All I want for Christmas is a PlayStation Vita version of Magical Beat. It's true; I even asked Arc System Works to make one—that is how much I'm hooked on this game. I've been commuting to an arcade in Shinjuku to pour in my time (and 100 yen coins), so I feel qualified to tell you that the experience is indeed groovy.
If you missed the trailer or need a refresher on what this game is, please see our previous introduction. Not only does the video present the game's colorful, quirky, and yes, retro appeal, but it's the best chance you currently have to hear some of the game's music by Kikuo. Even if you go to an arcade—I'm sure you know—it's LOUD in there; you're lucky if you can hear the beat you're playing to, much less the details of composition or lyrics. Unfortunately the audio situation depends entirely on the arcade, since the cabinet it comes in (by Taito) does not have a headphone jack.
So, you're back from the trailer? You understand that Magical Beat is a new kind of puzzle game that requires a keen sense of rhythm and the ability to act on it in a competitive way? Great, let's talk about what it's like to play.
The BlazBlue lineup
All the retro pixel-style characters are interesting in their own way, and although A-ko is really cute, I gravitated towards Inaba the "mean rabbit" who is "always doing bad things." Since release on May 31st, all the originall teased BlazBlue add-on characters have been unleashed: Ragna, Noel, Tsubaki, Taokaka, Arakune, Platinum, Makoto, Jin, Hazama, Carl, and Rachel. They're really cute, but not being a fighting game aficionado, it's not a huge bonus to me. I'd be interested to see how many people playing this game are BlazBlue fans who don't usually play puzzle games...
During the course of normal battle mode, one thing I learned really fast was that "jammer beatons" (black blocks) dumped on you by your opponent need your swift attention. No matter how many beatons you turn into score, these obstacles will not disappear unless the adjacent beatons are cleared, so you can't just rock out in the right-hand corner if you have a column of jammers creeping up your left-hand border. This becomes even more important in vs. battles, since if your opponent is skilled, there will be a royal jumble of jammer beaton junk headed your way.
Connected machines allow a challenger to appear in the middle of your single player game. Of course, you're dropped back into your CPU battles at the end, but there is no way to get out of a challenge, so if someone is really insistent, you will not get any practice in. There is also no way to start a single player game on a machine that is connected to someone who is already playing—you have to challenge them.
So picture me this afternoon, waltzing up to pick a fight with some random guy. Except he's not some random guy. He has clearly been putting in way more time than me on this game and can drop beatons at a pace that makes me look like a toddler stacking alphabet blocks. He's probably using both the left and right spin buttons, as opposed to me, an amateur who hopelessy rotates beatons in one direction only. After raining jammers on me for a scant but decisive few minutes, he returns to single player mode where he makes declaring victory agains the CPU look easy, as I can tell since I can sit at the connected machine and wait for his game to end so I can start my own. You may be starting to get the feeling I didn't really appreciate the cabinet connection set-up (it's running on the NESiCAxLIVE system) and it's true, I might not, but only because I want to play more.
There is definitely a zone to be gotten into here, where the part of your brain that gets excited about rhythm is in sync on some wavelength (Vocaloid vibrato, no doubt) with the part of your brain that gets excited about matching colored blocks. There you will drop only the most magical of beats and watch as the multi-colored beatons smile their approval and disappear.
*Magical Beat is currently available to play in Japanese arcades.