Adventure Gamers Awards
Playing through Beat the Game instantly reminded me of some of those animated music videos that really stood out in their day and still do now in my memory, like Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc.” and Daft Punk’s “Interstella555”. Cool characters, fast beats, surreal worlds. The only difference between this game and those creative music videos is that here you get to make your own music. It’s certainly an unusual experience right from the start, but for me ‘unusual’ very quickly turned into ‘awesome’ once I got the hang of its unique gameplay.
Beat the Game follows Mistik, a music producer with his mobile sound detector and mixing device, as he collects sounds from his mysterious surroundings. Stranded on a vast and soulless desert at the beginning, Mistik spots an enormous creature floating high in the air off in the distance. This monster is a giant eyeball, with devilish wings and eternal tears dripping down beneath its body, looking like something out of a heavy metal album cover. Far below the eerie giant, a mysterious red throne, weirdly, stands firmly atop a sand dune. As soon as Mistik sits on it, a pair of creepy branches emerges from behind him and straps him onto the throne before pulling him underground. When the throne rights itself back into position, Mistik is gone. Dun dun dun!
One fade-out later, Mistik wakes up in a subterranean cave with giant red roots snaking around it. Using a pretty simple control scheme, players guide him using the arrow keys or left mouse-clicks, while the camera automatically adjusts to his position. When I encountered a ladder, a text cue conveniently guided me up, but when I arrived back in the desert, this time it existed in a destroyed and forgotten world, with dead robots and half-buried rusty furniture. A curious cat-eared girl snooped from behind the metal junk before fleeing the scene.
At this point a new instruction is given: ‘Collect items and sounds.’ The S key is used to detect sounds, and M to mix them, so I pressed S and a robotic voice spoke: “Sound Scanner is active.” That’s pretty cool; it’s almost like having a retro version of J.A.R.V.I.S. to guide you. This robotic voice and occasionally a narrator are the only ones who talk to you throughout the game, as there’s no dialogue or any conversations with other characters. These voice/text instructions continue to pop up from time to time to make sure you’re on the right track. It’s pretty clear that the developers are trying to offer – even if not very seamlessly – a fuss-free experience. Instead of figuring out the controls as you go, you are briefed from the start so you can freely roam and have an adventure.
As adventurous as they want us to be, however, when Mistik wanders off too far a warning appears saying: ‘There’s no sound to collect over there, come back here.’ It’s a bit disappointing that he can’t go any further, because outside the invisible perimeters sit these crazy-super-dramatic yet inaccessible landmarks: a volcano with a humongous industrial cable plugged into its crater, abandoned mega-factories, and even geometric, robot-alien spaceships, to name a few. The whole look is a blend of realistic environments and stylish characters and elements, birthing a kind of surreal vibe as you explore this post-apocalyptic landscape.
I say ‘post-apocalyptic’ because you can see a street lamp buried all the way down in the sand, a vending machine and drum sticks lying casually around, and a huge billboard that’s merely a ladder away from climbing. Maybe this desert wasn’t always a desert – there seems to have been a city or some sort of civilization here once. Or perhaps all this junk might have been transported here and discarded in the desert, just like what happened to Mistik. Sadly, such possibilities are never confirmed or given any kind of explanation.
Starting out, there’s no background music or any audio to accompany you, but there’s good reason for that. To ‘beat’ the game, you have to help Mistik collect all available sounds (using a tiny tuning-pad on his hip) to fill the empty spaces on his mixer so he can, turns out, DJ a party later on. The sounds vary from ghostly cat meows to electronic pig snorts, and what’s interesting is that since the objects making these noises move, you need to move along with them to catch the sound by keeping them within your sonar range for five seconds. If not, you need to run after them and start over. Sometimes hints are given about how to find the next sound; others – well, most of them – are just waiting to be stumbled upon. Either way, it is so fun to discover all the bizarre objects flying around and the misplaced statues decorating the desert.
Once you get your first couple of sounds, you can start mixing them into a mini-jam and when you close the mixer, guess what – your jam becomes your soundtrack! Any way the beats are arranged, any way you want it, your mix will serve as the audio backdrop while you continue to explore more ruins to collect more sounds to create even better jams. It was exactly this moment that made me go, “Wow, it’s like I’m walking in my own music video!” If there’s anything to top that feeling, it’s when you see a giant clay-like creature surfing across the desert, with a text message telling you that “Kumadam likes your music.” Best feeling ever!
Mixing here is actually a pretty simple process, and you don’t have to worry at all about not being musically inclined to try it. All the sounds you collect automatically go into the holographic pop-up mixing screen, and each sound is represented by a cool geometric shape. You press that shape, it lights up, and the sound will go on loop. Combine that with a different-shaped sound and you’ve already made a nice simple beat. Tired of that cranky pig-snort sound? Press the shape and it will turn off. Pick something else, create something new. Want to walk around without music for a while? Turn off all those shapes, close your mixing screen and you’ll have your peaceful desert back.
Now, other than sound-collecting and music-making, you’ll also get to gather some items along the way. But in the laid-back nature of this whole experience, all objects are automatically used when needed, so there’s nothing you can do with them, really, except wait until you come across a matching item or character in your travels. When you do, afterwards you may get to enjoy a cutscene that unfolds, which happens for every significant interaction.
Another reason Beat the Game feels just like a music video – an interactive one, that is – is because in music videos not everything has to make sense. Some visuals go along the lines of the lyrics, some are more symbolic or personal, but most of the time, music videos are just trying to be fun. In this case, we never really learn why Mistik ends up hosting a party for those triangle-creatures, or why that cat-girl is so reluctant to be found, or what really happened to the former civilization here. It’s all very curious, yet as I spent more time scavenging and my sound collection grew, I spent less time wondering about the untold stories and grew more invested in trying to capture unique sounds to mix. Maybe, after all, we don’t have to know everything if we're having a good time anyway.
Essentially, this game offers players a unique experience, fusing music and adventure in a way never quite seen before. We might not learn anything about the protagonist, this alien world, or any of the bizarre characters populating it, but at least we can directly determine what kind of music we want to listen to. As Mistik, we’re basically just trying to make the best of our time while stranded in this strange wasteland, and what better way than making our own jams? It might not be what you expect from a traditional adventure, but Beat the Game is definitely an experience you can’t miss if you think you might love creating cool music! There’s no definitive conclusion at the end of this bizarre two-hour journey, but it is an immersive trip to the unknown while it lasts.