I love music, but I suppose it is stranger when a person says he/she dislikes music than anything else, right? Personally, while I am no expert on this artform, I do play some instruments and do what I can to go in depth with all genres, even the ones I am not a fan of. Because of this, you bet I was excited when I heard about Symphony, despite that Audiosurf did not do much for me, and Beat Hazard convinced me it could cause epilepsy. Who knows, maybe I will give them another shot later on, but for now: Let’s look at a game that made me finally acquire a steam-account, before it came to GOG.
Beat the music
Your music has been attacked by an unknown entity and 5 composers have been imprisoned by 5 demons. Since it is your computer, it is up to you to save the music and get rid of these demons. How do you do this? Why, shoot the beats of your music of course. Before you start Symphony, it will ask you where it should look for you music-collection and after some analyzing, you will be presented with each music-piece, which will be basically the stages. The songs must be at least one and a half minute long to play it, but that should hardly be a hurdle. In each track, you will control your customizable ship in a one-screen shooter, where enemies enter in tone with the music. Here, enemies come in all shapes and form, either flying in a figurative motion with shields flipping to the music’s beat, or attack in another tone. Each are distinguishable and unique, making them entertaining to fight against.
By shooting these polygon-ships you will collect inspirations represented as notes, and bonus-chains if you can defeat a row of specific enemies, which can be stacked up if you collect more before the bonus-timer runs out. These inspirations are basically points used for getting one out of two ratings, and as a part of your currency. By beating each stage, you will acquire a new weapon to purchase, which can be set to one out of your four weapon-slots, rotated and slightly customized. Each stage has a random weapon to provide, so you will have to experiment a lot and beat more stages to find your favourite setup, which is very appealing as no fire-power becomes useless. Some stages might instead provide an item to purchase, which will function as power-ups you can pick up in the stages. The only other one you can find in the stages, is a strength-upgrade for one of the 4 weapons you have, so this will definitely come in handy. These items and firepowers you can purchase, can also be leveled up by spending both inspirations and kudos, which can only be acquired by beating the rank the stage set up.
This is a great way to keep you excited to play through any stage, as each song will provide a new set of weapons to acquire, more kudos and inspirations, new patterns and waves of enemies and what is possibly the most surprising: the possibility for a demon to appear. These demons function as the game’s bosses and will appear randomly in each song. When they appear, you will have to shoot an enormous head and kill it within a timelimit. Should you be able to do so, you will be granted a ton of inspirations and after beating a boss 3 times (where each confrontation becomes more challenging), you will unlock a new difficulty for all stages, where new rank-score will be set, more currency to earn, new enemies and patterns to learn, and possibly the next boss. This is fantastic, as despite being somewhat repetitive in its concept, these driving-forces keep the game from ever getting stale. Not to mention how fun and creative the bosses are, with unique layouts and patterns to learn. One will send walls towards you to shield himself and kill you, while another will be guarded by other heads you must defeat, making each encounter exciting.
However, Symphony is far from an easy game. There will be enemies flying in from every corner and you will have to be at your A-game, both with how you will prepare your ship and your reflexes in combat. Despite having unlimited lives, each time a shot hits the center of the ship, you will instantly die and lose a good portion of your points. You will respawn, but die too many times and it will be hard to get one of the two ranks the stages provide. What makes this never unfair however, is that you will always see where the ships are coming from, which makes it so you never take a cheap shot and you use the mouse to control the ship, making it fast to maneuver. Also, since it is only the center of the ship that will cause you to lose a life, getting a wing hit makes you only lose a weapon and it can be repaired if you pick up inspirations.
It is quite impressive that whenever I felt I had my fill for the time, I get the sense of the “just one more try” mentality to get further, and always made an excuse for playing more. Unfortunately, after the 12th boss, you likely will be at a point where you can’t upgrade your ship anymore since the weapons max at level 5 and the items have lower max-level as well. Because of this, the game gets a high difficulty-spike that makes you go from a capable pilot to underpowered. You can find better items suited for you and upgrade them, but that can take a while and the game will become less appealing when you are up against the last 3 bosses as it can be quite time consuming compared to before. It is still enjoyable and makes you be more tactical, but it is a part where progression slows down and the game’s approach to a shooter changes drastically. Thankfully, this is a minor issue as the rest of the game is fantastic, and with how well every enemy flies in to the beat of the music with impressive accuracy, being it tones or rhythmic, I could not stop playing. After the last boss, I felt a true sense of accomplishment. Probably similar to a composer after creating a masterpiece. I mean, I did save the masterpieces, so that’s almost the same, right?
Gameplay Score: 8.5/10
As if my computer swallowed my sheet music
I love this style. You are presented with each stage layered with sheet-lines in the ground, the audio-strenght in the background, and polygon-shaped enemies with great variations. It is very amazing how good the variety can be and I love how they mix 3D-polygons to represent the technology of your PC and a space-shooter, with the audio-visuals from a music-program. The fact that it also goes for few colors, by being blue when calm, purple when the tempo kicks in and red when the speed is at max, shows a great amount of care and detail. The enemies will also be in a lighter shade of color, but easy to distinguish and also share the sense of speed both in colors and in motion. This is all simple, but so effective and the small touches such as how enemies send small explosions of notes when they die, is just fantastic. Unfortunately, the bullets flashes in different colors and can blend in with the colors on the ground, making them hard to see. It rarely caused a death, but it definitely can.
Speaking of the explosions and bullets, the sounds of different powers and explosions are awe-inspiring and makes each kill satisfying. You can also alter the sound of the effects compared to the music to your liking, which is a great touch. As for the music, it honestly depends on your collection, which can be very subjective. However, the game also features some of their own samples, which is a nice support if you are unsure on what kind of music you might enjoy with this type of game, and they are all great. I’d recommend some neat FantomenK as well for awesome beats, but that’s just me. The calm piano-tune for the menu-screens is also fantastic as it makes you at ease before another round. This is a great effect as it makes it easier to go for more rounds until your eyes or ears bleed. Lastly, the voice of the demon that is responsible for this commotion, is unsettling and muffled, making him almost something out of a horror-movie . Dark, disoriented and glitchy, it really got to me many times and I love how immersive it all felt.
Presentation Score: 9.5/10
Who gets tired of music?
This again depends on your own music-selections and how much you enjoy your songs, but even if you love your collection, there is lack in replay value when there is no real progression. You will always unlock more weapons, and can even compete with leaderboards online, but despite enjoyment, repetition is guaranteed in post-game and with no extra demons or challenges, there is small desire to play through Symphony again. And let’s face it: comparing your scores with others is still something that belongs in the 90s (if even then) and is not appealing anymore. However, playing through the entire main-campaign again, is a treat as it will reward you with randomized weapons and items to aquire, making it so you must take on the challenge again in a different way. The stages will be the same, as the game is programmed to recognize the tones and beats, but this is at least a good reason for another go. Other than it being still fun.
Extra Score: 6/10
Symphony provides a unique and great experience to the music-genre. Being a more arcade-experience with an interesting shooter-mechanic, makes it easy to pick up and play. With all the unlockables and overarching goal of finding the demon, it will get you to play song after song in an endless loop and it never becomes a chore. The end-portion is a bit off and there is not much to do post-game, but this is definitely a game that will show you the power of music.