Hacker’s Beat is a rhythm game developed by the Japanese indie crew Team TANDS+. It has recently been translated and released in English, and will soon be available to purchase from the Steam store and is now available via Playism. It’s a unique and charming take on the rhythm genre, modeled after an incredibly stereotypical and cheesy view of computer hacking.
The task of hacking is completed by frantically typing on your keyboard to keep with the rhythm of your chosen song. Rather than utilizing specific button inputs, Hacker’s Beat instead splits the keyboard into three sections: left, middle and right. Notes can appear anywhere within these sections and can consist of either a single note or a hold note. If that sounds simple, rest assured, this game is absolutely chaotic and does a lot with these limited tools. After a short, optional tutorial, the game presents you with a choice of 15 songs to hack through. The selection of songs lacks diversity, consisting solely of Japanese-style techno, but is generally well-crafted and pleasing to listen to, if not thematically fitting. At the end of the song, you’re given a letter grade ranging from E to A, but there is no real reward for completing the songs to a higher standard. Graphically, the game is rather unremarkable, though certainly functional, utilizing simple vector art and a basic color pallete.
While simple in concept, the execution of the gameplay seems to fall rather flat. There is a rather broad lack of feedback, which is essential to the success of a rhythm game. The window to hack each note is large and undefined, making it quite difficult to pinpoint the timing necessary without practice. Similarly, the three keyboard sections lack definition, and given the free-form nature of the game’s beat patterns, this can feel cheap. There’s also a distinct lack of reward, as very little feedback is given to the player when hitting or missing a note. In a genre with such clearly defined functions and mechanics, Hacker’s Beat suffers from a lack of regard and focus. It feels loose and sloppy, and always slightly beyond your control, but there is certainly fun to be had in the chaos.
Rather than utilizing a standard predetermined difficulty system, Hacker’s Beat instead adopts a rather creative measure of tailoring the content to your skills. It uses an adaptable difficulty scale, which multiplies the beats per minute of the song, rather than altering the mapping of the beats within. The player is given the choice to pick a multiplier from 0.5x to 4x, and the pace of the song is adjusted accordingly. Considering the breakneck pace of Japanese techno music, a 4x multiplier can quickly become rather overwhelming. This has no effect on score or ranking, and is simply for the pride of the player. It’s an interesting system that encourages experimentation, and pushes the player to improve their skills. Hacker’s Beat is not a difficult game. It’s possible to pass a song with an E rank, and you will need to make a concerted effort to fail a song most of the time. Reaching for that A rank can be a difficult task, but Hacker’s Beat is at its best when it’s frantic and just a bit beyond your control.
Hacker’s Beat is a strange beast to me. As a rhythm game, it’s flawed and narrow. It utilizes overly simplistic systems and lacks diversity. But, despite the lack of feedback and generally unintuitive systems, Hacker’s Beat is unequivocally charming and at times extremely satisfying to play. It’s a ridiculous concept, but it’s one that saw me grinning ear-to-ear for most of my time with it. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Law and Order or CSI involving a hacking scene, you know what playing Hacker’s Beat looks like. It’s flawed, but it’s simple, goofy fun, and that’s alright with me.