Beat Arena – Band from VR – Big Boss Battle (B3)

Beat Arena grants you the opportunity of playing in a VR rock band with classic tracks from Konami titles and the Bemani games.

I can not help but feel that the title of this game is directly related to another set of popular rhythm games and that Konami used that to captivate would-be buyers. Somehow there is nothing in this game that even remotely relates to any of the popular block-slicers out there, and the coincidence is in name alone. I wish they did copy at least some of the polish or tightly-designed user interface however, because – as you start to play your way through the game – you quickly realize becoming a virtual rockstar isn’t all it was chalked up to be. Beat Arena manages to not only make you dislike playing virtual music instruments but also makes you wonder how we got to this point in virtual reality gaming in the first place.

Beginning with the clunky user interface, which requires you to hold a button to select an option, you are quickly led down a seemingly never-ending corridor of options and configurations before you even get to the tutorial. You can customize your avatar within these menus, but the generic anime-inspired options seem lackluster and really devoid of any type of personality. Once you begin the tutorial, depending on what instrument you chose, you’ll get a hang of what the game expects from you to turn your random virtual pantomiming into music.

Guitars are set up like Guitar Hero in that they require you to pick through notes or play them together to form chords with your off-hand while strumming to the beat with the motion of your other controller. Where this all falls apart is that you are translating the feel of pressing down on strings to the buttons of the virtual controllers instead of an actual plastic guitar and the timing of strumming is way off in a way that I can only describe as terribly frustrating. I understand why they had to do it this way, but I feel that a simplification would have gone a long way for comfort and usability. The Bass Guitar fares a little better as at least it drops the motion-controlled strumming for the bottom trigger-like buttons, which totally feels like you are holding a pick, and should be the way they handled the regular guitar.

Keyboard and Drums are the other two instruments available and while they are more fun to play, they ultimately have their caveats as well. Playing the keyboard is at least practical in that all it takes is the proper placement of your hands to hit the right notes, but even then you’ll swear you had them in the right position and you miss note after note. In a music game, the easiest way to lose the fun is to not correctly count the way the player is playing, and that is one of Beat Arena‘s biggest problems: inconsistency.

Drums are the most accurate out of all the instruments you can play in Beat Arena, and the attention to note placement and the range of a real-life drumkit is fully realized with the options you have here. The biggest problem comes with the placement in virtual reality, because if you do not have your hands constantly up and away from the pads and cymbals after each hit, you will accidentally hit other parts of the drums causing you to lose points and break your streak. When you get a rhythm going, though, it’s a really good feeling and it makes you wonder why the rest of the game can not feel that good to play.

There are plenty of good examples of how to do virtual reality rocking correctly, and I think the best example out there is Rock Band VR. The idea that you can play through chords that actually relate to the song with fingering positions, freestyle when you want to in some of the most amazingly goosebump-inducing moments I’ve ever experienced in VR, and do so in front of a roaring crowd in the midst of your virtual bandmates is all part of the package. Sure, the setup is expensive as it requires you to go back and purchase a compatible guitar – unless you miraculously held onto your peripherals back from the age of competing rhythm game outfits. With an example such as that, it’s a mysterious wonder how Konami ended up making a game about the excitement of music so droll and uninspired.

I know there is some gameplay in Beat Arena that is fun, I’ve experienced it and enjoyed myself during those times, but the problem is that those parts were so rare and fleeting, that the whole moment is mostly remembered as more irritating than enjoyable. The music offered within Beat Arena is a great selection, ranging from tracks from some of Konami’s classic shooters to Beatmania powerhouses, remembered fondly by many. That is why it’s painful to have to experience such poor controls while trying to survive long enough to make it through these great tracks.

Beat ArenaBeat Arena is ultimately a game that has good intentions but poor implementation. I’ve never wanted to love a game so much but turned up so disappointed that it actually made me question how I was playing the game and who out there is able to make sense of these poor control options. Surely it went through some kind of quality assurance to determine whether they were a good fit, but ultimately, it was left in some kind of “they’ll figure it out” state, and the consumer is left to assemble fun out of the broken pieces.

Beat Arena was reviewed on the Oculus Questbut it is also available on Steam VR.

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