The goal of Magical Beat is simple to learn, but incredibly difficult to master. It’s a bit of a mix between Lumines and Tetris, where you have to drop blocks known as beatons to the beat of the music. There’s a Beat Sync Gauge which provides a metronome and information on the current tempo of the track, but it’s much easier to listen to the music and go with the flow.
When three beatons of the same colour line up, they’ll clear to the beat of the song. Since the beatons disappear on a delayed tempo, it’s possible to string together some massive combos inflicting serious harm on your opponent. The faster and higher that your score points, the more ‘jammer’ beatons will be sent to your opponent, making it increasingly difficult for them to clear their stage. You no doubt get the rest.
The difficulty is decided based upon both the song and the game mode. Various tunes have different beats per minute (BPM), and each mode offers a range of artificial intelligence difficulties. Beginner Mode consists of five stages designed as more of a tutorial for new players, while Normal Mode offers a moderate degree of difficulty as you fight a group of opponents in a ten stage arcade style battle. Finally, Hell Mode is exactly as it sounds; immense difficulty paired with the most challenging songs should pose a formidable challenge for even the best rhythm gamers.
The idea of syncing gameplay to music is nothing new, but surprisingly fitting in a puzzle style game like this, adding a higher degree of immersion. As the songs all vary in BPM, learning how to best play each track takes practice. For example, slower songs give you more time to think about your drops, but also force you to play more deliberately. Meanwhile, faster songs give very little time to dither, but allow beatons to be dropped at insane rates. It’s a difficult balance to get used to, but it’s an alluring challenge for fans of rhythm games.
Musically, the score is fantastic, diverse, and addictive. Featuring a vocaloid soundtrack from Nico Nico, as well as famous tunes from Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, there is a track for just about everyone here. Sound effects and system tones fit the songs nicely, too, creating a synergy of sound that your ears will surely appreciate.
Not only are your lugholes in for a treat, however, but the visuals of the various 8-bit characters are superb as well. Each personality has their own backstory, and while these aren’t a focal point of the action, they’re an appreciated addition all the same. Elsewhere, game stages are bright and vibrant, while the framerate is silky smooth.
Unfortunately, the transition to multiplayer isn’t so slick. Magical Beat only supports local ad hoc action, reminding us of the era of PlayStation Portable games. Considering how fun and competitive this game can be, it’s a massive tragedy that online multiplayer isn’t included. Still, the competitive play is great once you actually find another person with a copy of the game.
The lack of online multiplayer is perhaps what hurts this title the most. It’s fun while it lasts, but after clearing each stage, there’s not much left to the game other than the My Own Battle Mode, which lets you select a song, difficulty, and opponent.
Another issue is that the localisation team has forgotten to swap the functions of the Circle and X buttons, which adopt the Japanese format of confirm and exit respectively. This is by no means a flaw with the game, but attempting to relearn this simple rule will prove a practice in futility. At least the gameplay controls are customisable, responsive, easy to learn, and, above all, effective.
Considering its low asking price, Magical Beat is a fantastic and bold puzzle game that only skips a few beats. The lack of online multiplayer is like nails on a chalkboard for a title such as this, but the magnificent soundtrack, charming avatars, and addictive twist on an age old genre make it worth dancing to the tune of.