Review: Beat the Song (PC)

Konami’s patent on key sounds ended the company’s exclusivity on the rhythm gaming feature, leaving the door open for other companies to take a crack at introducing the mechanic into their own titles. We recently saw the introduction of “Beat the Song” by AAAGames to Steam, heavily promoting the feature of key sounding and allowing players to freestyle these effects in between prompted notes.

The title is made very accessible on Steam, and puts forward an honest effort, but doesn’t provide much that will keep seasoned rhythm game fans coming back repeatedly for more. It’s unfortunate because nothing sticks out as terrible in this title, but it fails to deliver a knockout blow that makes it a must-own over its more well-known contemporaries.

“Beat the Song” serves up gameplay that revolves around five main keys, along with two other inputs that tend to act as special effects. As expected, note indicators will flow from the top of the screen in time to music, and players press the matching key when the indicator reaches a stationary timing bar. This results in perfect through bad ratings (or a miss), scoring, combos and sound production anyone would expect from this rhythm game sub-genre.

This title carries over the clear norma seen in titles such as Beatmania, so players need to end a song with their performance meter above a certain level to fully clear the chart. However, the title’s scoring is heavily influenced by bonuses – peaking the performance meter at 100 percent gives the player double points for each note successfully played, and the end of each level dumps heaps of bonus points based on the player’s maximum combo for the song, ending at 100 percent, no-miss clears and more.

“Beat the Song” is a straight-forward title for its launch, and offers very few bells and whistles for players to toy around with. The game comes loaded with 17 songs, with the only real unlockables or additional content to unearth being harder note charts (extended versions of the song in a few cases) for cleared songs. Players can revisit these charts and go for higher scores, but there is little incentive to do so since there are no leaderboards or stack of unlockable content to continually drive players back to the title.

Outside of feature sets and replayability, my biggest complaint would be the lack of native controller support for the title. You can remap the seven keys on your keyboard, but players will need to use software such as Joy2Key as a go-between for peripherals. I was able to get a Beatmania IIDX Playstation 2 controller and a standard USB controller to work with Joy2Key. Most players should be able to find a keyboard layout that makes them most comfortable, but, given the game’s design proximity to Beatmania, even basic controller support would have been very welcome here.

Despite those drawbacks “Beat the Song” has a few strong presentation moments, as it seems to emulate popular European offerings in its menu akin to titles such as SingStar. The presentation theme splashes a lot of gold color around, and makes heavy uses of techniques such as bloom and lighting effects. These actually go overboard when the player reaches a double score bonus, but players have options to tone these down in the menu.

“Beat the Song” could have made slightly better use of its gameplay screen, which features a static background and two small video screens that play videos along to the music. Since the video screens are small, it presents a lot of empty visual space that could have been remedied with a slightly bigger gameplay field or an option to place the gameplay field to the side and group the visual elements together. There are occasions where a small segment of the videos are used to transition to and from gameplay, and some of these look fairly nice.

The game’s music comes through in solid quality, and I always appreciate games that provide direct links to the tracks’ artists. Players get some variety in the genres, track lengths and BPM of the music, but the inclusion of 17 songs compared to the $20 asking prices is slightly thin. In comparison, Groove Coaster was one of the most-recent notable music game release on Steam and offered around 40 songs for the same price tag.

However, there are signs that more music could be on the horizon for the title. A link on the game’s title screen prompts players to make song requests, and the title has been updated a few times already. An update has added a mode where note charts can play without accompanying music, which allows the game to skirt licensing for mainstream popular music. Players can feed in their own music tracks to accompany these charts, so we’ll see how this mode gets fleshed out in future updates.

As a package, “Beat the Song” isn’t a weak effort, but it isn’t strong enough to carry it above being a mid-level rhythm game title. It’s currently an interesting look at what music games can come forward with the ability to use key sounding, and it could certainly rise to above-average contention with some seasoned updates.

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