Beat the Game is one of the strangest games that I’ve played in a while. On the surface, it presents itself as a music-infused adventure. And I guess it isn’t really lying about that. You go on an adventure, and there’s plenty of musical inspiration. What the game doesn’t mention, however, is how little sense your adventure actually makes. I appreciate its quirkiness, don’t get me wrong. But I can’t help but feel that this game didn’t quite hit the mark on what it was going for — whatever mark that was.
I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to think of the way to best describe Beat the Game’s story. And, after some thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that there really isn’t a good way. Beat the Game begins with your Psychonauts-esque protagonist cruising through an isolate desert on his hover bike, crashing into a soda vending machine, and being knocked out and abducted by… I guess a floating eyeball using tree branches? After he wakes up, our jumpsuit-wearing journeyman finds himself in the middle of an obscure, technological oasis. Wanting to hit the “old dusty trail” (hah!) once again, he does what any sensible person would do – collect sounds to put on a live show for all of the nearby desert inhabitants.
If you don’t believe what I just said, I wouldn’t blame you. The game’s setup sounds something akin to a mixture between “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, and “Call of Cathulhu”. But I assure you that it’s very real. As is its ambiguity. As neat as it is to explore Beat the Game’s unique little world, there really isn’t much there in terms of story. I never rightly knew who I was, what I was doing, or why exactly I was doing it. And really, it’s a shame. Beat the Game has quite an eclectic group of creatures to meet. The fact that I never learned anything about them aside from their names (and sometimes not even that) left me wanting much more than I was given.
Music to my Gears
If the story has you confused, that’s okay. It’s supposed to be confusing. I think. Fortunately, playing the game isn’t! The entire point of this game is to explore your surroundings and record sounds with your handy-dandy Sound Scanner. Or collect items with which to make and record sounds. Honestly, I think that this is a neat concept. Being in-tune with my musical side myself, I love the idea of being able to make music out of literally anything. But the overall execution is just so-so. You really don’t need to put in much effort when it comes to amassing your noise collection. At least one third of the entire game’s stock of collectible sounds can be acquired by using your Sound Scanner to pick up sounds from nearby spaceships. Since Beat the Game only has one area however, all this means doing is standing in place and rotating.
Fortunately, the rest of the game sound acquisitions are more aesthetically varied. In one instance (or two, I guess, technically), you collect and use drumsticks to procure new sounds. In another, you record sounds coming from a boombox which appears to be held by a… well, he’s either a corpse or a zombie. Tomato, tomato though, am I right? Spaceships aside, Beat the Game does an impressive job of making each sound source unique — further illustrating the fact that music can be found almost everywhere.
Still, this doesn’t change the fact that this game seems to have missed several opportunities when it comes to sound collecting. I would have loved for the game to make me work for my sounds. To drum out a rhythm myself, or to figure out the notes to a song. It doesn’t even have to be difficult, so long as it’s there. But alas, none of that ever happens. Beat the Game does all of the heavy lifting for you. I understand that this game seems to be going for a relaxed, casual vibe, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s little to do when it comes to displaying musical talent during the adventure portion of the game. Or little to do in general, really.
DJ of the Desert
As I mentioned earlier in this review, your sound collecting does have a purpose — to help you become the ultimate DJ or the desert. Which I don’t think is hard, because I saw 0 other DJs. But I digress. One of the most enjoyable things in Beat the Game is the fact that you can create your own music. By opening up the Music Mixer, you can use all of the sounds that you’ve acquired to create your own tracks. You can even go so far as controlling the volume and effect intensity of each sound in use. I can’t recall too many game that let players create their own BGM, so major props to this one for doing so.
There’s also the matter of your live concert at the end of the game. And no, I didn’t spoil anything, don’t worry. The game is pretty straightforward about the fact that this is what you’re collecting sounds for. Being the last playable segment and all, I won’t go into detail too much. I can say, however, that I was expecting more than what I got. Despite being a concert, correctly pulling everything off was about your ability to follow directions more so than anything else. It’s also incredibly easy. While it was cool listening to what was going on, I once again feel like there was some missed potential.
A E S T H E T I C
I may have a concerns with gameplay, but this is definitely a game that knows how to work its own visual aesthetic. It’s very bizarre, very nonsensical aesthetic. Although Beat the Game takes place within a very tiny area, it attempts to use that space to its fullest potential. From floating eye monsters and mysterious spaceships to cat hood-wearing girls and time-manipulating refrigerators, there’s plenty to take in in this game’s beautifully animated world. And you definitely won’t want to miss any of it.
Ironically, I’m not sure if the same can be said about the game’s music. Despite being all about collecting sounds, Beat the Game‘s (mostly player-made) soundtrack feels relatively weak. In a game that centers around music, the actual music needs to be a bigger priority. It wasn’t in this case, and that feels very backwards.
Beat the Game is a bizarre, pseudo-multimedia experience. It’s got an interesting premise, excellent visuals, and somewhat questionable gameplay. But what does all of that add up to? Well, I’d say a game that’s more or less okay. That might sound kind of ironic, given how out most things within this game are, but it’s the best way to sum everything up. If you’re looking for something offbeat or weird, then this is definitely for you. It’s certainly an amusing experience. And it’s relatively inexpensive, too. Just be warned that, in terms of an actual game, there isn’t too much going on.
FINAL VERDICT: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Worm Animation ; Developer: Worm Animation ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 6, 2017 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Beat the Game given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher