BeatNiks Review: Virtual Pets, Set To Music


Despite the seeming contradiction, sometimes a mobile game can be exactly what you expect and still surprise you. In the case of BeatNiks, out now for iOS and Android, knowing that Harmonix has released it as its first internally developed mobile title lets you know that music will be involved. It’s not a rhythm game, though, but a whimsical variation on a virtual pet sim in which music plays an important role.

For lack of a better way to explain them, the titular BeatNiks are friendly monsters born from the experiments of one Professor Science (catchy name, that). The first time you launch the game, you’ll get to create your own, choosing a general shape, color, name and a few other basic features. Your choices help form the monster’s “musical DNA,” which means that mine has no country in its genes.

If you’ve ever had a virtual pet during any of their cyclical peaks of popularity, you’ll be comfortable with taking care of your BeatNik’s basic needs. You’ll need to feed it, keep it happy and bathe it regularly. Those needs are intrinsically connected; for example, playing mini-games keeps a BeatNik happy and earns coins toward buying food or the ingredients to whip some up yourself, but they also make your monster hungrier and dirtier.

You’ll soon learn that a BeatNik is kind of like a small child or a more sentient pet, because you can help keep it happy by simply petting it or tickling it, and it speaks in charmingly semi-understandable English.

BeatNiks-talking /

Neglect it for too long and it gets bored, and you’ll probably find that your BeatNik has colored all over the walls of its apartment. I’m not 100 percent they should be living on their own, but hey.

Things start a bit slowly with just two mini-games and a list of tasks to earn coins, premium currency and experience, but the world outside your BeatNik’s pad begins to open up more and more as you level it up. You’ll soon find yourself able to play more games, but your BeatNik a variety of clothes and help it decorate that apartment with furniture. A variety of food items can be created by mixing two ingredients, leading to some trial and error to discover what combinations work.

All of this becomes a lot more fun if you decide to turn the music on. If you’ve got songs of any kind stored on your phone or tablet, you can play them in-game, making your BeatNik dance in happiness and making the very stylized world it lives in even more vibrant. Even the trees and fellow monsters wandering through town will bop along to the beat.

BeatNiks-City /

It’s also advantageous to link your game to a Spotify, Pandora or iHeartRadio account, as songs you listen to on those services will count toward unlocking special genre-based achievements and outfits, as well as giving you an XP boost. Unfortunately, you can’t stream music while playing the game, so if you don’t believe in music ownership even of the digital kind, you’ll have to do what the Harmonix blog suggests and play the five songs included with BeatNiks a lot. I mean a whole lot.

While BeatNiks isn’t an educational game per se, it’s certainly great for kids, as the art style is inviting and some of the mini-games test your brains as well as your reflexes. My eight-year old daughter adores it so far, though I wonder if it will have enough long term variety to keep her engaged. At launch, the only events have to do with the mini-games, though it sure seems like Harmonix should be able to add more of everything to the foundation its built.

BeatNiks-mini-game /

Best of all, your BeatNik won’t judge, so if you want to crank those boy band tunes, rest assured that your monster will keep on grooving. Music and virtual pets might seem like an unorthodox mix, but it’s a playful success for the most part, and people who get sucked in by this game’s undeniable cuteness are probably going to enjoy it.

Pull the Trigger on BeatNiks if …

  • You’ve got an impressive digital music collection begging to be put to good use.
  • You’d like to see cute monsters out-dance Drake in “Hotline Bling.”
  • We had you at “Harmonix.”

Don’t Pull the Trigger if …

  • You live in the town from Footloose.
  • The phrase “virtual pet” brings back painful memories from the past.
  • Monsters should be scary.