Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works USA
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: June 17, 2014
ESRB: E for Everyone
It is quite easy to view Arc System Works purely as the developer behind well-respected anime fighting games like Guilty Gear, Blazblue, and Persona 4 Arena and little else. That said, unknown to most of the world beyond Japanese arcades, a quirky puzzle/rhythm title by the name of Magical Beat managed to make its debut a couple years ago and was made by none other than Arc System Works themselves. With a recent port to Vita does this quirky puzzle/rhythm hybrid hold up well or does its pieces discordantly hit the floor?
Much like the very brief tutorial directly says, Magical Beat is a very simple puzzle game. It“s a match-three or more of the same color kind of puzzle design, but the primary twist is that you need to drop the pieces in sync with the BPM (beats per minute) of a song. While the in-game tutorial says the goal is to destroy more beatons (colored puzzle pieces), the actual main gameplay focus is more akin to Puzzle Fighter where you really just want to make the other player“s life hell and have them mess up first.
You not only want to create consecutive beaton chains to manage columns and score more points, but also to place jammers (grey blocks) on the opponent's grid to help them fail. The only way to clear jammers, which deliberately separate their beaton contemporaries, is by creating chains right next to them so they disappear. So, ideally, the better you get at chaining with the rhythm, the easier it is to ruin the opponent's day with jammers so you yourself don't have to deal with them as much. It is a very fast and fun back-and-forth puzzle dynamic that lends itself quite well to the portable system because of the general quickness of each skirmish.
Unfortunately, Magical Beat is likely to be difficult for most players who do not carry over skill from somewhat similar titles like Puyo Puyo and Puzzle Fighter, like myself. It's one thing to adjust to the BPM rhythm and smartly place pieces quickly, but it's another when the A.I. goes through some outright insane difficulty spikes in later stages on normal mode, pretty much regardless of your skill level. Seriously, stages 9 and 10 on the normal difficulty in particular will have most people hitting "Continue" far more times than they are willing to admit. Thankfully, you only have to beat normal once to unlock all of the extra songs and characters, but, of course, beating it once is quite the ordeal.
Despite its frustration and the very significant A.I. difficulty spikes present, it's worth putting up with it because of the engaging fast/fun gameplay, cute aesthetic, and catchy vocaloid soundtrack that complements it. Now before you have a knee-jerk reaction like you may normally have with a certain popular green-haired vocaloid, the soundtrack is far more consistent in Magical Beat. It is certainly strange to hear a light-hearted vocaloid track be interjected with dubstep seconds later (and it somehow isn't the worst thing in the world), but the very whimsical and varied jingles make it very bizarrely fun to listen to while playing. If you decide the vocaloids still aren't your jam, there is a fair amount of songs to draw from other Arc System Works titles: including Blazblue, Guilty Gear, XBlaze: Code Embryo, and even the obscure puzzle release 0-D Beat Drop, which have cool musical contributions as well.
The most disappointing aspect of Magical Beat is its sparse selection of options and modes. There are only three difficulty modes (Beginner, Normal, and Hell Battle) and "My Own Battle" in which you personalize the A.I. difficulty and the song of your choice. Far more disappointing is that there is no online multiplayer, and only local ad-hoc, for a game that outright begs for human competition, especially after getting your spirit crushed by the demonic A.I. at times.
Despite seemingly going out of its way to be overlooked with its stealthy release, Magical Beat proves itself as a fun hidden puzzle gem that is very worth checking out for puzzle fans on Vita. Its very few/limited modes and fiendish A.I. difficulty spikes do detract from it being an entirely safe recommendation, but overall, for those who would like to try an entertaining and clever musical spin on the puzzle genre would do well to check it out.
+ Fast-paced puzzle gameplay with a very fun rhythm dynamic
+ Strangely catchy vocaloid music
+ Unlockable Blazblue, Xblaze: Code Embryo, and Guilty Gear music and characters
- No online multiplayer, local ad-hoc only
- Ruthless A.I. creates a huge difficulty spike on the normal and higher difficulties
- Very few modes and options to choose from
Overall Score: 7 (out of 10)
Magical Beat presents a fun musical spin on the puzzle genre despite an unfortunate lack of overall content
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.