I think it’s safe to say that most of us have thought about being in a band at some point in our lives. The idyllic idea of starting put playing in someone’s garage and gradually building a fanbase of dedicated followers. That could be my innate desire to be a cult leader talking, though.
My cult is crab based, if you were wondering.
Backbeat, from the small studio Ichigoichie AB, aims to tap into that innate desire to be a rockstar through the power of puzzles and funk music.
The action took place in 1995. You technically play as Watts, a bass player just out of high school. She is bored with her routine of waitressing and playing the same old riffs by herself. I say you technically play as Watts because Backbeat utilizes a unique mechanic for its gameplay. To complete a level and a song, you must manipulate multiple characters’ timelines to reach the same destination. It’s not so much a rhythm game as a harmonizing game.
After randomly seeing a funk band play, Watts decides she wants to play in a funk band. After getting advice from the bass player Cliff, she sets out to recruit members for her as-yet-unformed band. By chance, her friend took a music theory class for easy credit. They knew a keyboard player called Toshi who might be interested. To convince him, you have to see if you can jam together.
To do this, you must navigate to the same point by plotting a pathway and playing your instrument as you go. Once Toshi or Watts has reached the area, you can switch between timelines with L and R to take control of the other character and set their path. This is how much of the game is played. There are extra mechanics and puzzles added as you progress.
Backbeat Brings Unique Ideas to the Musical Genre
These are things like pressing X to rest to avoid moving obstacles. You’ll learn to stagger your playing so you aren’t all playing at once. Additionally, dealing with your members’ different move lengths all come into play. For example, your drummer has an old football injury. He takes much longer strides but will stop at obstacles instead of bouncing off them backward like other band members.
You can also rewind moves by pressing B; sometimes, you just have to suck it up and start over from scratch. There is also the timeline length to consider. You only have a limited number of moves/lengths of the timeline, so if you don’t reach the goal before your timeline runs out, it’s time to press B to go back and rethink your route.
Eventually, you will build a formidable funk band. Your lineup features a bassist, keytarist, drummer, and saxophonist. Everyone comes together to create sweet music and solve increasingly difficult puzzles. So what’s the end goal of Backbeat? As with any self-respecting garage band from the late 80s to the late 90s, the goal is to win the battle of the bands as the newly formed Powerslyde.
Backbeat Is a Music Game Without the Rhythm
While this is a music game, there are no rhythm mechanics. You don’t have to move on beat or match combos for extra points. The music itself is surprisingly light, almost making the Sokoban-style puzzles relaxing. Almost.
I’m going to be honest and say this particular kind of puzzle game isn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean Backbeat isn’t still a good game. It is well put together, every element blends seamlessly, and the lower-key music works in the game’s favor.
Visually, the cutscenes in between the puzzles remind me of an early to mid-2000s cartoon show that would have been aimed at older teens to young adults. The visuals specifically gave me Undergrads vibes because I am 1000 years old, while the style of the actual action is slightly different and a little more basic. But, again, not a bad thing. It works with the style of the game. In motion, the characters remind me of the animation in 6teen, another animated show that almost no one will remember.
While Backbeat may not be something for me, I know plenty of puzzle fans that will absolutely love it.
This game is for you if you enjoy super logical resource management-style puzzles. Think XCOM, and you’re in the right headspace. However, if you get frustrated with having to re-do and tweak things to find the perfect path (like me because my logical brain is virtually non-existent), then this won’t be the game for you. However, Backbeat is still an impressive game. Its incredibly unique mechanics had me finishing the game even though I usually wouldn’t.
Also, as a bonus, I highly recommend visiting the games’ official website at backbeatgame.com for a delightful early internet experience.
Backbeat is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, PC, Mac, and Linux.