Beatbuddy preview - hands-on at PAX East

Boom. Cha. Boom boom. Cha. Eight in the morning. PAX East. I'm standing at Threaks' corner of the Reverb booth with a controller in hand and a massive pair of secondary headphones wedged atop my head. It takes me a moment to realize I'm about a hair's width away from two-stepping to the beat, but that's okay because me and the Beatbuddy? We don't need anyone's approval; we just need the music.

Threaks' Beatbuddy is as infectious as a fast food jingle. With six levels constructed thematically around a different song, Beatbuddy is an action-adventure that comes with many of the hallmarks of its genre. There's punching and environmental hazards and labyrinthian passages to traverse and so on. It's a familiar song and dance, but what sets Beatbuddy apart from the rest is how it literally is a song and dance.

Everything in BeatBuddy is a part of whatever musical composition forms the backbone of the current level. Here, a conga line of color-changing orbs plays the back beat. There, spikey, crab-like things articulate the bass line. As the eponymous protagonist, however, you're more than an element in the melody: you're an agent of mellifluous change. Entirely new remixes—not sucking at the game is integral to engineering good ones—will emerge from your interactions with the alien but gorgeous-looking worlds. It's a weirdly appealing concept, one that may well compel repeated playthroughs from the musically inclined or the curious.

Complex as all that might sound, though, it isn't. Most of these things happen in the background, independent of how you actually navigate through the level. The game is simple: you move through the levels with the left analog stick, accelerate by hitting the A button, punch stuff with X, and hold onto objects with the right trigger button. Sadly, the controls didn't feel quite as tight as I would have liked, but that could have been intentional. Rotund, headphone-wearing apparitions aren't generally built for graceful pirouettes, after all.

The demo I played was rad. Beatbuddy first had me maneuvering through the tutorial section: click this to accomplish that, and so forth. Soon, though, I was hurtling into bio-luminescent coral and ricocheting like a pinball through winding tunnels. Like the music, which grew progressively more elaborate as I went further into the level, Beatbuddy builds elegantly on its previous challenges. Having said all that, I want to mention it again: the music is probably the most satisfying element of the game. When you get a complex sequence done just right, Beatbuddy doesn't so much provide traditional feedback as it does sing out its approval.

While I got far enough through the demo to be introduced to vehicular travel and the game's first non-player character, I didn't really get a chance to figure out exactly what the aquatic Beatbuddy is or why the heck I was doing what I was doing. Was I supposed to be an exiled prince? An explorer of foreign lands? A miscreant out to wreck havoc on the local town? Who knows? Except Threaks, of course, but they don't count. I'm ready to find out—so far, and if you'll excuse this necessary pun, Beatbuddy is hitting the all the right notes. Threaks plans to release it on multiple platforms later this year.