Genre : Puzzle
Release Date: November 1, 2004
Buy 'TECHNIC BEAT': PlayStation 2
Some of you slightly older readers out there might remember the inflammatory first days of the 16-bit era. Sega of America, then unleashed from the weight of Tonka’s poor distribution of their Master System 8-bit console, began an ad campaign that would set the stage for the first bitter console war that would follow. The magazine spots carried a memorable little piece of rhetoric: “Sega does what Nintendon’t.” (Strangely, this phrase still holds true, although not in such a positive light – Sega is now a third-party developer/publisher, while Nintendo is still hanging onto their console and portable hardware buisnesses.) Right now, I wish I had the ingenuity to coin a parallel affront in relation to my feelings on the upcoming releases of two games, Growlanser: Generations and Technic Beat, but I cannot. Whether this is because I am not of the same marketing genius ilk that Sega employees of the early 1990s or simply due to the obtuse nature of the publisher’s monikers – Mastiff and Working Designs – is up to you readers.
So now, left unarmed with nothing but blunt words to state my offensive, I say this: Mastiff, publisher of Technic Beat, is making competitor Working Designs look like a bunch of incompetent fools. Mastiff has released not one, but two low-priced releases that would not have been picked up by either the American branches of the original publisher or developer, or any other major U.S.-based publishers. Working Designs, originally the only publisher in the States to focus its business on porting under-appreciated non-AAA Japanese games, finally has some competition. Not only does Mastiff release more games on time, but they give the releases nothing more than a language translation, an informative manual, and a low price-point.
Working Designs caters to the collectors crowd, filling each delayed release with unnecessary extras that for most gamers serve to turn up the price of the game and not much else. The company is also notorious for taking the actual gameplay of most of their releases into their own hands, especially in terms of difficulty. This philosophy is killing Working Designs, and with competition from groups like Mastiff, the company’s future seems precarious. After all, would that company have released a quirky little slice of musical madness like Technic Beat on time, and for the non-collectors in the gaming community (i.e., almost all of us), release it at an affordable price and without foil cases and an official watch that plays Pac Man Fever at every hour? It is unlikely.
Mastiff is helping to bring great little games like Technic Beat to people who might skip this sort of release altogether if not for the publisher’s presentation. And it would have been a shame for anybody to miss out on what is easily the most innovative rhythm game to see release since Sonic Team’s Samba de Amigo first came out. It’s got a psychedelic colorful style that isn’t just a bunch of super deformed anime children hopping about, and some of the most indescribably intense and fun gameplay seen in this genre so far. And unlike so many of its competitors, it uses only a standard controller. A few weaknesses do bog the game down slightly, and I must warn that this is not a game for competitive players, but the single player and cooperative modes more than make up for this. This kind of game used to never make it outside of Japan. Thanks to Mastiff, we now have it in our hands.
Now that I’ve raised every reader’s expectations a few thousand fold, I will get into the best aspect of Technic Beat: Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay. Isn’t that what these crazed Japanese releases are all about? (Or is it the drooling fanboy pretension factor?) The game is played on a series of small “stages” with a static camera. The basics, which are explained in a hands-on manner in the tutorial mode, are simple yet somehow hard to describe. Circles appear on the stage with smaller circles slowly expanding in the middle. The inner circle will expand to the edges of the main circle right on beat with what will hopefully be a musical tone or sound effect, as long as the player presses square just as the beat should be played. And that’s it. For the basics, that is.
The game begins to become a slight headache for beginners once passing the threshold of the first tier songs. By the second tier, players will already need to make use of special techniques and keep certain aspects of the gameplay at the forefront of their minds. Most importantly, players can set off multiple circles at the same time by using the X and circle buttons to execute special moves. Depending on the character, the special moves differ greatly. In fact, each character’s playstyle is so different that one must almost completely relearn each stage when trying out a new character since they handle so differently. For example, playing as Willie, an awkwardly tall teddy bear, is fairly straightforward. He can pick up multiple circles and run across the stage to activate far away sounds, while most characters can only pick up one at a time, if any at all. His movement speed is very slow, but his powerful special, a huge marker that automatically sets off every marker it touches perfectly, makes up for this downfall. But Hassy, a sunglasses-sporting penguin, plays much differently, changing the way the game feels. By pressing X, instead of just picking up circles he slides into them, and gets an automatic perfect for doing so to boot. Sound cheap? Well, for one, it’s very hard to aim these slides. If a slight mistake is made, Hassy could very well end up on the wrong side of the stage, away from crucial circles that, if lost, might detract from the player’s rating, represented by a bar that, when empty, ends the stage. Also, Hassy’s special is not nearly as powerful as Willie’s. Instead of a great radial area of affective strength, Hassy only increases in size. While every circle he touches during the effects of this special is rated as a perfect, it is still not nearly as strong as it could/should be. These differences in character are massive, and unlike anything seen in any rhythm game before.
The multiplayer mode is where the biggest weaknesses of this game arrive, yet also its greatest strength, if one has patience. Competitive matches are clunky and mostly just annoying. Since both players share the playing field, many gamers will spend most of the game knocking the other player around, trying to keep them from gaining any points. The game turns into an electronic shove match, and loses much of its appeal. The cooperative game makes up for this, however. Players can plan out great routines with a friend that range from “I’ll handle this half of the stage while you take on the other” to mad symphonies of choreographed weaves and calculated specials. And this mode can be made competitive outside of the realm of the game by comparing success percentages, namely the percent of perfects achieved during each match by each team. This game won’t develop the same competitive following that Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution series has, that’s for sure. But in at least a few living rooms around the world, some group of friends will be playing some of the most impressive gaming matches to watch on the face of the earth.
Technic Beat’s looks are a bit… uncomfortable to look at. In a good way. Each character has its own art style, independent of its companions. The proportions of the big-headed girls that grace the cover of the game have absolutely no bearing the adult frame of Cart, for example. I enjoy this sort of weirdness, but it is not for everybody. The types of gamers that cringe at the sight of Jet Set Radio characters will want to strangle themselves after looking at Technic Beat’s mismatched cast for more than a few minutes!
On a technical level, this game is only mildly impressive. While the actual models and textures aren’t anything to write home about, their lack of any clear flaws is surprising. The current generation has been filled with all the slowdown and pop-up that we were told would be left to the PSOne, but Technic Beat does not follow that trend. Being a rhythm game, this is imperative to the game’s performance. If it took too many dips in framerate, it would be completely unplayable.
As with most rhythm games, the music ranges from the generic to the sort of songs that stick in your head for weeks on end, with the token few irritating cuts to round out the mix. There is a large number of songs available, including many from popular Namco games. Every routine can sound different depending on how the game is played, of course, but the basic song structures are usually the same. For once, this game feels like the player really is in control of the sound. This is what UGA was trying to achieve with Rez, albeit in a very different way, and now it’s finally been realized smoothly.
Technic Beat fits easily into the rhythm game genre. More importantly, it carves out its own niche in the phenomenon because of its extremely innovative style of play. With a huge songbank in the game and a setup that is more conducive towards building strong routines when in multiplayer instead of straight competition, hooked gamers will have an easy time spending countless hours with this game over the next few months. Technic Beat was not the most hyped game in any territory, never mind the U.S., but Mastiff brought it over anyway. And it’s the most multiplayer fun I’ve had all year.