I am a bit torn on how I should introduce this review. On one hand I could bring up Audiosurf and the idea of playing a level or stage based on a user selected song makes me practically giddy. On the other I could talk about how dumb it is to entitle a game something like Symphony. At least Amnesia had a subtitle. Or I could get personal and call my father out for never teaching me jack about music when he is a massive music nerd who has a 15 foot long wall of CDs. Or I could gush about “Symphony” before realizing I’m not reviewing Symphony of the Night. Instead I did all four. I am the cleverest girl in all of the interwebs!
Developer/Publisher: Empty Clip Studios
It is weird to start a review of a ship shooter (It sounds better than shoot ‘em up or shmup) when you are very unfamiliar with the genre, and even more so when you decide the story is a good place to stop. The gist of it is that there is a demon who has conquered universes through the absorption, corruption, or domination over the medium of sound, and is currently attacking the player, or main character’s, world. The only way to stop him is to free five great composers by beating his virtual reality, or maybe just abstract form of hacking in order to stop the big bad and free the legendary writers of melodies. It may sound like I am over simplifying things, but what is offered was actually far more compelling than I expected, offering a lot less information while making it seem like the creators of Symphony did place a good deal of thought where it really was not needed.
I do wish that meant they placed all the attention they could in the one extraordinarily complex thing Symphony is trying to do, adapt every possible song ever made into a ship shooter, but, to make a long review short, that is not the case. It comes down to simple things in this wave based ship shooter such as the determiner for what waves of enemy ships come in and when as the implementation of tiny ships and large ships requiring many more techno lasers seemed to be determined by an automated sense of balance that operates on logic I could not follow. Even the introduction of many of these waves seeming to not take the song’s beat into full consideration, meaning the waves often arrived randomly in the context of the song.
Now, the game does have six difficulties, with the song being notably different in my experience, so perhaps this was a sacrifice to allow for more versatility in what challenge the player wants. Said challenge is strictly score based as that is the only penalty for falling in combat, with you always obtaining the reward of a new unlockable weapon for your cyber space ship. With the weapons being upgradable based on both your score and challenge level selected, neither of which is too surprising, but what is come from how valuable rare upgrades become when you are trying the hardest difficulties. This lead to a bunch of unusable points as I upgraded the weapons I actually used well to their max level, and was just hoping for two final rare drops that never actually came within my ten hours.
What’s worse is the actual user interface for equipping and upgrading weapons, and just plain old selecting songs. Whether it be the lack of any resource numbers when upgrading weapons from the weapon select screen, or just plain old finding a list of songs that you have played assuming you like to jump around a lot, as I do. This could have been easily amended by having a list of every obtainable weapon, and the two very useful power ups you can improve upon, but instead going between songs felt like a chore unless going through an entire album. Also, you cannot restart songs through a menu prompt, which for a stubborn person like me who wants to do as well as possible on nearly every single stage is more than a hair infuriating.
That aside, the simple question of whether or not the game is fun is up for debate, and I do very much have to say that it is, but I don’t really see myself coming back to it after finishing its loose scenario. It does regularly repeat itself and even with the ability to switch out between a large arsenal, I found no reason to do so as my format worked for the majority of stages, and it is impossible to predict the layout until you have properly played it. After which, the only reward is in the form of points that one could potentially go so far as to download an mp3 made specifically for grinding in Symphony through abuse of whatever mysterious algorithms it uses to assemble each level.
Oh, but there is naturally a visual aspect that must be accounted for, and Symphony is a clean neon coated game with a lot of particle effects and such that must have been quite difficult for a small team to pull off with only a few minor technical stutters, but it is pretty much just that. While there are many nice little touches like the audio levels being visible as the song is playing, seeing enemies as they prepare to spawn, and even the burst of notes that appear with their destruction. It is main flaw is how very visually uninteresting it becomes after a while, with the effects coming across as white noise when all I was looking for near the end were rainbow and red colored balls of death.
The central idea behind converting any given song into something remotely playable is something I am surprised as worked anywhere near as well as it has, meaning I expected the programming to make such a task akin to killing a colossus. And in short, Symphony seems to demonstrate that pretty well. While the title is enjoyable in its own right and one I unquestionably did have a good time with, it feels like an idea that needs much refinement in order to come close to what my foolish mind musters up when I get bored and think of how to best incorporate songs into games when listening to… mostly garbage to be entirely honest. So would I recommend it beyond that? Sure, it has enough novelty to see it through to the end with a smile on one’s face.
The game is good at its core, that much is very true, but the hiccups start to get more than a bit too present to be pushed aside, or the title might just be lacking in a textbook full of different manners.