Although I've had very limited experience with titles like Korg-10, the older MTV Music Generator series on the PS2, and PC software like Fruity Loops, I was really curious to see how user-friendly the content would be for this music generator title. I came out of the experience feeling pretty impressed with what Rockstar's Beaterator on the PSP offers. It's not going to appease or appeal to anyone who's not already moderately interested in the style (primarily hip-hop beats) or the medium of technologically produced music, but I think fans of both styles will find some interesting stuff at work here.
The game is partnered up with beatmaker Timbaland, formerly of Timbaland and Magoo fame, and currently a well-known guy associated with popular singers like Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, and so on. I'm sure that in the past decade you've heard a Timbaland track or two, even if you didn't realize it, so it's a pretty solid name to attach to your music game. In addition to using a cartoon likeness of Timbaland throughout the title, he has also provided a few samples for use and modification, which is pretty cool. It's interesting to know that a talented person such as Timbaland could pump out some great selections using the software in Beaterator, and it gives players the incentive and confidence to also try it out.
The title features two modes for users: Live Play and Studio. Live Play was the most appealing to me; I don't have much of an ear for beats and whatnot, so being able to toy around with the precreated segments and make mixes out of them was more in line with what I'd like to see from the title. With Live Play, you can mix together loops that you've created, or the premade stuff that comes with the software, in order to create tracks from four corners on the PSP screen. At the center of the screen sits your virtual Timbaland, who bobs around to the music in a limited fashion. Meanwhile, you cue the various sounds using the PSP's face buttons, which are in turn tied to the four corner speakers you'll see. It's a simple setup, but it's something that anyone can jump into and have some fun with, which was perfect for me.
On the flip side, if you're looking for something much meatier from this title, then the fully featured and very involved Studio mode is the best option for you. There are a large number of elements to choose from, including various samples provided by Rockstar and Timbaland. You can also opt to jump into track creation, beat creation, or import and export MIDI files to a PC. For newcomers, there's a tutorial that covers just about everything in this title. It might be annoying for those who are already experienced with music generation software, but it's nice to see things explained so well for neophytes.
Admittedly, the interface isn't quite ideal. For PC programs and Korg-10 on the DS, being able to manipulate a pointer is a far better design than using a d-ad to shift through various knobs and devices on a virtual screen. It takes a little time to select the desired option, and there's no way to assign hot keys or anything like that. It's a slight annoyance, but I can't see making any extended use out of the software. It seems tailor-made to use when you're on the go and don't have access to your hardware or software of choice. You can lay down ideas in Beaterator and then come home and mix them correctly in a more traditional setting. It works well in that regard, and I can certainly see how someone with a musical background can get quite a bit of use out of this title.
Aside from the music generation, there's not a great deal to see in Beaterator in the traditional game sense. I can't harp on the title too much, though, because as a music creation application, it works quite well. It's a full-priced PSP title at $39.99, which may seem a bit excessive since it doesn't provide any real game for your buck. However, if you consider the price of similar PC software, then the price becomes a really decent deal. The ability to export and import files is a great feature to have, and it can certainly be cool to take the software on the go to show off to friends. I can't see this replacing your existing programs, but it'll certainly do the trick as a quick substitute.
There's not much to talk about with the visuals, either; most of the time, you'll be bogged down in menus, which is pretty much expected with music generation software. The addition of a cartoon version of Timbaland is funny for the first few minutes, but it loses its novelty after a couple of hours with Beaterator. There are some cool visualizers in the game, but nothing stands out from your typical PC selections. However, the premade beats and samples are all decent, and while the samples aren't rendered as well on the PSP speakers as experienced users might be used to, they'll certainly do the trick for most people.
All in all, Beaterator is an interesting and unique piece of software for the PSP handheld. If you have any interest in music creation, it's worth checking out and picking up. You can definitely come up with some awesome ideas using either Live Play or Studio mode, depending on your musical background and/or desired degree of involvement. If you have a serious interest in music generation, then Beaterator is not going to replace the full-fledged music creation device that you may currently use at home, but it works great in tandem with a program of choice, and it's certainly the best option you're going to get as a portable music creator.
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