Sometimes it feels like game developers are playing something akin to genre roulette. Spin the wheel and see where it lands. Oh, look, our next game will be a match-three with roguelike mechanics. Sometimes genre mashups feel like a mismatched mess. Now and then, though, the result is something genius. Soundfall welds together a music/rhythm game with a dungeon crawler RPG. Is the result chocolate and peanut butter good? Not quite, but it’s still a treat.
I played a demo of Soundfall several months ago, and I was excited to play the final game. The concept is actually pretty simple: it’s an isometric action game, and you shoot enemies to the beat. The more accurate your inputs, the better your success against the game’s enemies and bosses.
Journey to Symphonia
Like the core gameplay loop, Soundfall’s story is pretty simple. You play a girl named Melody who is sucked into an alternative universe world called Symphonia. Your task is to use your musical talents to defeat the Discords. You’ll discover a quartet of other playable characters along the way. They all have different personalities and abilities but, at the end of the day, they’re all just shooting and moving to the beat.
There are lots of weapons to pick up, and they compliment whatever musical playstyle you prefer. Some are slow and powerful and fire on each beat. Others are weaker but shoot multiple times per beat. In addition to weapons, you can find lots of armor pickups. It’s a good thing, too, because while Soundfall is colorful and inviting, it can be plenty challenging.
The challenges come from, first, being accurate with your inputs. A game like Soundfall depends on precise calibration from whatever input device you use. There’s a calibration tool to help you adjust both audio and visual latency specific to whatever gamepad you prefer. It took lots of tries and tinkering to make the inputs feel dialed in. I never felt like they were perfect and I always felt I was compensating a least a little during gameplay.
The second challenge comes from the enemies and level design, which walls off a section of the map until you clear the Discords from that zone. These zones can be very tight and it was easy to get boxed in against walls or scenic objects. In addition to shooting, Melody can also dash and dodge to the beat as well.
The levels themselves are colorful and linear paths through environments that take their cues from the music. Upbeat tunes generate different-looking levels than ballads do. Still, while the playlist has a lot of variety, the level design and enemies grow a bit repetitive.
All About the Tunes
A music or rhythm game lives or dies based on the quality of its music. In the case of Soundfall, the music has to have a clear pulse, no matter what the musical genre, because combat depends on feeling the beat. The good news is that, generally speaking, Soundfall’s original and licensed tracks–nearly a hundred tunes–are catchy, varied, and work in harmony with the game’s mechanics. While the majority of songs are dance-focused tracks, there are also folk/acoustic songs, metal songs and classical-sounding tracks. I’m old and don’t recognize a lot of the licensed artists, but that doesn’t mean they’re not quality songs.
One of the coolest features of Soundfall is the ability to import MP3s and have the game’s algorithm create levels based on the music’s feel and tempo. It’s an awesome idea that infinitely extends the life of the game. In practice, though, it doesn’t work perfectly. Some weirder contemporary songs that don’t have a steady pulse were a problem–they created some glitches and crashes. Even imported songs with simple, steady beats had issues with figuring out the pulse and inputs.
Back when I looked at Soundfall in the preview phase, I noted that, as a musician, I wanted to have more flexibility than simply blasting on the beat. I wanted to play patterns and syncopations. I’m still disappointed that Soundfall doggedly insists that players key solely into the beat. There’s variety in the tempo of songs, to be sure, and some of the guns use beat subdivisions. The ability to make up patterns within the beat would be even more fun.
Soundfall is a clever and refreshing genre hybrid. There aren’t enough music games, and pairing a rhythm game with an RPG is smart and creative. The game’s tracklist is varied and catchy, and the basic mechanic works pretty well. The song import feature is a work in progress, and over time the game can get a little repetitive thanks to a lack of variety in level design and that strict requirement of just hitting the beats. As a proof of concept and a genuinely new idea, though, Soundfall is definitely worth checking out.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Cool concept
- Great track list
- Ability to import songs
- Variety of weapons and attacks
- Some bugs
- Levels need more variety
- Dialing in controls takes patience