Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “rhythm game”

Thumper for Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC

Thumper has one of the best marketing descriptions I’ve ever seen; ‘rhythm violence.’ It’s a lovely way to put it and sums up the general vibe of Thumper very well. I’ve played a fair few rhythm games in my time, but none that filled me with the anxiety and genuine sense of dread that Thumper does. A mechanic introduced later in the game killed a lot of my enjoyment, but for most of my time with it Thumper was an intense and unique experience.

In Thumper you play as a little beetle thing, making its way along a track in a bizarre, fractal hell-scape. There are 9 levels, with each culminating in a boss battle with a hideous, demonic face. It may not have a story, but it certainly has an atmosphere and it can be genuinely unsettling and oppressive. You must avoid obstacles in a variety of ways. The simplest are barriers, where you must simply hold a button to smash through them. Some require you to lean your beetle in a particular direction, or change into different lane to avoid sinister snake things. It’s fast, intense and noisy and it’s easy to get into the trancelike groove that the best rhythm games create. The boss battles involve you having to tap a button on these green glowing patches on the track; if you hit them all, you can launch a laser at the evil face and after four hits it goes down. It’s an interesting way to apply the mechanics to a boss fight structure. The whole thing can be punishingly hard, with it only taking two hits for you to die and then have to retry the section you’re on. For most of the early parts of the game, it generally feels fair, but an infuriating mechanic had me turn on Thumper somewhat.

Around midway through you are introduced to these gates, which mean you have to hit blue glowing paths like in the boss fights for the particular run. If you miss even one, a laser descends and damages you. This was fine at first, but when combined into boss fights it becomes punishing for the sake of being punishing. Normally when you are fighting a boss, if you miss one of the green patches you simply restart the section, with no damage or death. There’s an element of trial and error, of getting better and better at each section’s timing that’s very satisfying. In some of the later bosses you’ll hit it three times, with one to go, but then the gates will descend and you know that if you fail you will not be able to try again, but have to start the entire boss fight again. It’s a needlessly cruel mechanic and one which punishes you simply by wasting your time, utterly negating the fun sense of trial and error seen in the rest of the game.

The visuals are striking and there’s a sense of barely restrained chaos at all times. This being a rhythm game, most credit should go to the music. It’s not something I think anyone is going to be listening to for fun anytime soon, being mostly made up of pounding drums and intense synths. The sounds of your beetle as it careens around the track, smashing off walls and through barricades, adds more percussion to the brutal rhythm which pervades the whole experience. I could maybe have done with a bit more musical variety between levels, but I can also see why they went for one style of music and completely leant into that.

Thumper is one of the weirdest rhythm games you’ll play. I felt that in the latter portions its difficulty tipped too much towards arbitrary and cruel, rather than challenging and engaging. Still, when you’re working your way through the levels, utterly immersed in the beat, Thumper takes that classic rhythm game experience and twists it into something evil and oppressive. That’s pretty cool.

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VOEZ for Switch, iOS and Android

I’m a bit of a sucker for rhythm games, even rhythm games where the music is mostly Taiwanese indie EDM and dubstep. VOEZ is an unsung and unhyped member of the Switch launch line up, but one which rounds out a deceptively strong group of games very well. The Switch is, ultimately, a high powered handheld, and VOEZ is the perfect handheld game to pick up for a couple of minutes here and there.

VOEZ uses the touch screen exclusively, meaning that it is to date the only Switch game that cannot be played on the TV. Some have said that this dilutes the Switch brand, but anything that broadens the range of games which can come to the system is ok in my book and I hope that VOEZ leads the way for more high quality tablet ports onto the system. Essentially, you’re just touching a screen to a beat, but the sense of style and synergy VOEZ oozes is captivating. The key press inputs are simple presses, flicks and drags across the screen, but it gets pretty intense and the difficulty really ramps up. Pulling off a tricky series of taps feels incredible.

In terms of soundtrack, VOEZ isn’t particularly interested in giving you a bunch of favourites to tap along to. I didn’t know a single song in the game and that’s ok, I quite like the fact that this is a cultural artefact not targeted towards my demographic. I generally preferred the more poppy songs, such as it’s pretty delightful main theme and was generally less keen when the tracks were more EDM or dubstep focused, but this is purely a consequence of my tastes rather than any reflection of quality.

There is a story, with particular challenges earning pages in a visual novel narrative about a group of teenagers forming a band. It’s fine if you’re into that sort of thing, but my interest was brought to a screaming halt by some bizarre difficulty spikes and troughs. One chapter requires you to get a decent grade on the hardest difficulty and then the next on easy. After playing on harder difficulties easy seemed boring so I just stopped. The visual style is very clean and clear, as rhythm games should be, but it’s still delightful to look at, filled with colour, with the lanes for the track themselves shifting to the beat.

VOEZ is, so far, the best Switch game I’ve played to spend a couple of minutes with here and there. I definitely want the Switch to keep up console level releases, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more high quality tablet style games on the system to. VOEZ proves that the Switch can pull it off.

