Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Groove Coasting

Few games have inspired a state of wonder and excitement in me the way Groove Coaster has.

Reisuke Ishida, creator of Space Invaders: Infinity Gene is back. Already having reinvented the classic shooter for a new generation, he’s got his sights on a new genre—rhythm action. Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that resonate the most, and if a Tron-esque visual style, married with an uptempo soundtrack and evolutionary gameplay could work for the most basic of shooters, could the same treatment be used to revive the rarely changing rhythm landscape?

Groove Coaster
For: iOS 4.2 (iPhone, iPad, iPad 2, iPod Touch)
Publisher: Taito corp.
Price: $2.99
Release: 7/28/2011 (North America)

The premise is simple, your avatar follows a line from start to finish, and along the way, there are dots along the way that you have to tap in rhythm to the song being played. When you’re successful, the instrument in question rings out and the song sounds better, miss one, and the instrument sounds muted. However, to offer such a plain explanation would be selling the experience short, as the game expands from simple taps, to holds, to all out swiping gestures at higher difficulties, and the lines themselves change depending on the song played, veering off in strange angles and wrapping around itself in tune with the song. It’s surreal and exciting all at once.

This is exactly where Groove Coaster shines. One conundrum of rhythm games is that no matter how great the music is, most offer up the same interface and visual feedback no matter the song being played, leaving the difficulty to be the only distinction between tracks. Here, I can’t say the same thing. Each visualization here not only is unique to the song being played, but are also so distinct, each song feels like its own experience, and it’s one related to the song being played in a more intimate fashion. So where a techno song is filled with harsh lines and curves that veer off at ninety degree angles to the beat, a jazzier song is filled with softer curves and a slower pace that feels more akin to travelling on a wave of sound. The decision to use wireframe visuals was a wise one, and one that’s easy to appreciate especially as the game starts playing tricks with depth and other effects to obscure notes.

For the diehards or rhythm aficionados, there’s a leveling system in place that unlocks new skins, avatars and items, which serve as modifiers for each track affecting things like the visuals, just in case you need the visuals even more trippy than they already are, or how you accumulate score. Having Game Center, Leaderboards for each song are also a must, and there are plenty of reasons to return to each song, not that anyone would complain about the 16 already on display. All this and I haven’t even mentioned the in-game store with extra tracks, avatars and items to buy…

Groove Coaster is something special. Not just because of the visuals, or the excellent music, or the ingenious touch-screen gameplay, but rather, how all three manage to come together in a way that would make Tetsuya Mizuguchi lose sleep at night. It’s an innovative, engaging ride of sights and sounds that filled me with a feeling of excitement I haven’t felt since playing the original Rez on the PS2 nearly a decade ago. Long story short, if you have a pulse at all, you’ll find something to enjoy here. Is there a higher recommendation than that?

Rating: 9.5

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