Wednesday, 16 March 2016 00:00

Alphabeats: PC Master Edition Review

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This pulchritudinous and enthralling word game was ambrosial from its germinal levels; it beguiled me into reminiscing about my GRE days, which is laudable, and had me voraciously playing with prodigious zeal.

(Rough) Translation: I liked it.

Alphabeats takes this tried and true genre and composes some new features, making this a noteworthy title. Combining wordplay with a musical twist, Alphabeats does not disappoint. It captivates English-language lovers and music enthusiasts alike!

The controls are extremely simple – use the D-Pad to move your character, which is a dot, across the screen at set intervals. As the music plays, dots with randomized letters will fall from the top of the screen. You need to move your dot across the screen to capture the falling dots. By capturing the dots, you string together letters, which in turn makes words. You must do all this while avoiding undesired letters. The longer your word, the more points you get. Release the word and collect your points by pressing the “up” arrow. Simple!

There are three “special powers” – the first one doubles the score of your collected word and can be activated by pressing the “1” button.

The second one shortens your string of letters’ length, making it easier to dodge unwanted letters; press the “2” button to utilize this power. The last one blows away all letters falling towards your dot – hit “3” for this one. These powers can be limited, so be sure to use them wisely!

There are three modes: Normal, Tricky, and Spellfire. Normal is the standard gameplay, while Tricky just accelerates the rate the dots fall. Spellfire is actually pretty challenging – the letters fall at an extremely fast pace, and touching an undesired letter will result in a strike; just like in baseball, three strikes means you’re out. I found Normal mode to be more enjoyable that the other two and the easiest one in which to rack up the most points.

One thing I really appreciated was that two-letter words were acceptable and usually gave me 50 points. Onomatopoeia is also acceptable, and so are acronyms. If you accidentally captured a letter you didn’t want to – i.e., you’re trying to make a word that starts with “sp” and you accidentally catch an “x”, a word will automatically “pop up” and be suggested for you; in this example, it usually suggested “sperm”. It doesn’t give you the points – more like a reminder for next time. And while we’re on naughty words, “shit” was not accepted but “shite” was; “fuck” was not accepted but “fuckhead” was. That was definitely amusing.

The pre-loaded songs were actually pretty decent – my favorite one being “Sevcon” by Big Giant Circles.

The songs all have this throwback techno vibe to them with 8-bit sounds being scattered throughout. Each song has differing BPMs, or beats per minute, and the BPM determines the rate that the letters will fall. The higher the BPM, the faster the letters drop, making the upbeat and fast-paced songs more difficult.

Being a word game and all, Alphabeats sprinkled some very impressive vocabulary wherever there was an opportunity. The pause menu, for example, gave you a new word every day, like “antrum” (???). If you want to quit the level prematurely, you are asked if you want to “decamp”, “abdicate”, or “evacuate”. Level difficulty was categorized not by “easy”, “medium”, “hard”, but rather (in ascending order from easiest to hardest) “Soothing”, “Affable”, “Pastoral”, “Sapid”, “Workaday”, “Tumultuous”, “Exigent”, “Perilous”, “Febrile”, and “Eschaton”. In the Custom Song portion, the backgrounds you could choose from were described as “Tenebrous”, “Geometric”, “Incarnadine”, “Ceruleous”, “Psychedelic”, “Heliotrope”, “Voltaic”, “Empyrean”, “Stellar”, and “Viridian”. If you’re anything like me, you thanked Pokemon for helping you figure out what some of those words from the latter category meant (#straightouttaviridian #okaymaybestraightouttapallettownbutstill #yougotthereference).

One really cool feature about this title is that you can upload your own music and play your favorite song as a level. As an experiment, I tried a few different songs to see if Alphabeats picked up on the beat or the rhythm of each (the title could have given me an inkling as to what my answer would be, but I was curious). I chose a song where the artist doesn’t always rap on beat (Outsider – Alone), and I found that the algorithm still makes the letters fall to the beat. I tried it again with a speech paired with some ambient music (Carl Sagan, yeaaaaaah boy) and found that, again, the algorithm searches for beats. I have yet to test it with a William Shatner “spoken word song”, as I’m afraid to try.

After uploading some more current favorites (Nero – Doomsday; Sanna Nielsen – Undo), I got a little bored. I explored the leader boards to see if I could beat a few high scores (which I did), looked through the words I had generated (there’s a log on the main menu), and played my uploaded songs once more. At that point, I felt like I was forcing Alphabeats to be fun. The novelty had kind of worn off and I didn’t have that same excitement anymore, which actually upset me a little because I had really, truly enjoyed it up to that point. Theoretically, replay value is high, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Perhaps it was the lack of actual challenges, like “try to get x amount of points” or “make a seven letter word” or whatever. Playing for the sake of beating my high score or anyone else’s doesn’t really appeal to me, and I’ll admit that I simply lost interest.

If you love love LOVE word games, I think Alphabeats is for you. Adding music into the mix provides a unique challenge that is often unseen in this genre. It’s not the same old, hackneyed concept that plagues titles like this – instead, it’s a breath of fresh air, a new twist on a classic. English teachers and linguistics lovers everywhere, rejoice: you’ve found your new favorite title. For the rest of us: you’ll probably spend more time searching for songs to upload than actual gameplay. Still, I recommend picking up Alphabeats – the genre itself is sort of a hard sell, but Alphabeats is definitely the best it has to offer.


The Verdict

If you love love LOVE word games, I think Alphabeats is for you. Adding music into the mix provides a unique challenge that is often unseen in this genre.

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Heather Johnson

Heather has been playing video games ever since she can remember. Starting off as a PC gamer at age 2 with edutainment games and progressing to the NES and beyond, she has always had a love for everything gaming, PC and console. She’s carried a hand-held console in her back pocket (now purse) since the 3rd grade and is probably the only person in her mid-twenties that still enjoys street-passing. She lives in Los Angeles and currently works for Bandai in the marketing department – she doesn’t make toys, she just makes toys look good. Right now she is actively avoiding planning her upcoming wedding by playing Skyrim. Other hobbies include trying to go to the gym, watching documentaries, sleeping, and tormenting (see: showering with affection) her beloved Maine Coon, King Henry VIII. Favorite games include FFX, Katamari Damacy, Saints Row IV, Skyrim, Catherine, and Phoenix Wright. She has her phone surgically attached to her hand and is happy to help whenever possible.