Beat Hazard is, at its heart, a simple game. It gives you control of a small ship whose goal is to continually dodge between and around various enemies, homing projectiles, and asteroids. In fact, it's very much like an updated version of the classic game, Asteroids, with your goal being to destroy as much as you can and accrue the maximum number of points possible without dying and seeing the game over screen. There are three major differences to set this game apart from its spritual predecessor, though, and really breathe new life into the old concept.
For one, your ship begins with a tiny cannon incapable of scratching the paint off most vessels, large or small, a situation quickly remedied by the collection of Power orbs which, if you collect enough of them, turn your plinger into an incredibly effective dealer of death. Also strewn about are Volume orbs, which serve the purpose of raising the volume of the game's music, which originally is quite muted, to a level that's satisfyingly loud, which unlocks other gameplay options as a result, and the visuals become more intense.
The second feature is the rank system which keeps you intrigued as you play through song after song. Starting as a lowly private, you eventually make your way, by collecting enough points, to the level of elite, and every rank you gain up to the final levels has a perk associated with it. Some rankings will keep you from losing volume and other powerups on death, others provide bonus powerups at the start of every level to give you an edge, and others unlock new difficulty levels.
Finally, the game's tagline is that it's "powered by your music," and the results are spectacular. Nothing gets you into Beat Hazard's colorful, explosive astral shootouts more than hearing your favorite songs playing in the background as your ship deals psychadelic death in all directions. To start, you direct the game to your music folder and select any song therein to begin. As soon as the music starts, the game, from the stars in the background to the nebulas all around, will begin to pulse in wild combinations of color. This depends on the track you selected, of course; the louder and more varied the track, the more interesting starbursts of color you will see on screen. Enemies will begin appearing in waves, but their configuration is usually methodic and structured and entirely controlled by the flow of the music. Slow points in the song will result in fewer enemies - the calm before the storm – but in the world of music, slow points usually precede fast, hectic ones. Just before the soft portion of the song ends, you receive a jarring warning on the screen and your ship takes off at lightspeed straight into a chaotic boss battle, with gunfire and explosions going off everywhere. Even the projectiles change color with the music, and your ship's cannons will sometimes fire in tight beams or wide, destructive rays depending on what the music is doing in the background. The game will also keep track of your performance on certain songs, reminding you how well you did and what difficulty you played at, or even if you failed a song and want to retry it to make it to 100% completion, which plays into the game's expansive list of achievements.
About the only thing wrong with Beat Hazard is that's it's a bit too simplistic, which becomes apparent after a short while. There are few enemy variations, from homing missile and torpedo launching ships to their countless unarmed counterparts which serve only to get in your path and cause a destructive explosion when you accidentally smash into them. Asteroids do appear, and once destroyed they shatter into dozens of smaller asteroids, which adds a layer of strategy when dodging them and your enemies at the same time. The boss battles are intense and invigorating, but there could have been more types of bosses to add variety and even a little mystery to the game's progression.
Despite this, the game's various difficulty levels, the reward system, and the fact your favorite songs make excellent combat music comprise a brilliant and refreshing side-scrolling / survival shooter, and I recommend it highly. It may not be the kind of game you would sit glued to for hours based on its content alone, but it will certainly keep you coming back for a song or two on a regular basis. I sometimes play it when I want to do a little more than just listen to my music, and it truly invokes the one-more-song mentality to keep you riveted because what Beat Hazard does, it does very well. The game is polished and plays like a charm, and the only thing I can compare it to is a constant battle amidst a 4th of July fireworks show, in space, to your most favorite songs. It's superbly excellent.