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Review – Beat Hazard (PC)

Somewhere along the way, the “Sh’Mup” or “Shoot Em Up” genre evolved and became the “Bullet Hell” Genre.  Play styles and enemy patterns from games like R-Type, or Gradius remail but there is a lot more going on in the playing field than older systems could handle.  Hell there’s probably more going on in a single screen of a modern Shoot Em up game than happened in an entire round of Gradius.  Since the screen is covered in action and well, bullets, the term Bullet Hell is used.

If you want to go way back, Asteroid is essentially the grand daddy of this genre.  They come in two flavors, games like R-Type which scroll along in one direction as enemies attack and the player navigates a stage or Asteroid types where the screen generally stays stationary and the player navigates around the screen defending his or herself.

Beat Hazard falls into the latter type.

It has most of the common elements of this genre, lots of action, everything is glowing and neon colored, power ups, score multipliers and a general dependence on score as a game mechanic.  What sets this game apart is it’s musical gimmick.

As you play, your weapon becomes more powerful or weaker to the music playing in the background.  If there is a quiet moment, you’ll shoot tiny single bullets.  If it’s jamming a guitar riff, the screen will light up and glow as you stream energy all over the screen.  This is also augmented by the power ups.  You collect Volume and Power emblems.  The Volume makes the music get louder and increases the spread and coverage of your weapons.  Power pickups increases the music’s power, makes it sound less flat and causes your weapons to do more damage.  when you max out both Power and Volume you unlock “Beat Hazard” mode and become a very powerful force.

The game’s built in tracks are pretty good but the real fun comes in playing your own tracks.  Beat Hazard is compatible with any MP3 files you want to play.  For a $1 DLC fee you can add AAC and MP4 files from iTunes (this is to cover the license to play AAC).

The biggest drawback of this game is it’s lack of variety.  The levels are more or less randomly generated based somewhat on the music choices but the number of different enemies you encounter are few.  There’s some large garbage ball asteroid things, some small and medium ships that simply fly back and fourth, some larger ships that follow you around a small boss which shows up in pairs and a larger boss.  That’s it.  There’s a new DLC pack slated for release this year which promises to add some more enemies however. 

There’s also a bit of a simplicity aspect to the game play.  It’s not real hard to beat most levels by dodging things and spinning your aiming target (mouse) win circles shooting everything around you.  This doesn’t work on the bosses and often it’s effective to stop and concentrate fire on the landing point of the enemies but when things get busy this simple strategy will most likely pull you through.  Also, mostly a minor nitpick, the larger ships that follow you around could stand to be slightly less tough.  They tend to snake after you and it’s easy to get trapped in a corner.

The game also features a leveling system that actually does a pretty good job of keeping itself relevant.  The early stages and difficulties are easily doable on the lower rankings but the later stages become difficult very quickly without leveling up your a rank.  There isn’t a direct “one level means more damage” relationship but you’ll earn helpful abilities like “Start with 20x Multiplier” and “Start with +1 Volume”.

It’s still a blast to play despite it’s flaws.  Especially if you are a fan of the genre and fast paced heavy Rock/Techno music.  Be warned though, the game itself warns, there is heavy use of strobe style bright effects and anyone prone to seizures caused by such things should really steer clear.  the game’s warning isn’t joking.

Beat hazard is available via Steam.

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