First of all, if you have problems with bright flashing lights, strobe effects, or are simply vulnerable to photosensitive seizures, skip this game and don’t look back, because this is definitely not the game for you. With that aside, Beat Hazard Ultra is a fast arcade-style shooter that is just (potentially) full of energy, and we loved almost every second of it. On the surface, it’s fairly standard– if you’ve played Geometry Wars, then you’re already familiar with how this works on a basic level.
The controls can be set to one “stick” or two, with virtual thumbpads which can be set to be fixed or move around a little bit with your thumbs. In twin-stick mode, the left moves your ship while the right controls the direction of your blasts; if you decide to go with one stick, then firing is automatic and you just move the ship. But don’t think that the latter makes things much easier, as the ship still has to turn, and evasive maneuvering is still a key trick to master.
That said, the game does run into some of the usual problems of having such a control scheme, but they are usually fairly minimal. And unlike other titles, you seldom (if ever) have to worry about obscuring anything important with your thumb.
The game features plenty of other little bits to toy with and customize, including Game Center Achievements, in-app purchases, and “perks” you can open up and utilize by collecting in-game currency. These can give you extra lives, score multipliers, and more. Plus, there are a variety of modes, including quick play, survival, boss rush, and even a “chill out” mode (for practice).
All of the above come together to form a well-rounded package that is a solid representation of the genre. But the fact of the matter is, none of the above are what sets this game apart. What makes this game unique is the music, which one could subjectively say is the best soundtrack to a game ever.
What makes the soundtrack so great is that it’s based on your iTunes playlist. But this doesn’t simply change what you hear during the game– it also affects how you play. Each song represents one stage, and the arrangement of foes depends on what the song sounds like.
Furthermore, the music also affects your weapons, so as the intensity of the music picks up, the enemies become faster and more furious, as do your weapons. And by grabbing the different power-ups that appear, your ship becomes a juggernaut of light as the sounds of laser fire and explosions help turn virtually any song into a cool anthem of battle.
The way the gameplay and music come together creates an experience like no other, one which can be best described as harmonious. It’s amazing to think that this was developed by one man, and it makes about as good a case for packing your iTunes playlist as anyone can make. Incidentally, if you don’t have a very big music library, you can also connect to an internet radio station and allow it to generate stages that way.
There is, however, a small downside we have discovered: for whatever reason, it would seem that not all songs play correctly in the game. We have only encountered this with one song so far (a cover of the Killer Instinct theme), though it was consistent with every attempt to play it. The tune came out very, very slow– so much as to be almost unrecognizable, much to our regret. It may simply be a fluke, but it’s something to be aware of.
Even with the small flaws, we cannot recommend Beat Hazard Ultra enough, unless you either hate shooters or have issues with bright flashing lights (or both). It is a unique experience with nearly limitless potential, and we just can’t get enough.