The concept of Beat Hazard is very simple. You play as a little ship that floats around the screen spewing forth several different types of bright, flashy laser blasts as fleets of ships of varying sizes try to bring you down. Oh, and the real kicker is that both pieces of the background and every laser blast on-screen pulses to the beat of one of the pack-in songs or any track from your iTunes library.
If you’ve played Asteroids or Geometry Wars then the gameplay mechanics of Beat Hazard will be very easy to master. You have a blaster, you have a bomb and you have a ship that will need to avoid all sorts of floating debris. You can control all of this frenetic action with either an Xbox 360 gamepad or your mouse and keyboard, though in my experience I found the dual analog sticks to be the easiest way to maneuver and shoot simultaneous (though I am a console gamer, so PC players might prefer the mouse and keyboard).
Obviously the biggest draw of the game is the fact that you can use any track in your iTunes library and the psychedelic visuals will respond accordingly with background graphics that do a reasonably good job of conveying the feel of the song. Thankfully there are different grades of intensity and overall difficulty so if things get too crazy, you can adjust things appropriately.
The mechanics that drive the game are just a bit deeper than you’d think when you boot up the game. See, when you first start a level (the length of which is tied directly to the length of your selected song) you won’t be able to hear your song. Don’t worry, you don’t need to mess with your volume. Instead, you’ll need to collect volume power-ups that will build the volume meter at the bottom of the screen. The game’s design is betting on the fact that players are going to collect these volume power ups, because as you collect them, you’ll be bombarded with more and more enemies. Oh, and they get bigger and tougher, too. Thankfully there are weapon power-ups and superbomb pickups to help you along your way.
Beat Hazard is a short and sweet ten-dollar investment that is given solid longevity as long as you like the tunes in your music library. There’s a two-player co-op and adversarial mode to go along with online leaderboards, all of which add some nice life to your purchase, but I’ll admit that after a few hours, the concept got a little stale for me (a notion that wasn’t aided by me playing with an IGN podcast as my music track). That’s not to say that Beat Hazard doesn’t have enough frenetic, mind-blowing visuals to keep you happy, but I just wouldn’t expect a lot of wholly original design decisions out of this download.