Over the past year, I’ve found myself venturing into indie gaming territory more and more often. It’s a refreshing change to see what a lone programmer or small company can do with an idea, especially compared to triple A titles made by large companies with multimillion dollar budgets. What’s more, when that idea is implemented well and allows some creativity the on part of the player, you’d best believe I’d be all over that like a junkie mainlining primo smack.
This brings me to the latest offering from Cold Beam Games: Beat Hazard Ultra. Before I go into the specifics of the game and my overall impressions, I have something to confess: when I picked up the original game last year, I was not impressed by it. The graphics were nice, and being able to control the soundtrack (and therefore also the difficulty) through my own personal soundtrack selection struck me as a pretty awesome concept. Compared to other music-based games like Audiosurf or Lumines, actively shooting whatever the song selection created was a hell of a lot more fun than matching colored blocks or screwing around with puzzle tiles.
Unfortunately, the game for me was marred by one of its core elements- namely, the bright strobe-lighting effects that warranted multiple seizure warnings on load screens. At the time of the PC release, there wasn’t any way to lower the intensity; this would eventually be patched after a few weeks, but the extreme difficulty curve it added to the game initially was enough to lose my interest. Subsequent updates also added new modes like “Chill Out,” which would have been greatly appreciated for learning the ropes, but the damage had already been done. The keyboard and mouse controls were easy enough for me to adapt to, but due to the issues with the lighting effects, the game sat in my queue, rarely touched as a result.
Never playing Beat Hazard again might very well have been the end of the story, yet Cold Beam Games had been hard at work to reverse that, improving upon the flaws of the original. Beat Hazard Ultra still has some of the standbys of the original in place: the leaderboards, power-ups, the ranking system, local co-op, and achievements are all still there, though the latter has a slew of new goals to aim for. While you’re doing this, constantly racking up points and cash allows you to unlock new perks to give yourself an extra edge or even provide more intense challenges. Whatever you’re aiming for, it doesn’t hurt to unleash volleys of homing missiles, drop screen-clearing smart bombs, or tear through bosses with the Ultra Beam as though they were made of twigs.
Those additions by themselves were enough to get me playing again AND keep me playing for hours. There’s something to be said for a game that can prod a hesitating player with a slick reward system and keep them hooked. Whatever cynicism I felt at the beginning towards the original game was completely gone by the time I fired up Boss Rush, Survival, and online play (both co-op and head-to-head) modes. There’s enough variety here to keep Beat Hazard Ultra fresh that it blows my mind that they managed this with a DLC add-on. The level of customization with songs and difficulty, the beautiful light and color show (now even more stunning, thanks to the 200% visual intensity boost option), and the well-designed learning curve Cold Beam Games strove to build into Beat Hazard Ultra ultimately left me blown away. It might look like an Asteroids-styled space shooter at a glance, but trust me when I say the experience is much deeper than that.
This is definitely a solid title, and fans of the original or curious music and video game lovers would do well to pick up a copy for themselves. Beat Hazard Ultra is priced like a budget title, to be sure- but there’s easily more than enough value here to make you think otherwise.
Beat Hazard Ultra was provided for review by Cold Beam Games. Owners of the original Beat Hazard can purchase the DLC for $4.99, or it can be purchased with the original Beat Hazard for $12.99 on Steam.