If you’ve ever listened to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz on mute, you know the magic of the synchronized audio-visual experience. And if you haven’t, well, the weekend is only a couple of days away, and we’ve embedded the whole mash-up at the bottom of this post.
The masterminds at Smule, who created Magic Fiddle, Magic Guitar, I Am T-Pain, Ocarina 2, and many other standout music apps, attempt to channel this power of synchronicity into the iPhone and iPad with Beatstream ($1), which transforms your own music library into a rhythm-based videogame.
Beatstream has a fairly simple concept: Pick a song from your Music library, and the app create a unique game based on its beat and song structure. As the song plays, a two-sided arrow (one side blue, the other yellow) travels along a track.
Blue and yellow barriers corresponding to the beats are scattered along the track; to torpedo through them, you have to match the color of your arrow to the color of the barrier. Tapping anywhere on the screen flips the arrow to the desired color. The background color continuously changes with the beat as well, adding to the game’s intensity and difficulty.
As you play, you’ll unlock extra features that enhance gameplay and change things up. For example, Warped mode changes the speed of the song depending on how well you are playing. Basically, if it sounds like chipmunks are singing, you’re doing well; if it sounds like someone is singing under water, you’re on the verge of losing. Too many mistakes will grind the game to a halt. You can also unlock difficulty levels, as with Guitar Hero. Note of caution: the hard level is, in fact, quite difficult.
Like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, Beatstream isn’t just about matching colors. Part of the fun comes from choosing the right song, because you really need to get into the groove to perform well. In our experience, slow songs made for boring games, and were harder to play. Our suggestion: look for your favorite foot-tapping, head-bobbing jams and start there, and before you know it, you’ll be killing time on the subway while getting deeper into your music. Or, to give yourself an an adrenaline rush, choose something fast and switch the difficulty setting to normal or hard. You’ll see what we mean.
Unfortunately, the song selection process exposed the app’s major flaw: inconsistency. While the game adapted well to certain songs, its audio analysis missed the mark completely on others. In those instances, it just felt like we happened to be listening to a butchered version of a song we used to like while randomly tapping the screen. However, when it works, it really works.
Aesthetically, Beatstream leaves much to be desired. From the non-retina-display-capable graphics, to the sea of neon through which your arrow glides, to the congratulatory “RAD” given after passing several barriers in a row, the app feels like it came straight out of the ’80s. The upbeat visuals are tempered, however, by the ominous sound of wind chimes and (what we think is) the sound of rain that play while choosing your song. We’re not sure what that’s about.
While Beatstream doesn’t quite live up to the high standard set by Smule’s other apps, it’s not a bad way to pass some time. This app really is quite enjoyable when the beat barriers and the song are synchronized well, and it only costs a dollar. Just choose your songs wisely, and you’ll have fun playing along to your music.