Magical Beat (Vita) Review

The Short


Pros

– Fast, easy-to-pick-up puzzle game

– Rewards aggressive play and encourages fast, frantic matches

– Having to move pieces to the “beat” adds a new layer of spice

– Seventeen songs initially, with songs from Blazblue and Guilty Gear available for unlock

– Lots of DLC songs and characters available for cheap

– Quite addicting

Cons

– A veritable dearth of modes

– With no online play, the Vita version is essentially single player only (you can Ad-Hoc and that’s it)

– Computer is incredibly challenging and the difficulty ranks up too hard too quickly

– Seriously, on normal stage 10 it moves like a superhuman

– Characters are cute and different, but don’t actually change the gameplay at all

It’s time to get yo beat on.

The Long

I’m gonna admit: I downloaded the demo to this game because I thought it was Magical DROP. Reading comprehension, you’ve failed me yet again.

Magical Beat, on the other hand, isn’t a bubble-busting blaster like the game I confused it with. Oddly enough, this small puzzle game was created by none other than Arc System Works, the guys who mostly stick to hardcore anime fighting games (Guilty Gear, Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena). Apparently this game creeped out on Japan’s PSN a while ago, and nobody expected it to make it stateside. Well…it did, and here it is. So is this puzzle game made by fighting game guys any good?

The characters look like they took inspiration from Cave Story. I’m ok with this.

Magical Beat is a fairly standard action puzzle game with a few minor twists. The game itself plays a lot like Puyo Puyo. Your goal is to get combinations of three or more blocks (or Puyos) of the same color next to each other. By positioning blocks specifically, you can set up chains, which will clear your board faster and drop obnoxious black blocks (or Puyos) on the enemy screen. If your opponent’s screen crosses the top before yours, you are the winner.

The trick to Magical Beat vs a regular Puyo Puyo type game is the second part of the title: the beat. The game draws a bit of inspiration from that other music puzzler I’m hopelessly addicted to, Lumines. Rather than have the pieces fall automatically like in most top to bottom puzzlers, Magical Beat has you holding the three square L piece at the top of the screen, allowing you to position and flip it until you are ready to drop it down. The catch is that next to every player’s side is a line moving up and down with the beat of the song. You have to drop the piece with the beat (or within a small range of error), or else instead of falling where you want it, the piece will explode and the squares fall wherever they feel like it.

It’s a simple idea but quickly becomes addicting, mostly because of the range of BPMs across songs. Some are very slow, which means both you and your opponent have more time to think, and makes specifically placing pieces all the more important. Others are balls to the walls fast (like…seriously. So fast a normal person couldn’t wisely drop a piece on every beat hit), which makes the competition absurdly frantic. Note that you aren’t required to drop a piece every beat, but the computer probably will, which means you’d better be thinking quick on those hard songs.

Blazblue characters and songs are available as DLC, which is a fun nod to the designer’s other games

When combining pieces into clusters, they don’t disappear immediately (like Puyo Puyo), instead waiting a few beats before disappearing. This gives you time to build up the cluster, or make other clusters, as all current clusters will be removed at the same time, regardless of when they were made. This is similar to the line that crosses the screen in Lumines, erasing finished clusters in that game too, except in Magical Beat there is no such indicator. You do get a sort of “intuition” about when your clusters will be removed after a few games (and if a cluster would have caused you to lose, it is removed immediately to free up screen space), but some sort of visual hint wouldn’t have hurt.

Modes are, unfortunately, this game’s biggest problem. In that, there aren’t many of them. At all. You have three arcade style modes, a beginner round that’s 5 matches, a “normal” round that’s 10, and a “Hardcore Hell” one which is also ten but the robots are Skynet, Deep Blue, and Hal rolled into one. Aside from that, you can play a single song vs a computer at the difficulty level of your choosing, and…that’s it. Not a whole lot here.

This game screams to have multiplayer. The frantic, manic games would make for some hilarious online play with friends. Unfortunately, there is no online multiplayer in the game. In the PS3 version you have the option of local two player puzzle-battling (which I would imagine is fun; I got the Vita version), but for the Vita owners you’re pretty much boned: Ad-Hoc is the only way to play, and both of you have to be in the same room and have a copy of the game. The fact that a game was released in 2014 without online play at all completely baffles me, and actually makes me really sad because I wanted to play this game with a friend (or two).

At least I’ll always have the computer…right? Maybe?

If you have a PS3 and a significant other, this game is a blast. If you like games like Puyo Puyo or Tetris Attack, this will provide a good deal of competitive, frantic fun. Single player, however, it’s a much harder sell, especially considering what you see is basically what you get. If you download the demo, it literally is just the Beginner mode pulled from the game and put on PSN (the 5 stages on an easier difficulty), with the only difference between that and the main game being 12 more songs (vs 5 in the demo) and the 10 person arcade and hell mode.

The computer, also, is a bit of a problem. True to Arc System’s past games (I’m looking at you, Blazblue), your enemy AI goes from “Good” to “Really good” to “Impossibly fantastic” over a matter of just a few rounds. I kid you not that I just sat back and watched it on Arcade Round 8 (not even on Hell mode) and it was moving blocks at a speed literally impossible to do if you have to physically push a button. I guess it means the game will last longer since you’ll be butting your head against a cheating computer for a while, but it feels like a cheap way to lengthen the game.

Gotta stay in tempo!

The graphics are fairly simple, using a pixel-art motif that seems to be all the rage these days. The blocks reminded me a lot of the blocks in Tetris Attack (for better or for worse), including visually changing when you have two next to each other and need only one more to finish a chain. The game plays a satisfying “SHISSH!” sound if you manage to drop a piece exactly with the beat (which I assume means more points), and the characters are all over the place in terms of awesomeness. Regular anime style characters meet up with a ghost called G-host, a potted flower, an alphcha with an eyepatch, and a blob of pixels. Yeah, just a blob of pixels. His song is nuts.

The music is also a lot of fun, a mix of techno and vocaloid that is never grating and reminded me a bit of DDR style music…if it had been bitcrunched a bit. Fans of Hatsune Miku may noticed some of the vocaloid software used is the same kind used in her voice, though it’s never similar enough to be distracting. You can also unlock a handful of heavier techno songs from Blazblue and Guilty Gear, or just buy them on the market for a couple of bucks.

“Egg shaped chicken in a frying pan” is obviously my main.

When I first played the demo of Magical Beat, I was set to recommend it to everybody. The game is exactly the kind of puzzle game I like: absurdly fast, rewarding those who are aggressive (when I play fast in Tetris I just lose earlier…), has very fast and crazy matches, and looks and sounds great. After getting the game, however, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Sure, the core gameplay hadn’t changed, but the unfortunate lack of variety and modes coupled with the massive oversight of not including online play is genuinely disheartening. It’s especially worse for a Vita player, as the game isn’t cross-buy, so if I want to play it with my wife on the PS3 I’ll have to shell out another ten bucks. Which makes me even sadder, because this game is a perfect fit for handhelds and playing on the bus, if only it had more content (or the computer weren’t so impossibly good) to keep it floating.

As it stands, I still think Magical Beat is an awesome puzzle game. I’m crossing my fingers that it sold well enough to merit either a sequel or some free DLC in the future to include more modes and an online option, but considering almost nobody knows this game exists that probably won’t happen. Still, if you have a PS3 and love competitive puzzle games, this one is an absolute treat. It’s got fun music, cute characters, exciting gameplay, and an unfortunate lack of content on Vita. Ah well, maybe next time.

Oh, and you can buy Blazblue characters. That’s pretty good.

Three out of five stars. 

These guys know how to party.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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