Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians

A game by Threaks for PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U, Xbox One, iOS, and Android, originally released in 2013.
In Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians, you play the part of an ethereal being known as Beatbuddy as he journeys through the land of Symphonia. Symphonia is a place that is built upon music, with a beat behind everything, affecting the flow of the world and the movement of its inhabitants. Beatbuddy must save his homeland from Prince Maestro’s army and prevent him from taking control of its music.

Beatbuddy has just a few moves at his disposal. A dash move sends him forward in quick bursts, while holding the button allows him to swim quickly and outrun dangers like falling rocks. A punch allows him to impact some enemies, although exploration and puzzle solving are more often the focus than direct combat. Punching puffballs will release health restoratives, which are placed liberally, as are checkpoints.

Much of the gameplay is built around music, or at least enhanced by it. For instance, crab-like enemies peer up from their homes, rocking out to the background beat. Nearby, numerous spiked enemies pulse and throb to the music as well. Punching the crab will cause the nearby enemies to retract their spikes and the music will lose a layer of complexity. But when the spikes pop back out, a percussive fill will enter the arrangement. Even Beatbuddy himself will jam out to the beat if you leave him standing still for a moment, and taking damage causes the music to become muffled.

As Beatbuddy swims through the environment, he encounters enemies and obstacles whose behaviors are driven by the ever-present beat. Bubbles stream upward from bulbous emitters, alternating between clear and yellow on every other beat, indicating when Beatbuddy can dash through them. Dashing through clear bubbles will allow him to pass safely, where the yellow ones will block his path. Later, you will encounter bubbles that turn red as well, and these will take away some of your health if you swim through them during this time. Timing your dashes to the beat will see you safely through.

Other music-based encounters include snails that fire bullets in time with the music, and alternate fire between one another, allowing rhythmic players to listen for their opportunity to pass safely through. There are some enemies and objects that can only be destroyed by punching them in time to the music, and giving them an off-beat hit will bounce you back.

Music becomes quieter and loses complexity as you move away from enemies, offering calmer explorative areas in between enemy encounters. In these areas, you may find yourself looking for keys to open doors, solving environmental puzzles, or hunting down “beatpoint” gems to unlock extras. These pink gems also aid in showing which direction you should head next, as they are often placed just at the edge of the screen or at the mouth of an opening.

A common puzzle involves finding puffy plants called “bassdrum flowers” that will bounce you quickly away, allowing you to blast through walls of clustered mollusks. You can also rotate reflectors and use them to bounce yourself further, or change your direction. Reflectors light up when they are pointed precisely at a target, allowing you to line them up over long distances. More complex puzzles involve lining up a series of bounces to bash through various walls, often leading to more reflectors and more bassdrum flowers.

While you will be performing very similar actions throughout the experience, the gameplay does change up from time to time to offer a bit of variety. For instance, one sequence has you flipping switches to open and close doors along a winding pathway. Bubble emitters send bubbles down the path, and they’ll pop if they hit a closed door, but opening the doors also activates machine-gunning snails that can pop the bubbles as well. You have to get the timing right to get the bubbles through the open doors while also avoiding any pesky projectiles.

Another gameplay change occurs during chase sequences where you may find yourself attempting to outrun a giant fish creature or a moving spiked wall.

The most common change-up occurs when using a vehicle called the Beat Buggy. At certain points, you have a chance to pilot the vehicle through prescribed areas, and you are ejected once the sequence is completed. The vehicle’s movement is a bit odd, as it lunges forward a bit with each beat, although many of the enemies move in this manner as well, allowing for puzzles where you slide along in gaps between creatures.

On every second beat, you can dash forward if you get the timing right, and you can even use this move to dash against currents. The vehicle glows with every other beat, helping you to line up your button presses.

Unlike Beatbuddy, the vehicle heals itself over time, so if it does manage to take damage, you just need to get it out of harm’s way for a few seconds and the health meter will recharge. In the second level, the buggy gets beefed up with a machine gun upgrade that lets you blast through enemies and mollusk walls. The machine gun is limited in that its aim is fixed to the right, but there are a number of challenges built around this where you must find arrows to rotate the buggy and thereby change your firing direction.

When you’re not using the Beat Buggy, your friend Clef is, and he floats in from time to time to give you some exposition, while occasionally letting you pilot the rig yourself. There are also times when you must clear a path for him to safely travel by solving environmental puzzles or tracking down keys to open doors. The Beat Buggy is constantly breaking down (which is usually the reason for ejecting you), while Clem attempts to hide the fact that the craft is really just a flying piece of luh suh.

At the end of each level, a summary shows your completion time and the number of beatpoints collected versus the total number. Collecting beatpoints allows you to unlock extras showing a history of the game’s 4-year development, including pictures of the developers working on the game, attending shows, and playing with Beatbuddy plushies… including a picture of one developer in a bathtub full of said toys.

Environments have a tremendous amount of visual depth, featuring multiple levels of parallax, extending far into the background and even well into the foreground. The painterly style gives the six themed areas a more natural look and creates a greater sense of immersion. The foreground details occasionally obscure your vision, but this is used for stylistic purposes and is generally used in open areas so as not to negatively impact gameplay.

The music aids in the atmosphere as well, providing more than just a persistent background beat; it changes themes throughout the experience, changing from heavily percussive, to smooth jazz horns, to guitar heavy rock, and to synthetic electronica, occasionally enhanced with vocal flourishes. The game’s composers include the Grammy-nominated Austin Wintory of Journey fame, as well as Chime composers Parov Stelar and Sabrepulse.

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians got its start as a student project in 2009, developed by three designers based in Hamburg, Germany, who eventually went on to form the Threaks label. At the end of the project, the trio continued to work on the title and prototype its gameplay and aesthetics, eventually bringing on programmers to develop a full-fledged game. The game won first prize at the 2011 Music Works and was nominated for the 2011 German Video Game Awards in the category of “best up-and-coming project“.

The game was published by Reverb Publishing, which also published Shadowgate, Dungeon Defenders, Edge of Space, Sanctum 2, and Fenix Rage.

Threaks has one additional title to their credit, a game known as Hermes Run in which you play a delivery man who must run through iconic locales across Europe, jumping over cars and other obstacles, and even off rooftops, in order to make his delivery before night falls. The game was developed for iOS devices.