Review: Mister Beam16 Jul 2014 0
Mister Beam advises the player that this is a game “[b]est played in the dark".
There might be a couple of reasons behind that counsel. First, Mister Beam is a game about crashing around in an ancient temple looking for priceless artifacts, so perhaps Mister Beam is trying to help you hide your shame about plundering the cultural heritage of a proud native people. Secondly, Mister Beam is quite a lovely game, visually, and its nifty lighting effects are somewhat niftier when viewed in a dark room.
So that's two good reasons to play Mister Beam as suggested. Now, if you'll indulge me, I'll give you about ten reasons not to play it at all.
Mister Beam is a cross between an infuriating platformer and a subpar puzzle game, two disparate halves which never really come together well enough to merit a “puzzle platformer” designation. You’ll guide Mister Beam himself, a cut-rate Indiana Jones, through jungles and the aforementioned ancient temples. You’ll tap lights along the way to illuminate the path, because despite his feeble torch Mr. Beam will swiftly be devoured by bats if he stays in the dark too long. You’ll leap over pits, dodge traps, and tap collectible items hidden in the shadows to unlock bonus levels.
Or at least you’ll try. More likely you’ll die thanks to clumsy controls, try again, die again, finally succeeding moments before you would have yielded to the temptation to throw your iPad against a wall. There are many ways Mr. Bright can die, each lovingly animated, and you will soon become familiar with all of them.
A game demanding precise movements requires equally precise controls. In good games death is a challenge to do better. You’ll get mad, sure, but you’ll also get determined, because your failure is your fault. You can do better. But when your deaths can be blamed on the game itself, the result of unwieldy controls, all that remains is frustration.
Tap Mister Beam and he’ll walk slowly forward, or swipe him in various directions to have him sprint, sneak, crawl or jump. He will move automatically until you tap him again to stop. You have only three speeds and cannot move backwards. Try to imagine using this method to jump from a crumbling platform onto a moving elevator, then swiftly ducking to avoid a swinging pendulum, making sure to tap a couple torches on the way to make sure you don’t get eaten by bats. Is this mental image making you mad? Good. I feel a little catharsis coming on.
It's a control scheme that seems better suited for a casual ramble through a slow-paced puzzle game, and oddly enough it occasionally appears that Mister Beam wants to be exactly that. At the end of each level your character will stop. You will use maneuverable mirrors to manipulate a beam of light into the shape needed to open the final door. It’s standard puzzle-game stuff, never too taxing, but at least it’s not actively bad like the platformer segments. Unfortunately it's also never good enough to elevate the game's weaknesses.
I encountered a game-breaking bug on level 18. A platform that was supposed to move did not, leaving me stranded. When I restarted the level and encountered it once more I considered it a mercy. I did not restart again. Maybe the final three levels are brilliant, maybe the game pulls a complete 180 and offers some redeeming final moments. I wouldn't count on it.
It's obvious a lot of time and effort went into the art and animations. The lighting effects really are impressive, and making a game best played in a dark room is a clever conceit. There are quite a few clever little touches, like the spiders that catch fire when caught In a beam of light or the corny muzak that plays when you step into an ancient wooden elevator. But all this serves as nothing more than lipstick on a pig, great art assets draped over an unsatisfactory experience.
Mr. Beam's various elements never unite to form anything particularly illuminating. It's a mixed bag of half-hearted ideas, none of them worth your time.
Mr. Beam was played on an iPad 2 for this review.