Symphony Hands On
Developer: Empty Clip Games / Publisher: Empty Clip Games / Release Date: August 6, 2012 / Played on: PC
As weird as it is to say for such a unique game, Symphony actually falls into a new genre. Using your own music, Symphony will dynamically generate shoot ‘em up levels that pulse and move with the music track you’ve chosen. If you’re thinking Audiosurf, you’re not too far off the mark. However, while Audiosurf was essentially an incredibly functional tech demo, Symphony is working in more videogame style progression.
For starters, Symphony has a story. I didn’t get the breadth of it in my demo (odds are it’s not more complicated than the above trailer makes it out to be), but having a story establishes a long-term progression framework for the game. While Audiosurf just revolved around seeing a bunch of blinky lights and comparing your score on leaderboards, Symphony has boss fights that are generated into songs, each of which will progress game’s “story.” It may not be the most substantial hook to keep trying different songs, but at least there is one, and the boss fights add a dash of spontaneity to the experience.
Knocking out bosses isn’t the only way to progress either. Every song you finish will allow you to spend in-game currency that you accrue on upgrades for your ship or new powerups that appear in levels. In my demo, I unlocked a space-clearing bomb that dropped randomly along with a new weapon sprayed bullets both in front and behind my ship. Each of those unlocks can be upgraded too, which gives you more of a long-term goal when playing.
Also unlike Audiosurf, Symphony is pretty goddamn hard. Of the six difficulties, I played on the second to easiest, and still got my ass blown up every minute or two. Death is handled rather elegantly though — every time you eat it, you just get a point penalty and have to wait a handful of seconds before you can spawn back in. Nothing too aggravating, though a few deaths will have a clear impact on your score at the level’s end. Not all damage equals death either, which is pretty cool. Grazing shots will just knock chunks off of your ship, which can actually remove some of your weapons. Picking up the smaller notes left behind by your enemies rebuilds your ship, which creates tense moments where you’ve been whittled down to a pea shooter and have to try to work your way back up.
The score system itself is rather elegant as well. Destroying all the ships in a given wave will spawn a big floating music note. Picking this up will give you a score bonus and also start a combo chain. If you can grab another before you die or before the combo expires, you can build up to larger and larger score bonuses. This can lead to some tactical play wherein you save the last ship in a wave until it’s close to you so you can pop it and immediately pick up the note. Your ship’s composition factors into the score too — the stronger your weapons, the lower the score multiplier at the end of the stage. Fighting your way up the leaderboard in Symphony for any given song will be an interesting process of gradually whittling down your armaments to maximize your score.
Finally, this game is damn pretty, to the point where it could just be a non-interactive visualizer for your music and it’d still be worth looking in to. I know I’m not the only person that’s vegged out for hours staring at the visualizer for Windows Media Player or Winamp, and watching Symphony pulse and flash in time with my beats tickles that same center in my brain.
So there you have it – rad beats, pretty blinky lights, and a game that appears way more substantive than you usually get in the rad-music-blinky-light genre. If you’re a fan of Rez, Child of Eden, or Audiosurf, make sure to check out Symphony when it releases on basically every digital service you can imagine (Steam, Gamestop Digital, Origin, GoG, and Gamefly Digital) on August 6.