It doesn’t take a serenade from Three Dog Night to realize that one truly is the loneliest number. And while I could crack a joke about people who play with puppets deserving to be alone, the end result of my time with Red Limb Studio’s Beat Me! is far more tragic. The kingdom of Puppetonia is kind of cute, it’s kind of quirky, and it’s totally devoid of players and solo-play options.
Alright, so maybe totally devoid isn’t completely true. In addition to the tutorial, lone wolves can hop into wave mode and play the same impossible ghost level over and over again. I found this to be particularly insulting not only because the gameplay trailer features a ton of bizarrely extravagant arenas that I wanted to try (but couldn’t), but also because it literally was impossible for me to progress to a different stage. There was no indication of how many waves were required to move on, how many bosses needed to be defeated, or how much time I had remaining. I was just tossed onto a floating platform (that was admittedly randomly generated each time) and bombarded with the same sets of enemies over and over again. I even tried spawning an absentee local player to take some of the heat off, but my attempts still proved impossibly Sisyphusian.
While I’m not totally surprised by the lack of a story mode, the conspicuous absence of bots in a local match is downright baffling. Clearly Red Limb Studios can generate AI enemies a la the aforementioned wave mode, so why wouldn’t they afford players the same luxury everywhere else? I understand that this is meant to be played as a party game, either locally or online, but if you live alone and the servers are as empty as my flask, adding bots to a brawl is the only way you could experience 70% of the content.
In terms of the gameplay I could actually review, the overall consensus is a resounding “meh”. The selection of characters is fairly varied in appearance if not functionality. Players can choose from a series of ranged or melee attackers, and that’s about it. Each character has one basic attack and one single-use special attack that can be unlocked with in-game power-ups, but both of these options are locked to the horizontal plane, rendering the concept of verticality rather pointless. This is made all the more frustrating when certain enemies (or rather, the only enemies I could find) can hover just above your hit range while standing, and timing a jump with an attack to hit the sweet spot is nearly impossible.
Which leads me to the issue of pacing. Attacks and jumps have an annoyingly built in lag, and the low-gravity quality (even without the upgrade) makes gameplay a bit frustrating when some enemies can move twice as fast as you in any direction. I’d like to think the developers implemented this walking-in-syrup mechanic in order to simulate the strings of a puppet, but I’m reticent to give them that much credit.
The few good things I have to say about Beat Me! center around the art. Having watched the trailer several times in anticipation, I was delighted to see that they stayed true to their vision and generated a vibrant 3D cartoon environment set to a 2D plane. The level designs I didn’t get to play promised all sorts of fun traps, moving platforms, and plenty of opportunities to beat my opponents senseless. The one arena I did experience lacked a lot of the fun bits I was promised, but still looked decent enough to merit several more tries. Similarly, the music is fun and upbeat, and the in-game noises (while slightly annoying after a while) fit in rather nicely. I really cannot express my disappointment in not being able to experience the game as it was advertised, if for nothing else than all the hard work that went into the aesthetic and level design.
It may sound like Beat Me! didn’t get a fair shake, but I can’t be blamed for spending 30 minutes sifting through an empty server and then resorting to the one repetitive game mode available to us lonely folks. Adding bots to local brawling and allowing level selection for the wave mode seem like fairly obvious concessions that should have been made from the start, but the developers appear to have placed too much faith in a non-existent online community and overlooked a large portion of their audience.