelated versions of BlazBlue fighters like Ragna, Noel, and Taokaka and XBlaze Code: Embryo characters such as Es and Touya will make special appearances in Magical Beat. This helps keep the game fresh, even though the game is addictive and replayable enough to warrant the $9.99 price point.
The Verdict: 7.8 out of 10
Magical Beat is fun. There is no denying it. The music is awesome to listen to, and the gameplay mechanics work well. Dropping the blocks in tune with the beat has sort of a hypnotic feel to it. However, without character variety that affects gameplay or online multiplayer, the game isn’t at the top of my recommendation list. However, if you love puzzle games or great Japanese music, I can say that this game is worth a try.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
The reviewer spent many hours with the game over the span of a week after receiving a review copy of the title.