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Games of 2013: Symphony11:32 PM -- Wed January 8, 2014


Symphony is one of those "play the music you own" games. In this case, it generates a Space Invaders type of experience, with spaceships coming at you on the beat, and you gunning them down mercilessly, because that's what music is all about.

I've put some time into this game this year, though I wouldn't say it's really a great game by any means. What it is is zen. After a day of really working out my brain with code, and draining my creativity with art, and then exhausting my braincupines (spiny things that live inside your head) with more significant video games, my wife will finally text me to say she's coming home. She works until fairly late, and it takes about an hour for her to get home. So I'm sitting there, all drained out, with nothing but time to kill until she comes home. I could watch TV, but I can't watch anything good, because then she won't have seen it, so why bother? So for a while during the middle of the year, I had an unplanned nightly ritual of blasting through a few songs on Symphony.

The game is not hard at all - the challenge is in getting a perfect run and picking up combo bonuses before the combo expires. There's no challenge to getting through the song successfully, even on really high difficulties (at least the highest I've unlocked anyway). I'm not even sure if it's possible to "die" in the game, other than brief explosions that just cost you some points. It also of course is set to the backdrop of whatever music you want to be listening to (loudly), and perhaps singing along to, but nobody needs to know about that. And you can even rig up your spaceship to autofire, so all you do is slide the mouse around to aim at enemies and pick up bonuses. My eyes just glaze over as the colors slip and slide, and I find myself in a flow state, set free to think about life and game ideas and whatever else as my musicotonal cortexuli (something made of braincupines) processes the onscreen action for me.

One thing I like about rhythm games in general is that they give you a new way to appreciate music. Rock Band (drumming) taught me to really notice the drumbeats in music and appreciate interesting rhythms. This game doesn't tie to the music that strongly, but it gives you the mindspace to just appreciate it as it plays. Usually when I listen to music, I'm doing ten other things, so this game forces me to focus in on the music.

So yeah, there's nothing fantastic about this game, if I must be honest. The menus and such are really bad with some really awkward ways of interacting with your collected weapons, and finding the song you want is a trial. You upgrade your ship with various weapons (each different song earns you a new weapon, Monster Rancher style!), but there are very few different weapons (that I've found. Maybe I just need different music?), so that ends up not being very interesting at all. I found the 2 I like, loaded up, and just blast away. It's mainly just a vehicle for zoning out and appreciating some music while you wait for your TV-watching partner to come home. And at that, it excels. Pure mindless psychedelia. Almost like watching the WinAmp visualizer, just slightly more interactive.
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