Capsule Review: Beat Hazard

(A note on versions - this game originally came out for Xbox 360 and then PC as “Beat Hazard”. It later came to PlayStation 3 and mobile - and was rereleased on Xbox 360 - with new features as “Beat Hazard Ultra” while the PC version received an add-on with the “Ultra” improvements.)

A twin-stick shooter that lets you play with your own music and where much of the experience is determined by the music. You play for the duration of the specified song, the field is essentially a visualizer, your weapons fire with more speed and power (but enemies also move faster) when the music is more intense, and enemy patterns (including bosses) are determined by the way the song flows over time. Each song plays differently, but will play the same each time - meaning that every song is its own level that can be practiced and perfected. The game supports music files in a variety of formats and comes with its own set of tracks along with a few forms of internet radio.

That would probably be enough to make it a decent way to interact with your favorite music, but it’s also a very solid shooter. There’s a good variety of enemies and bosses (the simplest of which are break-apart rocks in a clear homage to Asteroids) that change up gameplay. There are multiple layers of risk/reward tradeoffs to manage, from song selection to “daredevil” bonuses (increase your score multiplier by not firing your weaspon for five consecutive seconds) to equippable perks that let you customize your loadout to maximize your survivability or damage output - or forgo both to rack up huge score multipliers. And if you enjoy multicolored light shows, the game is often beautiful.

Unfortunately, the visual effects can also be a bit overwhelming - seizure warnings are definitely in effect, and even aside from that it can take some practice to be able to consistently keep track of your ship and the enemies when things are busy. (I used to describe Beat Hazard as the game for people whose main complaint about Super Stardust HD was that it was too easy to tell what was going on.) It’s also frustrating when enemy-dropped pickups are near the edge of the screen, because enemies can emerge from the edge without warning and colliding with them will kill you instantly if you don’t have a shield up.

If you can handle the visuals, the plusses far outweigh the minuses. This is a great shooter, and a great way to turn your favorite songs into gameplay.

I Stopped Playing When: I’ve played this a bunch on various platforms (PC is probably the best, due to how easy it is to get a variety of music set up there). I eventually trailed off - no game lasts forever - but I’ve come back to it multiple times and I expect to do so again.

Docprof's Rating:

Five Stars: Favorite. This is one of my all-time favorite games that made a significant impact on me or that I've returned to time and again.

You can get it or learn more here.