No matter what the climate is in the industry, there seems to be an overwhelming demand for battle puzzle games. That's ok with me though, because ever since playing Yoshi, Dr. Mario, and Wario's Woods for the NES, I've been enjoying the fierce competitive element that these games can bring, and playing with a formidable rival can be quite the rush.
The newest kid on the block is Magical Beat -- a rhythm puzzle game for the Vita by Arc System Works. Naturally, they couldn't resist putting in Guilty Gear and BlazBlue tunes, which are easily the best part.
Magical Beat (Vita)
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works
Release Date: June 17, 2014
Magical Beat will feel very familiar at first for fans of games like Puzzle Fighter, in that it's a Match-3 with blocks (called Beatons) dropping from the sky. You'll have the chance to rotate and move them on the top portion of the screen before you manually drop them into the pit below with a button, and you can view upcoming blocks similar to Tetris. But of course, there's a twist -- you have to drop them to the beat of the song that's playing in the background.
Here's where it can get pretty tricky. Depending on the song, which ranges from 70 BPM (beats per minute) to 220, you'll have to time your "drop" button press to a slow or fast beat. So in addition to the strategic element of choosing where to drop your Beatons, you have to get your rhythm in check as well. Think of it like Puzzle Fighter meets Lumines and you'll have a good idea of what to expect. Every single level is a one-on-one affair where you're trying to create blocks on their side so their pile reaches the top, causing them to lose. There's no exceptions to this rule, which is disappointing if you're looking for a little more variety as a solo player.
As a whole though, Magical Beat is really fast paced and intense, which is a nice change of pace from other games that just focus on the methodical placement of blocks. Playing on anything above 180 BPM is crazy, and for a while I relied on the on-screen metronome until I could get my bearings. If you screw up any given drop and press the button off-beat, it'll smash the blocks into oblivion while your opponent racks up the score.
There's a beginner mode to help you acclimate (complete with tutorials), as well as a normal and hell mode with an added difficulty range, and a custom mode that lets you pick any song you like. That's...about everything Magical Beat offers -- even the multiplayer is ad-hoc (local) only. There's no real story outside of the inference from the game's character selection screen flavor text, and nothing outside of constant one-on-one action. In other words, if you find yourself mastering the game and don't have someone to play with, you're going to get bored real fast.
In terms of content there's 18 songs unlocked from the get-go, all of which are vocaloid-based electronica (your mileage may vary, so here's a taste of what to expect). Once you've completed normal or hell mode once, you'll unlock 10 songs from Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, and Xblaze, as well as a few characters from said franchises -- Ragna being the most notable of the bunch. While the base songs are decent enough in their own right and fit the theme of the game perfectly, the extra songs far outshine them, and I really wish there were more, as I would easily play through the entire Guilty Gear and BlazBlue soundtrack at least once.
DLC from the Japanese version has been confirmed though -- but right now it's only for the US, and a pricing scheme hasn't been announced. None of this is factored into the review, it's just something to keep in mind. When that drops, it'll bring more tracks from the three aforementioned Arc System Works games as well as more playable characters (none of which do anything different outside of functioning as an avatar).
For a good while I couldn't put Magical Beat down. It forced me to master it, learning how to work in tandem with the beat and the puzzle elements, and I continued on into the night after I unlocked the bonus songs with a smile on my face. But after everything was said and done, I wanted a bit more variety -- not just in the form of more songs -- but in some new modes or even online multiplayer. The good news is the core formula is very solid, so if you're looking for a new puzzle battle game, this is it.
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