Magical Beat Review – An Original Falling Block Puzzle Game?! (PS Vita)on February 9, 2015 by Oscar TK
Where did puzzle games begin? Not with video games, certainly. Wikipedia tells me that jigsaw puzzles were created in 1760 as a fun Geography teaching tool. But puzzles go back much further, obviously. There’s mahjong, which was invented around 500 BC. There are probably more puzzles even further back too. It’s crazy. Luxor was a deadly game played in Ancient Egypt, much like Yu-Gi-Oh! But what about “falling blocks”?
The falling block puzzle game was popularised in 1984 with Tetris, by Alexey Pajitnov. There have been other falling block puzzle games with different gameplay and rulesets, such as Columns (1990) and Puyo Puyo (1991). Sure, all three of those games are similar, but quite vastly different. But along with them there are lots of straight derivatives that ape their unique features. It’s not often that something new comes along. Sure, you can cut jigsaws in different shapes and stack mahjong pieces into different piles — but how different can they really be? The puzzle genre has debatably been stale since 500 BC.
But no longer. Magical Beat has stepped onto the scene, and somehow it manages to be an original and unique falling block puzzle game despite having the disadvantage of coming out in 2013 (2015 in the west, just the other week). The core concept is simple in design: drop the 3-block L-shaped clusters onto your board and match 3 or more — all along to a beat. The beat is measured with a metronome between your board and the opponent’s, accompanied by a blue bar with a marker that constantly slides up and down.
All the clusters stay at the top of the screen, waiting for you to drop them yourself. Drop them in the blue bar — on-beat — and they settle successfully into the space you maneuvered them above, giving different points based on just how successful it was. Hit it off-beat, however, and your blocks scatter onto your board, often causing you problems. Wait too long to drop it and the same fate awaits you, meaning you have to keep to the beat and stay on time. Successful matching and combos will, in standard VS falling block puzzle game fare, “junk” the opponent’s board, forcing them further up the screen towards failure. The game’s tagline “Connect the Pieces on the Beat” really does sum it up.
The game packs a pretty tight love-it-or-hate it soundtrack, being peppy vocaloid songs. You might be able to jig along to it and get into your flow, but your non-Japan-loving housemate might throw you a glare as they try to watch Bangkok Airport in peace (shout out to Captain Jack). Not all the songs carry high BPMs, however — they range from 70 – 220. It’s not just a question of the higher the BPM the harder the match, as both low and high BPMs change the way you play, and adapting is key considering most of the gameplay modes in Magical Beat send you through numerous matches in a row.
There are three main modes: Beginner Battle, Normal Battle, and Hell Battle. The first of the bunch sends you through 5 matches against computer opponents, but starts off with a tutorial that skims over the rules quite quickly, but well enough to get you started. Normal sends you against 10 opponents and Hell through 10 harder ones. Beating the game once on Normal (or Hell, apparently, but I’m not good enough) unlocks 10 songs from BlazBlue, Guilty Gear and XBlaze (the most popular franchises of developer Arc System Works), as well as some pixelated versions of characters from those franchises. These seem to be just a taster of the perhaps more interesting fan-service available, as DLC packs containing more have been promised, but I don’t really know anything about them and it won’t impact my review. The currently released DLC ranges in price from £1.15 to £2.99.
As well as the main modes you can also just pick any song to play against a computer, or challenge a friend (local multiplayer only though). There’s no option to just play a song by yourself and go for a high score, which is a shame.
Magical Beat is a great concept, and really manages to be an original game in a genre that is filled with originality. But, with that said, there’s not an awful lot in the game to keep you busy. Lack of online multiplayer and a high score mode do kind of hold this back from reaching a benchmark of potential set by myself in my own mind, and that is kind of lame. It is a great concept, but this almost feels like a proof of concept. There’s a charm to it, sure — there’s a bunch of characters with their own descriptions and pixel art and some kind of lore about “Beat Tower” but it lacks the hooks of something like Puyo Pop Fever which has a character shouting “onion” over and over as they mercilessly junk their opponent.
One of the characters in Magical Beat, A-ko, the first in the character selection wheel, has a typo in their description: “he” instead of “her”. Due to A-ko being the first character I saw this within seconds of booting up the game for the first time. Sure, it’s just a typo, who cares? But it is somewhat indicative of the game itself, insofar as it’s a £6.49 download Vita title. That’s cheap.
Magical Beat might be a little bit rough around the edges, and it’s not quite as deep as it could be, but does that really matter? There’s something here that you can’t get anywhere else, and for the price it’s really a genuine bargain. Maybe if this one does well they’ll do a sequel and really manage to invest the time into the gameplay concept that it really deserves. But until then we have this. And this is good.
If you love Arc System Works then don’t forget we’re currently running a clearance on some of our BlazBlue stock. Check it out!