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The Xbox Live Indie Games service is full of clones of more popular titles. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” so they say. Sadly, the imitator is rarely as good as the original.
Beat Hazard is, in essence, a Geometry Wars clone. However, it is one of those rare titles that not only meets the expectations set by its predecessor, but exceeds them. It is perhaps the single finest Indie Game on the entire service.
Dual-stick shooters are probably the most overused genre on the Xbox 360 Marketplace. If one wants to set itself apart, it has to do something drastically different while, at the same time, still sticking to the addictive mechanics of the first dual-stick hit (from the original Xbox, no less!), Geometry Wars. Beat Hazard uses music as its gimmick.
A “level” in BH is one song long. You can choose from the ten pre-set techno songs that come included with the game, which are all fairly solid, or you can use tunes from your own media library.
You are a spaceship. You shoot asteroids and enemy spaceships. There’s a power bomb that destroys all the enemies on the screen. La de da. Same old song and dance.
There are three power-ups to collect from fallen enemies. There’s the standard “+1 multiplier”, but there’s also a “volume up”, and a “power up”. You see, each song/level starts you off at a low song volume with a weak ship laser. As the volume increases, your guns do more damage, and “Power ups” make your weapons stronger.
Max out both volume and power, and you become a “beat hazard,” a one-ship killing machine with a mega-laser. If you die, then you’ll start back at square one. If you manage to evade the baddies and blast away, you’ll rack up huge points.
A cool part is how the music links into the gameplay. When the bass is thumping and the music is pumping, the entire game acts as a trippy visualizer. Your laser’s strength and the intensity of the visual effects build with the intensity of the music. Likewise, quiet songs mean a weak laser. It’s quite a sight and an interesting mechanic.
With so much going on, it may feel like you could lose your ship amongst all the explosive action. But as the nucleus for all the destruction, you will rarely feel lost. This is a good thing.
Beat Hazard also borrows from Geometry Wars in a few other aspects. If you don’t shoot for a while, you’ll earn multiplier bonuses – it’s called a “dare devil bonus”, as opposed to GW‘s “pacifist”. Also, the score multipliers you build here can reach into the hundreds. Beating one level poorly may net you 50,000 points. Do it well, and you can surpass a million.
There are also challenges (read: achievements) to attain, and any points you earn are added to an overall score pool. At set point amounts, you’ll level up and get bonuses to help you reach even higher scores.
There are three difficulty levels, and higher levels reward you with more enemies and even more mind-expanding visuals. Normal provides a good challenge while still letting you win. Hardcore will make you feel like a god.
I’m not sure how many people have actually used the personalized playlist feature on the 360, but this game will have you installing music to your hard drive that you don’t even like, in the hope that linking it with asteroid blasting will produce an even greater mental addiction to the beats. Believe me, it will.
Techno seems the obvious choice, but how about some old Johnny Cash? White Stripes? Bach? Hanson? Band Hero‘s Taylor Swift? You are limited only by your extensive music library. Each song is a new audio/visual experience.
Although, there are a few things holding the game back: local multiplayer only (no online), no online leaderboards (not even for the ten in-game songs), and the fact that there is no way to tell which difficulty you attained your high score for each song.
However, once Last.fm makes its Xbox debut, a Cold Beam Games patch to include Internet radio compatibility on Beat Hazard would mean this is the last game you’d ever have to buy.
As it is, Beat Hazard is the best 400 Microsoft points you can spend in the Indie Games library. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a more addictive downloadable title in the entirety of the Xbox Marketplace.
Pop in some tunes and charge up your lasers, this is one musical experience you won’t soon forget.