Beat Slayer – Hades Rush

Musical beats

And those that tasted the bite of her blade named her the Beat Slayer!

Imagine if Hi-Fi Rush and Hades were smashed together. You’d get something like Beat Slayer, where rogue-lite action meets musical combat. Now, I’m not saying that this rhythm hack n slash game is up to the levels of something like Hades, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a fun time.

You play as Mia, a woman in 90s Berlin that has been taken over by Dietrich, a musician who has developed a way of controlling people’s minds. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s also kidnapped Mia’s brother Toni. And so, backed by a group of colourful characters, she sets out on a quest to rescue her sibling and bring down Dietrich and thus save Berlin.

Beat Slayer plays a lot like Hades in that it’s a fast-paced isometric hack and slash game where you’ll need to manage large numbers of enemies (robots, in this case) that attack in different ways in an arena. Destroy everything and you’ll get to select your next arena and the reward it provides. Continue onwards, defeat bosses, and return a hero. Or more likely get taken out by a rocket you didn’t notice coming and need to start over.

Beat Slayer
Early stages will throw a few enemies with some variety to contend with, but later ones are chaotic with loads to keep track of and prioritise.

The other way this is like Hades though is what happens when you fail. You’ll return to your base and be able to talk to all the side characters. You won’t be building meaningful relationships or giving gifts to earn rewards, but each failure does provide new dialogue, meaning you’ll learn about each character and their motivations regardless of how well you’ve done. You even have the feature that defeating Dietrich once doesn’t finish the game, but needs you to head back in to finish the job for narrative reasons, along with an increased difficulty.

Now, the Hi-Fi Rush element comes in with the combat. You’ll need to attack and dodge on beat to succeed. Whilst you can do these things off beat, you’ll do less damage and receive fewer buffs. Much like that rhythm brawler, here the world moves in time to the music too, with lights flashing and industrial equipment all moving to the beat. It’s a nice way of helping you keep track and fighting at your most effective.

If you manage to keep the rhythm going for repeated beats, you’ll enter the Tanzrausch state — translating to dance frenzy according to the internet — which increases your damage as well as offering other benefits depending on the bonuses you’ve picked up along the way. There’s a real emphasis on you being more powerful in this state, so it pays to keep in time, and Beat Slayer really does its best to help. Not only is it fairly generous in its timing window, but if you keep slipping up, the screen starts to flash in time to the music. Screw up more and a metronome sound will start playing too. Then a timing bar appears. It wants you to do well, even as the challenge ramps up.

Beat Slayer
Between runs you’ll return to base to change weapons, buy upgrades, and progress the plot with each character.

Each run earns you XP which you can spend on permanent upgrades to health, damage, and other such things. None of them are hugely exciting, but they do really make a difference. The ones you really want to pay attention to are the elemental effects. Speccing towards Virus means your hits add timed burst damage to enemies, meaning you can dash in, land a few hits, then back out and wait a few beats for all that damage to pay off at once. Maybe you’ll prefer a fire build that causes damage to nearby enemies when you’re in Tanzrausch. There’s a solid variety of builds to go for, and XP is plentiful enough that you can experiment without worrying too much that you’ve thrown away resources.

The minute to minute gameplay is really enjoyable. Dashing around and landing blows to the beat feels snappy and satisfying, and levels and runs are quick enough that you’ll start to slip into that one-more-run mentality very quickly. Just writing this is making me want to go in and have another go around. It certainly helps that Beat Slayer runs pretty much perfectly, even when you’re getting crowded by swarms of robots on screen. There’s that hard to define game feel here that really makes every moment feel good in action. 

That’s not to say that it’s perfect though. Some of the enemies are a bit irritating, like flying ones that seem to be able to move out of the way of you quicker than you can dash in and strike them, especially considering that you’re trying to keep rhythm. They won’t cause you much damage, but they will break your flow if you don’t prioritise your targets. This is hard to do too at times, especially when the higher difficulty throws so many enemies, including heavily armed and armoured elite varieties at you at once. Something that would have been nice is an enemy glossary so you know what machine does what, as it often wasn’t clear what a green pulse meant or why I was being hit by explosives that I thought I had dodged. You can work it out in time, but I’d have liked a companion to give more clearer information.

Beat Slayer
There aren’t many bosses, but as you increase the difficulty, they can become really challenging.

Whilst enemies are very varied, bosses are not. You’ll fight the same three on every run, and whilst some elements of their routine change as the difficulty ramps, you’ll still be going through the motions. I feel the second and third are just a touch too much of a damage-sponge for my liking too, making the battle take a little longer than it needs to. With that said, each of them is quite unique and needs to be fought in their own way, I just wish there were more of them.

On further positive notes though, the art style is great, having a sort of grungy comic book aesthetic that I really enjoyed, and all the sparks and flashes in combat look great when in full flow. Obviously sound and music are mostly top notch. I say mostly as the sound effects are pretty quiet due to the music being overpowering. This can be tinkered with in the settings, and obviously you want music to take centre-stage in a rhythm game, but it is noticeable how quiet Mia’s attacks seem at first. 

The music itself is great though, and maintains its style and cadence throughout. Interestingly, the whole run has pretty much the same song, but with new elements added to it musically as you progress through the stages. Hitting Tanzrausch ups the intensity too which is very satisfying, bringing that pumping 90s synth out even louder. I also appreciated that everyone was voice acted, and whilst some of the dialogue is a little cringey, the voice over was pretty good. I liked Mia’s occasional song lyric reference when she was in combat, but it’s a shame there weren’t more lines as I think I’d heard them all within about an hour. The only negative here is that Dietrich sounded very weedy for someone who’s meant to be the big bad guy. He lacked gravitas which was a let down.

Reaching this final area with only three health was worrying.

Beat Slayer is a really fun musical hack n slash game, and one that I find myself looking forward to playing again even now. Quick runs and snappy combat mean it’s a perfect bite-sized game to dip into, just don’t be surprised if you end up on your fifth run during your quick gaming session. It’s not perfect, but it is fun, and that counts for a lot with video games these days.

Beat Slayer is available now on PC.

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