Wot I Think: Soundodger
If I had been in charge of naming Soundodger, it would probably be called "Don't Fuck Up Don't Fuck Up Don't Fuck Up: The Game." But I guess that's not entirely accurate, because your goal in this delightful (and free) magical rainbow rhythm triangle avalanche is to avoiding fucking up the soundtrack, not the game. Each song (from folks like Fez collaborator Disasterpeace, I might add) slings singing daggers of pure sound in your general direction, and you have to skirt each pattern's edges just so to avoid them. Fail, and the song gets broken into a billion screaming pieces by a hideous record scratch and a sudden, music-less void. It's a brief, largely inconsequential, er, consequence, but the soundtrack is so good and the flow of each pattern so satisfying that it's physically painful to ruin them.
But once you get into the zone, well, let's put it this way: I just got done playing for waaaay too long, and each time I blink, I see triangles. Glance quickly in any direction? Triangles. You are triangles. I am triangles.
This one first made its way into the public eye during GDC's Experimental Gameplay Workshop, and its musical pseudo-bullet-hell stylings have come along very, very nicely since then. The act of playing is incredibly simple: just move your mouse cursor and avoid triangles, then let gorgeously stylish visuals practically suck you into the screen while songs that range from chirpy chiptune to sparse synth to dubstep flood your ears. Needless to say, this one is best experienced with headphones.
The twist, however, is that holding down the left mouse button lets you drop in and out of a time-and-music-sludge-ifying slow-mo as you please - but at the cost of any points you'd normally gain when triangles make it to their destination without going through you.
So it's a balancing act. Normally, I try to go through without using slow-mo at all, though I do have to admit that a couple songs sound even better with a digitized turtle manning the synth. Each song's pattern is custom-made, though, so there's a lot of diversity and personality throughout. Sometimes, it felt like songs were attacking me - sending volleys whistling toward my jugular (or whatever the amorphous circle blob anatomy equivalent is), but only as a setup. I'd dodge predictably, and - boomthudwhudcatscreechdeathyodel - slam right into a single, insidiously well-placed triangle.
But other times, it was all about trusting a song's ebb and flow. Triangles would begin to assemble into these massive, rolling waves, and survival was as simple as finding the rhythm and riding them - circling and circling, as though dancing both to the music and with it.
Other times still, I wasn't even dealing with triangles at all. Lumbering blobs, me-seeking diamonds, and other devil shapes weaved their way into musical quilts that were doing their damndest to smother me, and the end result was nearly overwhelming - but not quite. The difficulty curve arced nicely too, such that each new wrinkle knocked me off my "Yeah, I've totally mastered this game" pedestal, but all the king's soldiers and all the king's men were still able to put me back together again. Just barely.
That said, I do feel like Soundodger has one fairly fundamental flaw. Now, "fundamental" is usually a Big And Scary word in games writing, but I'm definitely not trying to say that the game's broken or anything like that. Rather, its core punishment for failure - a brief yet jarring stop to the music - totally killed whatever flow I had going before some wave of musical demon teeth sheered me into ribbons. In essence, messing up once meant that I was much more likely to mess up again. And again. And again. Now, there is a "Zen Mode" that strips out the sudden stop, but it doesn't count your score or aid in unlocking new songs. It's more of a training mode, if anything.
There really is a lot to love about Soundodger, though. It's an incredibly simple concept executed with oodles (and perhaps even kaboodles) of style, a truly excellent fusion of sound and mechanics. Also, there's just something delightfully hilarious to me about taking a selection of largely soothing-to-the-point-of-snoozing tunes and turning them into the most stressful activity on Earth.
So now it's going to be kind of weird for me to tell you that you should at least stick with it until you reach your first, er, dubstep song. Just trust me on this one. If you want some crazy erratic (yet impressively choreographed) triangle patterns, look no further. You know that thing dubstep does where everything stops and then moves violently back and forth, and pretty much everyone makes fun of it? Well, it's in the game, in its own hilarious way. It's brilliant little details like those that make Soundodger so great.
But enough from me. Soundodger's free, so you should go play it. Plus, I haven't even beat all the advanced versions of the (sadly limited; here's hoping for more in the future) song selection yet, so I'm going to scatter into an elaborate flock of triangles and reform in front of the game now. Up, up, and awaWUBWUBWUBWUB.