These days, Arc System Works is best known for stylish fighting games like BlazBlue and Guilty Gear. But this has not always been the case. Fans of the 26-year-old company know that their back catalog is full of diverse surprises. And although the original arcade cabinet is only two years old, Magical Beat feels like a throwback to an era when competitive puzzle games were all the rage.
Not to be confused with the very similar looking Magical Drop, Arc System Works' newest game is a mix of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo and Lumines. It's a head-to-head puzzler featuring colored blocks falling from the sky and players matching like tiles. It's a theme straight out of Columns, Puyo Pop and countless other titles. What sets Magical Beat apart is the music component, which forces players to drop the blocks on very specific beats.
Thankfully, you won't always need to listen for the exact beat, because each song has its own beat sync gauge. This gauge looks similar to classic golf games, where players would attempt to hit a small window in order to make the perfect line drive. The principle remains the same in Magical Beat, only this time around you're dropping tiles instead of golf balls. Miss hitting that window and the three blocks will scatter about, landing randomly around the board.
Much like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, the action in Magical Beat is fast and unrelenting. Although I've had a few rounds drag out for the better part of five minutes, most are a fraction of that time. In tue puzzle game fashion, destroying matching tiles sends jammer blocks to your opponent. The bigger the combo, the more jammers you send to the other side. And with only limited room to work with, getting too many jammers can spell game over.
While the game may be fussy when it comes to timing your drops, it allows players to match colors in pretty much every direction possible. Simply put, all you need are three colors matching. You can match them as a square, a line or anything in between. If you're good enough, you can snake the combo all around the level for massive points. As long as you can match it, you can make it part of your combo.
Take away the gimmicky (and sometimes infuriating) timing mechanic and Magical Beat is a pretty straightforward puzzle game. There's nothing original about matching colored blocks falling from the sky, so what we're left with is a gameplay device that often feels like it's there only to impede your master plan. The game isn't more fun because of the beat sync gauge; it simply makes matching colors a little more difficult. Some may appreciate the added skill required, but it left me feeling cold.
I also found the music hard to warm up to. This is a Japanese arcade game made with Japanese gamers in mind, and the music choices reflect the target audience. There are more than a dozen songs, each fitting into the Japanese electronica sub-genre. I found a lot of it screechy, repetitive and off-putting. I also found playing the game with the sound off to be next to impossible, even with the help of the visual beat sync gauge.
Even those who love this style of music will likely come away disappointed by the lack of modes. Three of the five modes are dedicated entirely to difficulty settings, and even then the options are weak. The Beginner Battle only has five stages and can be completed in less than 10 minutes. The Normal Battle is a bit tougher, but even that only has 10 stages to conquer. The Hell Battle mode also limits the fun to 10 matches, but ups the challenge.
Beyond the different difficulties, Magical Beat also includes a mode called My Own Battle. Here you can choose from the long list, as well as change the enemy opponent's difficulty. The last mode offers players a chance to go head-to-head against their friends. Unfortunately, this Vita game is ad hoc multiplayer-only, so you won't be able to challenge the world. This is especially disappointing after watching a number of the tournament videos; it seems like Magical Beat would be a great online game.
It's worth mentioning that Magical Beat also includes a cast of lovable characters, each with their own story, likes and dislikes. For example, A-ko is a humanoid cyborg that likes the beat and hates carrots. There's also Majolica, a magical cat who likes experiments and hates stupidity. Other characters include a flower, an alpaca and something that resembles 8-bit feces.
While I have some misgivings about the timing mechanic and the barebones package, Magical Beat is another solid puzzler for the PS Vita. It's not as revolutionary as the games it mimics, but still manages to add a new wrinkle to the competitive puzzle game genre. If you can get beyond the frustrating soundtrack and lack of online multiplayer, Magical Beat proves to be another fun arcade experience from Arc System Works.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.