XBLIG is home to more than its fair share of dual-stick shooters. You know, because Geometry Wars and its sequel weren’t enough. However, Beat Hazard by Cold Beam Games came with a gimmick. Your music became the levels. It’s amazing how this simple concept, really nothing more than an interactive music visualizer, took something tired and made it into something new. It was like Vib Ribbon, minus all the quirkiness.
If there was one thing that made me salty about Beat Hazard, it was that I wasn’t earning any achievements. It’s been a couple of years since I spent any serious time with Beat Hazard, one of the gems of the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, but there was little hesitation when I saw this port pop up in the App Store last week.
Beat Hazard Ultra takes any song and generates a stage based upon the music. The music is the basis of almost everything, from the power of your ship’s lasers to the enemies you face on screen. If the volume lowers, so too does your firepower. VOL and POW power-ups raise the music’s volume and your firepower, respectively. Once both are maxed, you enter fully-powered “Beat Hazard” mode.
The visual feedback, strobing lights, and flashing lasers that accompany Beat Hazard mode can be a lot to take in. It’s impressive, it’s bright, it’s flashy… but it’s excessive. Thankfully, these effects can be turned down for those with light-sensitivity. This is not a game for migraine sufferers or the epileptic.
You gain points through kills, obviously, and must collect score multiplier power-ups to get ahead. You can also increase your score multiplier through surviving for a long period of time and not firing. The latter, the “Daredevil” bonus, is the more interesting mechanic. Do you fire on the incoming ships or do you try to evade them while your Daredevil gauge is filling? Dying lowers your multiplier, so “Daredevil” becomes your risk/reward option.
Those points aren’t just your score, they’re your experience. You gain rank when you obtain a set number of points. Increasing your rank then allows you to unlock a “Perk” of your choosing. Perks are effects and abilities that make the game a little easier, like homing micro-missiles or random power-ups generated at the beginning of your song. You’ve only a certain amount of perk slots, so there is a little customization found.
You’ll also pick up money while you’re playing. Perks have to be purchased and then upgraded. Most of the fun of the game is actually unlocking and upgrading your perks with the cash you pick up. If you’re in some sort of hurry, there are in-app purchases available. I can’t imagine using it as more than a tip jar, though, as the game’s rather generous.
Beat Hazard Ultra is a lot of fun, but your mileage will vary depending on what you want out of it. For me, it finally gave me a reason to add music to my iPhone. The only album I had on the device prior to Beat Hazard Ultra was the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World soundtrack. Since then, I’ve added some of my old favorites like The Black Mages, Beck, and Nirvana. I’ve added music I have yet to listen to, such as the latest Beastie Boys album. I love that simply doing something that I used to really enjoy, adding music to my MP3 player, rewards me. I started enjoying music again. If you don’t feel like loading up your iOS device with MP3s, you even have the option of Internet Radio stations. Those looking for a truly hardcore dual-stick shooter may want to look elsewhere.
Beat Hazard Ultra comes with three difficulty levels (with two more unlockable) and two different control methods. Single-stick control has you guiding your ship while the game auto-fires, which sounds great but you also gain fewer points and have no reliable method of gaining “Daredevil” bonuses. Dual-stick method nets you more points, but it’s more difficult. Obviously, if you want to play the way it was intended, you’re going to go dual-stick.
However, there in lies the problem. Even though the game isn’t particularly daunting, virtual sticks don’t really cut it when you are used to precise control. The strobe lighting effects already obscure your view at times, and now you have to contend with your thumbs as well? With the lack of buttons comes clumsy weapon usage. You have smart bombs, the save-your-ass golden standard since Defender, but the button is located on the right stick. You’re going to hit it when you don’t mean to or be unable to use it when you want. The same goes for your micro-missiles and reflect shield. The control problems can be frustrating, but I understand a lot of elements had to be crammed on screen to make this work. Don’t be surprised if you’re frustrated early on. Still, the controls work and after about fifteen games, you’ll likely find your sweet spot. It gets better and is well worth having this game on-the-go.
While many games in the App Store allow you to play your music, few allow you to PLAY your music. Beat Hazard Ultra is a terrific blend of gaming and music. If you use your iOS device for both, then this is the perfect title for you.
(Beat Hazard Ultra is GameCenter integrated and small enough to download over 3G networks. )Tweet
About the Author
|Fade to Slack is a founding member of Delta Attack, an American expatriate in South Korea, and a true believer in the legitimacy of mobile gaming.
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Fade to Slack has written 308 posts on Delta Attack.