Beat Hazard is a perfect example of the fun that can come out of games that intelligently incorporate music into their mechanics. The game is a twin stick shooter in the vein of Geometry Wars or Everyday Shooter. Players move around a small arena while shooting off bullets in any direction. Enemies swarm in from outside of the play area and the goal is to survive for a set amount a time. The core gameplay experience is well-done but fans of the genre won’t find anything earth shattering. However, the developer has added a few wrinkles to keep it feeling fresh. Every play session nets the player in-game currency which can then be spent on an impressive variety of perks and upgrades. There is also a RPG-like leveling system that acts as a great incentive to keep on playing.

What makes Beat Hazard great and sets it apart from its contemporaries is how it integrates music into the experience. It allows users to import their entire music library, select a song, and then generate a level based on said song. Everything from the projectile power to enemy patterns is dependent on the currently selected track. The way these elements manifest themselves is both creative and subtle, especially when compared to other rhythm games. Rather than feature a one-to-one translation of the music, the game measures the overall flow of the song and crafts a level based on the emotions the song is trying to bring forth. For example: while a quite introduction consists weak several slow moving asteroids, an intense crescendo will spawn a monstrous boss creature.

The visuals of Beat Hazard are absolutely insane. Background particle effects fluctuate based on the player’s movement, colors transition to accommodate the song’s current cadence, and the entire screen is filled to the brim with lights that resonate to the beat of the music. Fortunately, the developer has included an option to control the visual intensity of each song, thus ensuring that the difficulty doesn’t have to come from not being able to see. Models for enemies and obstacles are set apart by a lo-fi look that makes them easy to distinguish and gives everything a charmingly indie look. The game feels like it was one person’s passion project and is all the better for it.

The biggest issue with the game is the interface for selecting which song you want to play. While it is by no means bad, simply scrolling through an alphabetical list of thousands of songs based on the track/artist/album title can be tedious. For those playing on mobile platforms, the option to have unanchored virtual joysticks makes the process of activating secondary powers somewhat difficult during the hectic gameplay. The menu wasn’t fully changed to accommodate a touchscreen, and scrolling through options is more annoying that it needs to be.

Grievances aside, Cold Beam Games has created something special. The core mechanics are highly refined, the visuals are madly beautiful, and the unlocks are well thought out. More than just a simple gimmick, the inclusion of music is a clever aspect that permeates all aspects of Beat Hazard. Half the fun comes from trying out different styles of music and discovering what gameplay experiences they will produce. With a potentially endless amount of replay value, this is a game that will keep people coming back again and again.

Beat Hazard was developed by Cold Beam Games and can currently be purchased on Steam, Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, iOS, and Android.

Tyler Curran is someone who fondly remembers scribbling out notes about games back when he first learned to write. Who knew design documents scrawled in crayon would lead to him becoming a game design major?