Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Beats Brings Music/Rhythm to the PSP

With the continuing rise in popularity of such games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the music/rhythm genre has seen an increase in popularity as well. Formerly a niche game type, the Guitar Hero series brought the genre to the forefront of gaming and showed gamers how fun it can be to interact and play along with the music. Although not peripheral-based, Beats for the Sony PSP brings classic music/rhythm gameplay to the handheld with a new spin and some nice features. Released exclusively on the PlayStation Store for PC and priced at only $4.99, it’s hard to beat that kind of deal.

The core gameplay mechanic consists of scrolling X, Circle, Square and Triangle icons coming from the left, right, and top of the screen. As they cross the left, right, and middle circles in the center of the screen, you must push the corresponding direction and the indicated button on the icon in time with the beat. The game awards accurate button presses and long chains of consecutive beats with more points and score multipliers. When glowing beats are timed correctly, it builds up the Overdrive Meter, which can double the score multiplier when filled completely. However, the beats will go in diagonal and odd patterns instead of going straight to the corresponding circle when Overdrive is unleashed. With more beats added as the difficulty rises, this risk/reward system adds a layer of strategy to the game. With no actual life bar as in other games, you can only score poorly in a song rather than actually failing. The game keeps track of your top 20 scores in each difficulty level, so it gives some motivation to top your best score or try out a new song that can potentially give a higher point total.

One of the best points of the game and the primary mode of Beats is My Music Challenge. It translates most of your mp3s on your memory stick and allows you to play them at multiple difficulty levels. While I had very few problems with most of my mp3s, there was a handful that couldn’t translate into the game for some reason or another. The game cannot read any other music type, so you will have to convert your music files to mp3 in order to play them. The beat detection is surprisingly solid and accurate, no matter what genre of music is playing. While songs with a typical 4/4 beat and rhythm fare better than more complicated or irregular songs, most still feel right and remain relatively on the beat. If you don’t have much digital music on your memory stick, then the game comes with tracks but offers little variety when it comes to genres. Most are more electronic than anything else, but it fits well with the gameplay. With multiple themes and visualizations available, it adds some diversity when playing.

The other gameplay mode is called Jamming and allows you to remix the pre-loaded tracks in the game by creating your own mix of drums, synth, vocals, bass, and so on. You can record your tracks and play them in Challenge mode or even share them online with others. However, the online portion is poorly implemented with no way of communicating with others or if others have downloaded or shared your mix. And with a very limited virtual manual, there’s very little explanation. While this game mode is fun, the bulk of the game is in My Music Challenge.

At only $5, you get a lot of game for such a low price. They could have done a lot more with a full UMD release, but this provides a lot of fun for experimenting with different songs and creating new mixes. This isn’t quite a system seller, but it’s a fun distraction for anyone who owns a PSP.

System: PSP
Developer: SCEE London
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Music
Number of Players: 1-4
Release Date:
US: December 6, 2007
Europe: November 20, 2007
MSRP: $4.99

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