I’d like to preface this review by stating that I don’t much care for “bullet hell” games – never have. I’m not sure if it’s a simple lack of interest on my part, or if I’m just not skilled enough to be good at it. Either way, I wanted to put that up front so you can accurately understand my perspective.
Symphony is an interesting mix, and therefore a bit hard to classify. Reading my introduction above, you might assume it’s just a typical bullet hell game…but that’s not really the whole story. While there are loads of enemies and projectiles to dodge, and also plenty of points and power-ups to snatch, the game also differs quite greatly from its peers in one crucial aspect: it’s powered by your music.
If you’ve never played a bullet hell-type game before, or you have and were soured on it, then Symphony might be just the thing to help soften your heart towards the genre.
Let’s begin with the story. While you don’t really have a name or face, you do have one clear goal in mind: to restore the Symphony of Souls. It’s apparently been corrupted by a pair of glowing red eyes…which also have the ability to turn famous composers against you. While the story isn’t really the strong point of Empty Clip Studios‘ new game, it gets a free pass. Games like these don’t really rely on stories to win hearts and minds, they rely on screens full of stuff. Usually stuff that’s trying to kill you.
The fact that it’s powered by your music really does make the game quite a little gem. As I’d said already, bullet-hells simply aren’t my thing, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t actually having fun. Watching as the waves of enemies raid the battlefield really is a neat thing to see, and it also helps you time your movements. See a screen-clearing power-up at the top of the board? Just pay attention to the music and you’ll be able to tell when a break in the barrage will happen.
The music analyzation algorithm that Symphony comes stuffed with is actually quite noteworthy. No two songs will give you the same sequence or frequency of enemies, so if you have a massive music library, you’ll probably find yourself lost in this game until your computer bites the dust. If you know your songs by heart (which nearly all of you will), you’ll be able to anticipate swelling crescendos – and Symphony’s system does not fail to deliver where it counts. It really does give you the feeling of fighting to save your music open some note-scattered battlefield. The glossy, glow-in-the-dark look may be part-and-parcel for the genre nowadays, but perhaps for good reason. Everything visually seems to fit together so perfectly. That is, until, you get to the menu.
May as well get it out of the way here: one of the biggest problems the game has is it’s menus. While they may appear fairly simple at first, it won’t take long for you to notice the missteps I’m going to air here. Something that has always aggravated me is when games don’t correctly utilize the Escape key on the keyboard. If you’re in a game, it should pause the action. Fair enough, Symphony gets that right. But if you’re navigating menus, Escape should also serve as the “get me out” button. I don’t want to have to find the “back” or “resume” button for ever little sub-menu. I just want to be able to tap Escape a few times and be back in the action. Instead, hitting Escape will ask you if you want to quit the game, even if you’re in the middle of rotating one of the guns on your ship. Why?
The only other main issue I have with the menus is how jumbled together the music and the upgrades are. If I want to select a song, I can view it without filters, or filter it by album or artist. Pretty standard stuff. However, if I want to view any of the upgrades I’ve unlocked, I have one of two options. The first is that I can try and remember exactly which song unlocked the, say, Subwoofer upgrade for me, and then go find it. Poor form. The other option is to set my filter to “none”, and then click a little check box near the top of my screen which shows all my upgrades. The ship, it’s guns, and it’s current attachments gets it’s own screen! Why couldn’t they have just put the unlock/upgrade systems there? Instead, every time you want to unlock or upgrade a weapon/power-up, you have to stop what you’re doing, go fidget with the menus, and then finally find what you were looking for. It’s almost enough to make a man set his own hair on fire.
Luckily though, I can report that I have yet to set my head alight. This is mostly due in part to the fact that the rest of the game is so spot-on. Your trusty ship is controlled with your mouse, so you’ll be able to set your acceleration and sensitivity to a level that’s just right for you. Your ship also has four individual firing points, which can be swapped out, upgraded, and even rotated a full 360 degrees. It also gives you the option (on most weapons) of setting them to the left button, the right button, or to full auto-fire. As you beef up your weaponry, you really do get a sense of accomplishment that you truly are getting more and more powerful. It’s subtle, but very well done indeed.
Another grand achievement of Symphony is it’s replayability. It’s absolutely staggering. You can play one song on a multitude of difficulty levels (provided you’ve unlocked them all so far). This really does open up hours and hours of gameplay. And even if you’re not brave enough to venture into the wilds of Fortissimo difficulty, you’ll still find the aspect of beating your high score on a particular song highly enticing. Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer to speak of. Perhaps it will come at a later date, but for now, you’ll be shooting alone. Well, so long as you don’t count all those other dudes trying to kill you.
So, if you a huge fan of these types of games, then you’re probably buying it at this very moment. Or, if you’re like me and you never had much cause for these sorts of games…well then, perhaps Symphony is the one that will make you think twice.