E3 2021 Mini-Preview: UNBEATABLE - Beating the odds... and your insecurities
Updated: Jun 20, 2021
As part of our E3 coverage, we'll be providing a few mini-previews for games that we were compelled to check out further after they caught our attention at one of the events. Many of these games have free demos, so check them out yourselves and let us know what you think!
E3 2021 has anime fans thriving. From the giant mecha turn-based RPG Wolfstride to the eclectic three-game library from Virtuoso Neomedia, fans of the Japanese medium were treated to a varied mix of releases across all of E3's events.
Even amid the shotgun blast of anime-inspired games, one title rose up like a shooting star to steal our attention away from the pack. Meet the undeniably stylish and invariably punk UNBEATABLE.
UNBEATABLE, developed and published by D-CELL Games, is a sleek and simple two-button rhythm game heavily inspired by the music of The Pillows. I spent some time playing the free demo, available now, that currently exists as its own release: UNBEATABLE [white label].
After hearing the game's one-line story premise at E3, jumping in to play it was a no-brainer: "UNBEATABLE is an anime-inspired rhythm adventure game where music is illegal and you do crimes." Although [white label] spends more time introducing players to the band members than the world, I'm excited to see how the law-breaking will play out in the full release.
In the demo, you'll play as Beat, the vocalist and the main character who performs and explores the game's environments in your control. She's snarky and "goin' through it" with the songs she writes and sings for the band. Twins Treble and Clef provide the yin and yang of calm and chaotic that every good punk band needs. And Quaver is the backbone of the group: smart, cool and collected, helping to keep this crew of misfits together.
The quiet moments with your bandmates and the interactions you have with the world and those who inhabit it are unique when it comes to the usual rhythm game.
The demo opens and immediately shows off one of the biggest hooks of UNBEATABLE. As Beat is running late for practice and sets off to meet her bandmates, you glimpse a brief adventure-game like exploratory section. You examine your surroundings and toggle through phrases to direct her internal monologue, watch as she berates herself for being tardy, and enjoy a charming read-through at a stand full of strange brochures.
This diverging gameplay is a treat that warms you up to the rhythm gameplay that begins when Beat enters the band room at last.
A mechanic that I'm most intrigued by, despite it not being reflected in the demo itself, is that players will be able to choose a unique setlist for the band's performances. The band writes songs based on the experiences your character has in the world, and when it finally comes time to perform at your underground shows, you get to choose which songs to perform.
UNBEATABLE adds this personal layer to the experience, making each song both fun to play and important to the character — and by transit, the player.
While the demo doesn't offer a chance to explore those mechanics, it does share introspective intros to all 12 songs (complete with a moody silhouetted Beat and fancy splash art) that helps this rhythm game carry more weight than one that's all impersonal catchy tunes and a strong beat. Each song in the demo seems to tackle one of Beat's insecurities. Whether she's pondering the sense of finality inherent in writing a diary or the inability to be happy with her progress when tackling new projects, every composition shares a window into her inner self.
UNBEATABLE's rhythm gameplay is simple enough, calling for you to hit or hold two buttons to the beat. One keeps you grounded and the other lifts you into the air. Each press is represented by Beat smacking incoming monsters that make up your beat markers.
It's easy to embrace, but definitely hard to master. Through my hour with the demo, I found myself JUST able to beat one of the songs on normal mode, with the rest completed in beginner and easy.
I appreciate the amount of assist and difficulty options present here, as I find that rhythm games are often off-putting with their high skill floors. The demo offers a full suite of difficulty options — toggles for the visual effects, adjustable game speeds, and a no-fail mode — but their Kickstarter also pledged the following:
Modifiers that disable health and adjust regen
Options for color-blind users
Various options to configure dialogue visibility
Full controller / keyboard custom bindings
This commitment to accessibility shows that D-CELL understands their audience is interested in more than just flexing their rhythm-keeping reflexes. And as a moderately-okay-at-rhythm-games player myself, the difficulty isn't insurmountable, but the shift up in levels is a bit steep at times. So knowing that I can play and experience the shenanigans that Beat and company get up to without worry is a relief. (Also, I couldn't fit this anywhere else but the Kickstarter also promised a full-fledged beatmap editor, online multiplayer, and acoustic covers of each song. Fuck yeah.)
If everything you read above wasn't enough to pull you in, may I interest you in a sampling of the game's all-original music? If you're a fan of The Pillows, the Scott Pilgrim movie OST, or sick ass music in general, you'll be ready to lose yourself in the inevitable UNBEATABLE flow state.
UNBEATABLE is the kind of rhythm game I've been waiting for: anime, punk rock, pink hair, good band buds, and great story. Everything about my time with the demo spoke to me and I invite you to check out the demo for yourself.
If you find yourself so moved to help with D-CELL's development cycle, you can also back the game via their Slacker Backer campaign, which may just unlock a few extra stretch goals from their original campaign.