Day 188: Shield the Beat

Posted: 2011/05/16 in Indie Games

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game (XBLIG) every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and are not well represented in the top 50 lists on the Xbox Dashboard. Today is day #188, and today’s game is “Shield the Beat”.

Day 188 commemorates me officially passing the 6 month mark of consecutive daily game reviews. I ended up selecting Shield the Beat (who’s developer, Mathieu Briau, was the first interview I did on Mass Deduction) as the game to review for day 188 because it’s a tremendously high quality game, that has licenced music from major artists, and is not afraid to say it’s worth 400 Microsoft Points despite the recent trend towards even some AAA XBLIG titles releasing at 80 MSP. I’ve never understood people being reluctant to spend 240 or 400 MSP on an indie game, when some of those same people think nothing of spending 800-1200 points on an Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) game or the latest Call of Duty map pack (with only 4-6 maps). Shield the Beat easily bests a tonne of XBLA games that cost 2-3 times as much, and is easily worth 400 MSP. Feel free to stop reading the review and go buy it now. For the rest of you, read on.

First, from the developer (MBrio):

“With music from Franz Ferdinand, DJ Champion, Malajube and many others, Shield the Beat is an addictive mix of rhythm and action. With only shields to defend your ship, escape from enemy fire by following the music. Innovative and intuitive controls challenge your rhythm as much as your thumbstick ability. Two Color and Mirror modes will put your brains’ splitting skills to the test.”

Often times in my reviews I’ll note that a game has good presentation. Sometimes that means that the game’s presentation is consistent, with a pervasive 8-bit style throughout. Other times that means the game has menus that are slick and intuitive. Rarely does it mean what it means with Shield the Beat: a game whose graphics, audio, animation, and overall presentation is not only head and shoulders above most indie games, it also bests any XBLA game that immediately comes to mind. This game both looks and sounds gorgeous through and through.

At first glance it looks like a Starblade-esque rail shooter, but in fact you have absolutely no control over your ship whatsoever; instead, you control a pinpoint barrier shield system which you use to absorb incoming enemy shots until you can warp to the next area. This shield mechanic reminds me strongly of the shield system introduced in an early episode of Macross (or the Macross Saga section of Robotech, if you prefer) where a pinpoint shield could be moved across the SDF-1 space fortress to absorb incoming shots (and the ship was unable to fire back when using this shield). I brought this up in my interview with Mathieu and he indicated that this was not an inspiration as he has never seen the show. I don’t mind either way, I always thought it would make for a good video game, but to the best of my knowledge it’s never been done. If you want to see what I mean, play the video below and jump to the 17:40 mark:

Back to Shield the Beat. This is a rhythm game through and through, and an innovative one. Shots come in at you from all sides and you use an analogue stick to absorb blue shots. You can play the entire game this way, but some of the optional modes and the highest skill level are designed around using both sticks, the left to absorb the aforementioned blue shots and the right stick to absorb red shots. Sometimes shots come in as a stream heading to a single shot, but other times the enemy ship will be moving as it fires forcing you to roll the stick back and forth, a bit like a Street Fighter player trying to pull off a hadouken. Enemies fire shots in time with the music, which reminded me a bit of (an otherwise quite different game) “Battle Beat”. You can unlock ships with varying sizes of shield, with smaller shields being harder to see but yielding bigger points.

While not the first game to have a licenced soundtrack, Shield the Beat does appear to have the largest licenced soundtrack for an indie game at least, and likely one of the best and most varied. The 400 Microsoft Points the game costs is less than what it would cost to buy the 8 included licenced tracks, and if you like the gameplay and even a few of the tunes in the title then buying Shield the Beat is like getting either the music free, or the game free, depending on your perspective. The soundtrack really is amazing.

With the rhythm genre not doing well in the triple-A retail game sense at the moment, with the decline in plastic instrument games, I think there’s an opportunity for indie games to pick up the slack and Shield the Beat is a bold attempt at doing so. With the game besting any number of 1200 point XBLA games in presentation and overall quality, I strongly recommend everyone at least check out the trial of Shield the Beat as it’s a bargain at 400 MSP.

Click here to download, and then please come back after playing to rate the game.



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