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Beatbuddy: Ecco meets rhythm action

You and your little blue buddy are both answerable to the beat in this charming indie revival of classic Ecco the Dolphin-like adventure. Brenna reports.

When I tell you we're going on a magical, musical underwater adventure together, I know what you're thinking: you're thinking I should lay off the cough medicine. My relationship with Auntie Mildred's Patented Cure-All aside, I don't blame you if you imagine something like this. (Shut up, though; I love that movie.)

I have to admit that playing Beatbuddy brings to mind simpler times, back in the jolly old 16-bit days, chilling with Ecco the Dolphin through a dozen spectacular undersea environments in pursuit of inner peace and tranquility. Then I remember that those "simpler times" were actually tough as balls and resulted in me breaking at least two control pads, including an expensive six-button one with auto-fire, a sin for which I don't think my sister ever forgave me.

Beatbuddy's kind of hard. It would be easier with a control pad, I think. But it's a game about floating underwater, and if you've ever tried to do anything precise in a swimming pool you know that's not easy. Our little floating friend battles inertia and brakes, frictionless, against his own momentum. The paths you're asked to travel are sometimes tensely precise, and good timing is required to pull off the trickiest parts.

But driving you though all this precise - well, it's not platforming, is it? But it's something like it: 2D, side-scrolling action - is the beat, to which you are the buddy. Never mind the cuteness; just put in some good headphones and listen to that thump. Tap your toe and your controls in time with the bass drum and you'll pass the curtains of obstacles with panache - even when they channel a little bit of a good old bullet hell vibe.

Incidentally, that bass drum I mentioned doubles as a catapult should you need some extra speed to break a wall. All the elements of the jazzy tunes that flow through Beatbuddy can be found in the world - there's the high-hat crab, for example; give him a smack to make him retreat into his shell, temporarily withdrawing nests of spiky obstacles with him and clearing your path. The high hat stops, but it won't be gone for long, and you better hope you're on the other side when it breaks back into the mix.

That's only the beginning of how music and gameplay blend together; as I travelled through the early stages of Beatbuddy in a preview build supplied by Threaks, I kept stumbling across more and more pieces of the music, adding up to a head-bopping, smile-inducing whole that felt less like background noise and more like the point of playing.

As Buddy takes damage, the music fades; as he moves away from the instruments around the level, they fade in and out of the mix. I think I learned more about how music is put together in half an hour of playing Beatbuddy than a whole year of snoozed-through theory lessons.

The result of blending in almost rhythm-action genre mechanics is a new-school action game that reminds you of the simple joys of old-school play; the challenge to your manual dexterity is as compelling as it was in your youth, but Beatbuddy gives you a reason to rediscover that pleasure - and to keep coming back.

So many indie pitches come through my inbox each day that it gets kind of depressing. For every charming retro platformer with a clever puzzle twist that rockets up the console network charts there are a hundred that just aren't interesting enough. Beatbuddy, I am delighted to say, is not one of these. It has charm by the bucketload; charm so thick it is applied with a trowel. It's clever enough to harken back to the kinds of game you understand, and clever enough to be just new enough to make it feel very special.

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