You are Beatbuddy: a cute little blue fella who is tasked with travelling through the six, beautifully hand drawn worlds of Symphonia to do… something. The basic idea is to save Symphonia from the evil Prince Maestro, ruler of this world, who is planning to steal the planet's music all for himself. You're also trying to rescue some 'friends' (who you never really get to know) who manage to get themselves stolen at various points in the game, but that's pretty much it. Luckily, the vague hint of a story is completely irrelevant as you'll be spending your time focusing on everything else that's going on.
The game starts you off with a level that doubles up as a tutorial, and you can instantly see the possibilities for greatness. The visuals are stunning. Everything is hand-drawn and bright foreground objects really stand out from the deep, darker colours in the background. As the first level progresses you are slowly introduced to some of the different plants and creatures that will eventually become part of much bigger, complex puzzles to solve.
The world around you is made of music. Every living thing seems to have music running through its veins and interacting with creatures and objects around you has an effect on the soundtrack being blasted from your TV. For example, something you'll come across very often is a plant called 'The Bassdrum' - used to propel yourself with speed to break barriers - which, as you can probably imagine, provides the bass drum for the soundtrack, adding an extra 'oomph' to the beat as you hit it. Another particularly great example is 'The Hi-Hat Crab'. These dance in time with the hi-hat in the music and act as an obstacle that can be held down for a few seconds, giving you the opportunity to pass. As you turn them off the hi-hat stops playing in the soundtrack, resuming when they re-surface; it's not completely original but it works really well.
The soundtrack itself is very interesting. So many games these days are either full of majestic orchestral masterpieces or 8-bit tunes trying to create a nostalgic happiness inside of you, but this is completely different. Each level has a different track written by a different composer and all six work well as an ever-present partner to the gameplay. Some of them have vocals, too, which is quite rare for a video game soundtrack but really helps to set the mood.
Despite the game seeming like it's heavily music based, you really don't have to be a musical person to play. Beatbuddy controls just as you'd expect for any playable character in a 2D platform or adventure game; the music is completely reserved for the universe around you. There are an odd few times where you have to hit enemies in time with the beat or pass through an obstacle on every second beat in the music, but there is no real rhythm action gameplay à la other eShop gems such as HarmoKnight.
Although music is clearly meant to be a huge part of this game the main focus actually comes from exploration and puzzle solving. This is where Beatbuddy really starts to shine. There are a total of six worlds, or 'levels', each with five 'chapters' to play through. Exploring every nook and cranny of each chapter is vital if you're the 100% completist type as there are varying numbers of Beatpoints to collect in each one as well as 10, larger, special Beatpoints per level; getting all of them is no easy task. Collecting the special Beatpoints opens up entries into a development diary, which includes photographs and information about the game's development right from the beginning. This is a genuinely interesting read and therefore provides an extra incentive to collect as many of those Beatpoints as you can.
Whilst there are many positive things to be said about the puzzle solving aspect, it is a bit of a mixed bag. At times it excels; the very last level has an excellent maze to work your way around with some very clever development ideas, but at others it begins to feel a little repetitive. This is, however, helped somewhat by how the levels play out; chapters alternate between controlling Beatbuddy alone and driving around in a vehicle (which quite comically falls apart at the end of each of its chapters), adding new ways to play. This constant back and forth of gameplay styles does help to keep things fresh but ultimately the nature of this pattern means it's the same idea over and over again.
Unfortunately there is something that lets the game down enormously… bugs. Not the creepy-crawly kind that happen to be linked to a synthesiser in the background, but technical, game-breaking bugs. Beatbuddy suffers from quite regular framerate issues, usually when starting a new chapter. There are also a few times when shapes and scenery in the background momentarily disappear if you travel into a part of the screen that they don't agree with, reappearing if you backtrack. These things shouldn't be happening in a final build, ready for release, but sometimes can slip through development unnoticed and can, in some cases, be forgiven. What cannot be forgiven, however, is when a bug causes you to restart a level from the beginning because a sequence of events out of your control doesn't happen, leaving you stuck with nowhere to go. It's worth noting that if you're planning on fully exploring the game's six levels they'll take you anywhere from 40 – 70 minutes each, so you really don't want to lose all of that time and effort.
Beatbuddy gets so many things right. The ideas are great and at times it is a real treat to play, but ultimately it doesn't make you cry painful tears if you don't have time to play the next level straight away. Great gameplay mechanics, a beautiful art style and a genuinely interesting way of implementing audio into a video game are also let down by bugs and repetition. Definitely worth a look, but not something to fall in love with.