Developer: Cold Beam Games
Beat Hazard has been around for a while, and those smart enough to check it out discovered a world of music-powered mayhem that rewarded players for keeping a varied discography. However, the newly-released Ultra DLC transforms Beat Hazard into the fully-rounded experience it deserved to be... and more importantly, the game we always wanted it to be.
At its core, Beat Hazard is a music visualiser. Once you've selected a song from your hard drive (most file formats are supported including .aac, .mp3, and .wma) or booted up one of the preset tunes, powerful invisible algorithms transform the music into a crisp HD star field that pulses and crackles with an insane amount of visual feedback. Cold Beam Games actually released this tool as a standalone application, but in Beat Hazard, you'll leap into the cockpit of a powerful space fighter and do battle against swarms of asteroids and enemies. These foes are dynamically and appropriately added into each song, meaning that every individual track is a self-contained and unique experience in and of itself. Sure, it's a twinstick shooter, but each level is an intricate dance of death that's immeasurably improved by the new Ultra DLC pack.
And hell, it even makes that mewling puke Rebecca Black sound acceptable. Let's watch.
The new enemies soon make their presence felt. As well as the traditional waves of fighters and bombers, new space mines and swirling chains of pulsing colour weave away from your firepower and manoeuvre behind your murderous barrage. Hulking capital ships snare you with their electricity beams and leave you at the mercy of their cohorts. Tentacular uberfields writhe and twist in time to the beat, requiring you to shred their skeletons in their moments of weakness. The sheer variety of opponents, coupled with the unpredictable randomness of their generation, elevates Beat Hazard to an entirely new level of twinstick brilliance.
Your weaponry is also powered by your music. Firepower is directly influenced by the rhythm, cadence and timbre of the track you select, meaning that it's devastatingly powerful during drum solos and crunching riffs but hilariously ineffectual during instrumental string sections or a capella breakdowns. Collecting volume and power upgrades increases both the volume of the track, visual feedback and your weapons themselves; culminating in the deployment of the calamitous Beat Hazard beam that shreds entire fleets in its bass-thumping wake. A powerful smart bomb grants you a visceral get-out clause, though in a fun twist, players can gain point multipliers by resolutely holding fire and dodging through the incoming hordes. The Ultra Pack goes one step further by introducing new Micro Missiles and a Reflect Shield, which are invaluable on faster songs.
The Ultra DLC pack also adds a selection of perks and upgrades that allow players to customise their ship's loadout and weaponry as they gain money and levels. These perks provide an addictive extra layer of replayability, and will appeal to both newcomers and existing fans, but it's worth noting that it hasn't been integrated into the experience particularly well. You'll need to hop between several disconnected screens in order to kit out your fighter, and it's a shame that this couldn't have been handled from a single cohesive hub.
New (and incredibly satisfying) online multiplayer gametypes and boss rush mode round out the package, and a dizzying array of achievements and levels will keep completionists glued to their music libraries for many weeks to come. Trying out different genres and breaking out of your musical comfort zone will play dividends. In fact, I'd heartily recommend digging out some classical CDs and salsa compilations for a refreshing change of pace.
Finally, the Ultra DLC still doesn't quite manage to eradicate one of the few problems of the original game: namely, the fact that it's sometimes difficult to see exactly how level generation actually ties into each particular track. Once you've seen the same varieties of foe spawn into different songs, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the waves are far less random than Cold Beam Games would have you believe. That said, you'll probably be having too much fun exterminating them to care.
- Tight, frantic and dynamic SHMUP gameplay that's powered by your music
- Huge selection of new enemies, weapons and upgrades
- Infinite replayability... that's now more infinite? Super.
- Poorly-implemented perk interface
- Occasional malaise thanks to unit repetition
- In rare cases, insane visual feedback can lead to retinal orgasm. Messy.
The Short Version: Beat Hazard Ultra punches up every aspect of the capable original; creating an experience that fans can savour and newcomers can enjoy to the full. If you haven't already bought into Beat Hazard, it's about time you did.
Note: I've been reliably informed that Microsoft has blocked the Xbox Live Indie version of the Ultra DLC pack. I plan to noisily kill a tentacular uberfiend outside Redmond headquarters every day until this decision is reversed.