Let it R.I.P.!Review by Jonathan Metts
Okay, so I'm not a fan of the Beyblade anime. I've never even seen it. From what I can tell, it's about kids with spiky hair battling in tournaments with their spinning tops, also called "blades". These blades consist of several pieces, which can be customized to alter the physics and attack power. Blades are released into some kind of arena, in which they knock up against each other until one runs out of steam and stops spinning. The other one is declared winner, spiky-haired kids rejoice/weep, and viewers are enraptured.
Oddly enough, the GBA adaptation of this somewhat interesting show has little to do with blade duels or tournaments. It's more like a Super Monkey Ball clone; the goal is to guide a spinning top through a maze suspended in the sky. The environments are presented as simple checkerboard surfaces, differentiated only by color as the game progresses. I get the idea that there are some pretty interesting environments in the show, from castles to jungles to cities and other crazy places, but all the game has are these bland checkered surfaces against an equally bland sky background.
What differentiates the gameplay from Super Monkey Ball is the spinning nature of the blades. The blade starts out with a certain amount of spin energy, depending on a golf-swing-style meter to initialize the spin, which slowly depletes over time. Using the dash or brake moves causes the spin meter to drop faster. When it's all gone, the level has to be restarted, but that's usually not a concern. The more interesting (and infuriating) thing is how the blade becomes gradually more difficult to control as the spin meter gets lower. It starts out controlling perfectly, then becomes slightly wobbly, then becomes all but uncontrollable as the meter nears empty. Yes, this is just how a real top behaves as it slows down, but the effect does not work so well with a level design philosophy that focuses on narrow passages and moving platforms. The result is that, towards the end of most levels, the spin meter is getting very low and the blade has become very difficult to control, causing it to topple off a narrow ledge and restart the whole level. It's infuriating enough to die at the end of the level in most games, but at least the fault usually lies with the player and his accumulated anxiety. In this game, the fault lies in physics and the blade's complete unwillingness to cooperate as it moves wildly around the level and resists all attempts to be pushed in one direction.
The main story mode proceeds through about fifty of these levels, which become harder and longer but never introduce any new elements beyond the basic ones found in the first few training levels. Some levels are boss battles, which take place in the same kind of environment but have a single enemy blade which must be knocked off the platform or simply attacked until its spin runs out. Spin recharge tiles are always placed around these levels, so the obvious strategy is to attack for a while, recharge, and continue attacking. None of the bosses are smart enough or powerful enough to resist this simple pattern.
The game's story is based on an entire season of the anime and is told through extensive dialogue, with character portraits as the only visual aid. Other than the occasional boss duel, the levels don't seem to have anything to do with what's going on in the story, although the game implies that each level represents some kind of external or internal conflict in the plot. The story and dialogue aren't bad at all, but it's very hard to keep up with what's going on when all the action is presented through these bland and abstract maze levels. The characters and overall premise are not introduced either, so anyone not familiar with the series is going to be thrust into the story face-first.
Beyblade's other modes aren't much to speak of. The "workshop" and collection screens show off all the items that have been collected in the levels, but the various blades and characters can't actually be used or customized. I think the collected blades might be selectable in the two-player versus mode, but the story mode proves that there is no appreciable difference in playing as different blades. The physics of each one feel identical, and the special moves (called "bit beasts") all do pretty much the same thing, which is to knock the nearest enemy back and/or send it flying into the air. The bit beasts would only be useful in boss battles, which are so easy that no such tricks are needed anyway.
Though fans of the anime might get a kick out of controlling a blade and seeing the story reproduced, it's hard to recommend Beyblade: Ultimate Blader Jam to most players. The gameplay, clearly inspired by Marble Madness and Super Monkey Ball, doesn't live up to either prototype and is weighed down by arguably clever but definitely annoying spin physics. Furthermore, the game can be beaten in a couple of hours, and none of the secondary modes or completist elements make it worth playing after the final boss. It's not a horrible game, but neither is it really worth playing or owning.Pros:
- Blades look and feel like they are spinning
- High sound quality for music tracks
- Decent story
- Frustrating controls
- Cheap level design
- Where's the blade customization?
The blades are impressively animated to look like they really are spinning, and the effect of losing spin and eventually wobbling to a halt is well done. Other than color, all the blades look alike (except for the final boss), and the levels have the same problem. Environments make no attempt to reproduce locations from the story.Sound: 7.0
The music is very much in the hard rock vein, and though I don't care for the style, the sound quality is nice. There is even a full song, with vocals, for the menu. The only problem is that there isn't enough music, so all of the two or three tracks get very old by the end of the game. Sound effects do a good job of making it sound like heavy, metallic tops are knocking against each other.Controls: 8.0
The blades actually control like real tops, if they could be remotely controlled. The effect of losing spin is believably incorporated into the control. There is a problem with how the blades behave while riding on moving platforms: they will slide right off unless the player moves them along with the platform underneath. That's not exactly how it would work with real physics, but it's a minor complaint.Gameplay: 5.0
Blah. Without the cute characters and great level design of Super Monkey Ball, or the nasty time limits and enemies of Marble Madness, this gameplay comes off as shallow and boring. It's competent but not much more. The effect of blades becoming more wobbly and uncontrollable as they lose spin is maddeningly implemented so that it becomes an issue at the worst possible point in each level. The jump pads are inconsistent in how they launch from different directions and at different speeds. The story is poorly integrated with gameplay, and the other modes have nothing to offer.Lastability: 5.0
It doesn't take long to plow through the game's levels; though some are ridiculously hard thanks to the positioning of certain obstacles, the game allows for infinite retries. Completists can try to get all the items, but there is no reward for doing so. Likewise, there are "par times" on each level to be attempted, but beating them unlocks a few bonus levels that are no different from the regular ones. The game includes a workshop mode but has no real customization features, and the two-player mode plays just like the rest of the game, so it's nothing to be excited about either.Final Score (Not an average): 5.0
As a licensed game, Beyblade is unsurprisingly mediocre. Its attempts at realistic physics are interesting, but the gameplay and level design make the spinning more of a liability than a fun new element to an otherwise familiar formula. Super Monkey Ball Jr. is a much better choice for fans of this sort of game.