Review: Beat Hazard Ultra

The space shoot ‘em up genre isn’t a new thing; games such as Geometry Wars and Super Stardust have brought the twin-stick variety of this genre a step forward in recent years. Beat Hazard Ultra isn’t a new thing either; it’s a reworking of the stellar Beat Hazard, in which you, a spaceship, must defeat your enemies with your music-powered laser. However, the thing that set apart Beat Hazard from other games was that it wasn’t just pre-created levels or partially randomised enemies – instead, it’s your music that controls the game you’re playing.

The game is limited to the amount of music tracks you own, instead of choosing a level you can choose a song from your music library, then the game works its magic. If the music is upbeat, then you’ll become more powerful, but enemies will be faster and more will appear; if the music is slow, then your laser will be a lot less useful, although the enemies won’t be as powerful either.

[boxout]That’s how Beat Hazard works in its most basic form, but that’s not really it. To power up your weapon and get going, you’ll need to collect the VOL and POW tokens that drop near the start of a song to fill meters that control volume and the power of your weapon respectively; fill these up and you’ll get a super powerful laser.

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There’s a lot on offer here in the basic Beat Hazard game: a ranking system, score multipliers, Superbombs, different modes including Chill Out and Survival, different difficulty levels, boss enemies, local co-op and many other things. The game works really well with different types of music; even rock, metal or orchestrated music works well, but arguably the best type is fast, electronic music, as it’s then when you can really see how the song affects your game. Now, what we really want to discuss is how Ultra makes Beat Hazard feel complete.

Back in 2009, when it was originally released on Xbox Live Indie Games, Beat Hazard blew the competition out of the water, both in the music game and twin-stick shooter genres. It was a revolution and it didn’t look like much could better it. Now we’re in 2011 and Beat Hazard Ultra has arrived… can it do it again?

To put it simply: yes, it can. Ultra expands on the original Beat Hazard so much, that it feels more like Beat Hazard 1.5 than just Beat Hazard with additional DLC. So, it makes sense that it’s coming as a full game to the PSN.

In-game, there’s a lot more variety. Instead of facing the same two variations of spaceships as bosses, completely new ones have been added. There’s a colossal serpent boss, which glides around the screen until you destroy all of its sections; a spider boss which has eight legs in the same style of the serpent, but will often curl up so you can’t damage it; and then there’s the upgraded boss spaceships that can fire out mini-spaceships and use their other new weapons on you.

[drop2]Ultra features an array of new, smaller enemies too. Some repulse or attract you with their beams, some fire projectiles that jam your weapons, some launch missiles after you destroy them and some even swarm in on you from the edges of the screen. Along with the laser and Superbombs from the original game, there are a host of new weapons to help you fend off the new enemies: the Micro Missiles fire a pack of homing explosives toward your foes, whilst the new Reflect Sheild protects you from enemies and directs their attacks back toward them. There’s also a new Ultra Beam which is very useful.

Instead of throwing everything at you from the very start, a Perk system has been added, in which you can unlock these new power-ups, extra VOL/POW tokens and increase your score amongst other things. You unlock these Perks with the refined ranking system – your score will go towards you ranking up and every rank will allow you to unlock a new Perk. To be able to buy these, you’ll need enough cash. Therefore, cash tokens can be collected as you play.

Several new modes are available, in addition to the original Standard, local co-op, Survival and Chill Out modes including online versus, where you play against each other to defeat the most enemies and get the biggest score and online co-op, in which you have to work together to complete the song and there’s also a new Boss Rush mode. Another thing Ultra is able to do is connect to Twitter, so you can share your high-scores with the world. All of these additions are a lot of fun, and offer much more variety compared to simply choosing different genres of music.

Visually, Beat Hazard is insane; that’s simply the only word to describe it. As your music blasts, the background pulses and your weapon lights up the screen, as the vibrant colours come to life. It looks like a music visualiser on steroids, coupled with a glorious fireworks display. The only disappointing thing about the visuals is that some of the ships don’t suit the style; but at least they stand out from the mayhem in the background. Ultra brings with it a new option to tone the visual intensity down, making it easier to see what’s going on. Of course, if you want to know what it feels like to fire a firework in your eye whilst standing in the centre of the sun, then you can turn it right up to 200% – add this option to the Suicidal difficulty level and you won’t last very long at all.

Pros:

  • Playing your music rather than just listening to it is extremely fun.
  • Beat Hazard Ultra feels like a complete game.
  • New modes work well, as do old, online multiplayer is a blast.
  • Perks and ranking system is well thought out.
  • New enemies and power-ups are superb.

Cons:

  • Not enough variation with the laser weapon, different beams would have been good.
  • May make your eyes bleed, as it features very bright, flashing lights.

Scoring just Beat Hazard would have been a tough decision; it was such a great game, but there wasn’t enough variety in the enemies and without a perks system it didn’t feel like it was quite there. Assigning a score to Beat Hazard Ultra seems like a no-brainer – for a twin-stick shooter, it’s outstanding. It truly does feel as though it has made Beat Hazard into it’s own sequel due to all of the new enemies, new modes and new power-ups, yet it’s only a £3.49 add-on to the same game on PC. However, coming to this conclusion wasn’t as straight forward as I had hoped… does Beat Hazard Ultra excel enough to be a top-rated game? I say yes, adding to the original, Beat Hazard Ultra proves to be a sublime shoot ’em up and the defining game of the music shooter genre. If Beat Hazard was superb to begin with, then the addition of Ultra makes it incredible.

Score: 9/10

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12 Comments

  1. Hi blair, noticed you playing this quite alot the past few days!

    I’m not sure if i’ve already got this… what i mean is I already had beat hazard, then it updated with lots of new stuff. Is this it, or a completely different thing.

    :O

    • The upgrade is £3.49 – £3.14 as it’s on sale right now, on Steam. It upgrades the Beat Hazard game to Beat Hazard Ultra.

      • K thanks, i’ll think about getting it.

  2. Good review and this is now on my shopping radar!

  3. I like the sound of this game, shall keep my eyes peeled.

  4. I like the sound of this too, and I had Vib Ribbon back in the day so it ticks some of the same boxes.

    • Yes thats what it reminds me of, been bugging since i read the review.

    • I had Vib-Ribbon way back when too and I’ve often thought that it’d translate well to a HD scenario. Seems like this is worth a look though I’d really like a faithful VR remake.

  5. What happens when a track with the length of 20mins is played?

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