By Mento 1 Comments
14/05/12 - Game #13
The source: The Indie Pulse Pack, another one of those Xmas 2010 Steam bundles.
The pre-amble: Rhythm
Heaven Zone is essentially the amalgamation of one of those user-generated rhythm games like Beat Hazard or Audiosurf - where the game has a clever little algorithm (algorhythm?) tool that magically spins MP3s into stages - and the comfortably familiar Guitar Hero/Rock Band system of flashing colors that you must tap in time with the music.
The playthrough: At least, the theory is that the stages generated match the music that generated them. In practice, this doesn't appear to always be the case, or even close to the case. I can only imagine the accuracy is off because of how incredibly tough it would be for notoriously tone-deaf computer code to so astutely recognize a beat and different instruments and vocals and all that jazz (if the track is a jazz track, at least) and provide the appropriate amount of blue or red or yellow or however these games map tunes to colors in the inscrutable synesthesia way that they do.
I guess the best examples of this sort of game I've seen, which would be Vib-Ribbon first and Beat Hazard a distant second, have the gameplay part simplified to such a degree that the track it is generated from cannot exert too much influence. Without showing its hand, like this game does, that such a synergy between the soulful and the soulless is still a pipe dream for right now, Vib-Ribbon creates very basic but fun gameplay that is enhanced by the soundtrack because it pays just enough dues to the song playing. It's enough to trick your brain that the song and the game are working together in some way, but it doesn't try any harder than that so as to maintain the illusion. Whatever, I'm probably talking out of my wire-frame lagomorphic derriere, since it's been years since I played Vib-Ribbon (and its kooky built-in soundtrack was always the highlight), but I feel these games work best when the generated gameplay is tangential to the music and will remain to be so until we've improved a computer's AI sufficiently to "get" music. Which will probably be the same day we teach it how to love. What a weird, gross, delightful day that will be.
The verdict: A big maybe. Rhythm Zone has infinite replay value, but I still think the "game generated by your playlist" sub-genre can be (and has previously been) better than this. When I find a game that really nails the whole "tailored to your music" paradigm, I'll probably get hopelessly addicted to it.