You’ve probably heard of Arc System Works. Even if you haven’t heard of them, if you’ve owned a Vita for any significant length of time, you’ve probably played one of their games.
They’re the guys known for fighting hits like Persona 4 Arena, Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. But even though the fighting games might be part of their marquee line, Arc System Works are a diverse group of creators who’ve also got lots of smaller games over different genres. Magical Beat is one such game. At first glance, it’s got all the components of a winner – the art style is delightfully retro and the gameplay revs up and down to the tune of the music that plays in the game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite manage to bring all of its strengths together into a single, cohesive experience that would make it an enjoyable little puzzle game.
Magical Beat is a Tetris-esque game with elements of a rhythm game mixed into it. You play in a split-screen format, versus either a human or an AI opponent and try to match your blocks. You have to make horizontal or vertical rows of three same-colored blocks to shoot an attack over to your enemy’s side. Also, unlike Tetris, the blocks don’t fall into the field on their own. They appear at the top of your screen, and you have to rotate and place them before you send them hurtling down to where you are setting up your grid. This is one element that sets it apart from other block games.
You also have a meter that accompanies your grid. There is a blue area in the center of the meter which you have to look at carefully. When your bar is within this blue area, you press the required button and your block drops to your grid, breaks apart and scatters its component pieces all over the board. You might find that constantly keeping an eye on the meter is somewhat distracting though. Instead, over time you can learn to use the music that is playing to guide your actions on the grid.
The Game Play:
Beating your opponents involves chaining together large blocks of ‘beatons’ (this is what the game calls its pieces) and creating massive combo scores. Unlike other games of its ilk, blocks don’t disappear immediately when you’ve put a bunch of them together. You get an extra few seconds to set up even more blocks of the same color together, so you can create even bigger combos. However, there’s no fixed visual indicator that shows you how much extra time you actually get. You’ll have to get used to reading the musical cues to guide your combo-creating antics. The larger your combos and chains are, the more debris drops onto your opponents side of the map. The objective is to get the junk that you can create on your opponent’s side by chaining combos to reach above the top of the screen, causing a match to end.
Since you have to manually twist and turn each block before you drop it onto the field, you will quickly have to develop a visual sense for what kind of pattern fits where onto your grid. In addition, this game is heavily reliant on you being able to read the musical cues. Much like Tetris, if you find that one column on your board is growing perilously high, you need to approach the problem from another direction instead of freaking out and dropping more misfit blocks onto it. The game works great once you’ve got used to it, but this very process takes some time, and the difficulty curve is brutal. Your opponents increase in skill really quickly and you might struggle to keep up, at least during the early part of the game.
When there’s so much emphasis on music, the soundtrack has to be good and thankfully Magical Beat doesn’t disappoint. There are a variety of songs that span different genres and if you’ve played any Japanese games or watched anime before, you will immediately recognize the groove of some of them. The choice of songs fits the old-school, arcade graphics nicely and even though the action on-screen is intense, the music always lightens the mood. Once you’ve beaten the game for the first time, you can choose more rock-oriented tracks to play with, if that’s what catches your fancy.
Other Game Notes:
Other than the unlockable music tracks, there’s really not much extra content to speak of in Magical Beat. Your basic single-player mode lets you play across three difficulty levels, and each of these are basically the same thing – you match wits against one cute-looking retro character after another until you reach the boss. There’s no story to explain the action, which is probably for the better since it would be difficult to explain why you are trying to match bricks against an opponent. The multiplayer mode provides some good fun for a while, even if you can’t go online. You have to ask a friend to play against you locally. This is a curious omission, since online play would surely have kept players around longer.
Magical Beat looks and sounds great, but the dearth of content makes it tough to stick with. Once you’ve finished the standard game mode, there’s not really much to do other than unlocking some obscure items. With some more game modes and additional content, this game could’ve been a fun puzzler to while away your time with. If you’re looking for a spin on the old Tetris formula, give Magical Beat a try.