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Weapon Shop de Omasse for Nintendo 3DS

Well, this has been a rather divisive little game hasn’t it? I’ve seen some people absolutely slate it, but others seemed to really like it. I’m probably somewhere in the middle; it’s not really a good game by any sense, but it has a charm which is hard to deny. In fact, this is the kind of game for which the term ‘guilty pleasure’ was invented.

Weapon Shop de Omasse takes place inside a fictional JRPG, in which you play as Yuhan, an apprentice blacksmith who helps run a weapon rental shop for the heroes of this world. The Evil Lord is returning, so Yuhan forges a series of greater and greater weapons for a series of heroes to ensure that they are well equipped for the inevitable confrontation at the end.

Published in Japan as part of the Guild 01 series, Weapon Shop de Omasse was actually created and written by a group of comedians. The humour is very…erm, Japanese, but the localisation team has done an absolutely fantastic job, and I found myself chuckling away more than once. There are a range of weird and wacky characters Yuhan rents weapons to, from a giant drag queen to a ridiculous French knight. A lot of the laughs come from the ‘Grindcast’, which is basically Twitter, which plays along the screen as you forge and maintain your stock of weapons. The localisation team really nailed the Twitter style, complete with hashtags and pop culture references, all tied up in the JRPG setting. Ok, not everything translates, and the story itself isn’t particularly interesting, but it’s still an amusing little conceit executed well.

Sadly, the actual gameplay is abysmal. Weapon Shop de Omasse is mainly a rhythm game, but not a very good one. The weapons are forged by tapping the lump of metal to the rhythm of a song, but it all seems very arbitrary, and the quality of the weapon at the end often seems to have nothing to do with the quality of your performance of the song. The item management element isn’t much better, with the potentially interesting mechanic of deciding which weapon best suits each client being done for you with the overly simplistic ‘affinity’ check. It can get very monotonous, and reminds me slightly of those early DS games which were built only around dodgy touch screen mechanics. I’m looking at you Project Rub.

Probably the worst sin is that there aren’t enough tunes, and lots of them aren’t very good. There was only really one of them that I felt was really enjoyable, which just isn’t enough in a game built around music! There are some nice elements in the presentation though, such as a sit-com style studio audience that laugh, applaud and groan along with the action.

I’m perhaps inclined to be a bit kinder to Weapon Shop de Omasse than a lot of people, and I think that this is partially because of the way I played it. I never played more than 10 minutes in one sitting, which helped starve off the tedium. It’s completely understandable that a professional game critic working under deadlines would experience this game a very different way. If you want something light, amusing and mindless to fill the odd spare moment, Weapon Shop de Omasse might be worth a look, but don’t go in expecting anything special. Weapon-Shop-De-Omasse-art-logo-Review-Game-Play-Screen-Shot-625x351

HarmoKnight for Nintendo 3DS

It must be strange being one of those developers who only make one series. Game Freak are so synonymous with Pokémon, that seeing that logo followed by something else is an odd sensation. HarmoKnight confirms that Game Freak isn’t a one trick pony, and maybe Nintendo should let them experiment outside the box a little bit more.

HarmoKnight takes the same minimal approach to plot as the Pokémon games, and follows Tempo, a young boy from the land of Melodia. A meteor crash brings Gargan and a Noizoids, evil aliens who disrupt Melodia and kidnap the Princess Ariana. It’s up to Tempo, alongside a group of allies, to use the power of music to become a ‘Harmony Knight’ and save Ariana and Melodia.

So, suffice it to say that you’ll not be playing HarmoKnight for the plot. There’s a weird amount of effort made to give it one, but that is effort which certainly feels wasted.

So, HarmoKnight is a rhythm-action game, similar in some ways to the Bit. Trip Runner games. Tempo continually runs, and the player has him jump and swing his weapon in time with the music to avoid obstacles and defeat enemies. There’s not really much more to it than that, although there are a handful of sections where Tempo’s allies take over with slightly different mechanics. What sets HarmoKnight apart from other games in the genre is its sense of scale and spectacle. Games like this generally go for a scaled back, stylish and minimalist look, but HarmoKnight goes the other way, with some really epic set pieces, particularly during the enjoyable, memory based boss fights. HarmoKnight isn’t a long game by any means, but there’s a lot of replay value. A handful of bonus levels based on Pokémon with familiar tunes from that series don’t hurt either!

HarmoKnight’s biggest weakness is one which, well, really shouldn’t be in any rhythm game. The music just isn’t that good, which is doubly strange considering the consistently excellent soundtracks in the Pokémon series. The game is still fun, exciting and epic, but HarmoKnight fails in this fundamental way which undermines the entire experience. Still, HarmoKnight nonetheless manages to charm in other ways.

The 3DS eShop now holds a surprisingly excellent range of titles, and HarmoKnight is another feather in this increasingly feather filled cap. It’s a fun, light release, a good way to pass a couple of hours when it pops up in the next digital sale. harmoknight660

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