I like music. I like games. Intersections of the two make me happy.
A good chunk of my musical library is game music. I’m a fan of AudioSurf, a slick little “sound rider” game that can be played as a relaxing cruise through my favorite music or a skill-testing scramble. Lately, though, maybe because I’ve had a lack of vitamin BSU in my gaming diet (Blow Stuff Up), I’ve really been enjoying Symphony.
Symphony takes your music library (or the one they provide) and asks you to clean out corruption in it, imposed by a malevolent digital entity of some sort. You fly a ship with four cannons (you wind up with a variety of weapons that you can slot in), reacting to the algorithms that the game uses to make bad guys based on your music. It’s a delightfully flexible system, with no two songs really playing quite the same way (and each song plays differently for each difficulty level). The story and character are just kinda… there. Not bad, just not all that compelling. I’m not convinced you really need a reason to play a game that’s this simple at its core; just go blow stuff up and have a blast doing it.
The TRON-flavored visuals are excellent, if a bit overwhelming before you get used to filtering the visual chaff. It’s really satisfying to upgrade your guns a few times, maybe angling them or using a spread cannon or shotgun, and throwing up a huge swath of happy, glowing death, blasting a swarm of bad guys into note-shaped shrapnel.
Most importantly, though, blowing stuff up is glorious fun. For me, the visuals and story can make or break a game, but only at the margins. The gameplay is what really matters, and Symphony is simply fun to play. Set your cannons to autofire (holding down the mouse button for constant fire is a good recipe for carpal tunnel, so autofire is the way to go), and you can just concentrate on flying. Or maybe try out a Subwoofer weapon that only fires according to the music (where a subwoofer would be used, of course, nicely demonstrated in the game’s trailer). Or how about a Crescendo weapon, a “charge and release” sort of weapon, or a Missile Rack that functions much the same way, offering devastating firepower in a narrow arc. Perhaps it’s best to put in that Shotgun or Spread Cannon and just dominate the play field. Maybe even use that Dual Cannon that fires behind you for those sneaky bad guys that push you out of the “bottom of the screen pocket” that lower difficulty levels allow.
Speaking of difficulty, it’s also a forgiving game. It presumes that you want to actually play through your whole song, so while your ship may be destroyed, you just respawn after a few seconds. Your ship can also be partially destroyed, and picking up the “Inspiration” that bad guys drop repairs your ship. So you can wind up with just one cannon as your wings get clipped, but you can get back in the game after you destroy some bad guys and pick up their offerings. Of course, your score suffers if you do completely crash, both with a straight score penalty and with missed opportunities to score while you’re regenerating, but there doesn’t seem to be a penalty just for ship damage that subsequently gets repaired.
Here’s a quick video that I found online that goes over some of the basics. I kind wish I could make a video, but that’s way down the priority list.
There are some fun “progression/collection” mechanics that unlock the variety of weapons and let you upgrade them, and player-selected difficulty levels which unlock as you play through your library. This incentivizes playing through different songs, as there is the occasional rare variant of a weapon that packs more punch. I do wish there were more weapons that did different things, and more that interacted with the music itself, but the dozen or so weapons in the game do provide a good mix of attack options without becoming overwhelming, and simplicity in game design isn’t really a bad thing.
…there’s room for a sequel, that’s all I’m saying.
In the meantime, though, Symphony is a sweet game that even stole some time I might have been playing Torchlight 2, the other game I was really happy to pick up in the Black Friday sales. I got Symphony at GoG.com’s “five for $10″ sale, along with the Blackwell Bundle, Botanicula, Resonance and Unmechanical. …as if my game backlog wasn’t full already. Still, for $20 I picked up 9 games that I’m really looking forward to playing. I’ve dabbled with all of them except for the Blackwell games, and so far, I’m happy with them all… though Symphony is the one I keep coming back to. Yes, yes, Torchlight 2 is a gem, packed with vitamin KSALI (Kill Stuff And Loot It), but it’s more involved. With my rather constrained game play time of late, the quick play of Symphony really fits the bill. I’d love to just settle into some marathon sessions of Torchlight 2 or Guild Wars 2, or even Tactics Ogre for the PSP that I got for my birthday, but my schedule is… squirrely.
At least there’s plenty of good gaming in the wings, when I can get to it.
Oh, and just because I wanted to get these out there while I’m thinking about them, I ran into some pretty crazy photographs lately. Some very cool stuff can be done with very high speed photography and water, as Tim Tadder illustrates with these shots: