Review: Symphony

In the last couple years, the “Play Your Music” Genre has really exploded; from Audiosurf, to Beat-Hazard, each new entry enhances the existing formula and helps it hit new high notes.  Enter Symphony, a new game from Empty Clip Studios.  Symphony twists the genre by adding loot and customization to a Gradius-style schmup, but does it sing, or just hit flat notes?

The Story

I’m sure you are thinking this is a typo, but I can assure this game has a kickin’ story!  The “Symphony of Souls” has possessed your music, and through each song you play, you must reclaim it.  In addition, there are demons hiding in random tracks that must be defeated to liberate your music.  Defeating a group of Demons will liberate that Symphony of Souls and unlock the next higher difficulty level, providing five groups of bosses and difficulties to unlock.  In addition, each song you release from the demon clutches will grant you a new weapon or powerup to be used within the game.  All of these features are pulled together with in-level voice-overs, and woven into an over-arching orchestral theme, just like the game’s namesake.

The Gameplay

From the word go, Symphony scans your hard drive, pulls all of your music and organizes it in an incredibly easy menu system for you to access, regardless of file-type.  As in similar games, each song you select is analyzed and will generate a unique level and enemy population–as well as the aforementioned piece of loot, should you complete the level.  Symphony is a vertical-shooter, where the level is fixed, as is your ship’s direction, facing the top of the screen.  Your ship has four customizable weapon compartments, that can all be given not only a different weapon, but also a different firing arc, as shown in the screenshot off to the right.  During play, a hit will disable one of those weapon compartments, lose all four and it’s goodbye ship!  Downed enemies will drop musical notes, which you not only collect for points and for freeing your music, but will also repair a damaged ship, restoring any weapons lost.  You have unlimited lives for each level, but each death will net you a hefty score deduction, while no deaths earn you a lofty bonus.  Speaking of those points, Symphony uses a different scoring system.  Each level you earn Inspiration points, represented as notes, and Kudos points, annotated by stars.  Simply put, Inspiration points are representative of the notes you collect within each level, as well as an overall level score, and Kudos are awarded based on how well you perform within a level, meaning that you will typically earn much less Kudos than Inspiration for a level.  Those two currencies are then traded in to unlock and upgrade all of your weapons.  Although you will earn a new weapon or powerup for each song completed, they must first be purchased with Inspiration before they can be equipped, after which, a combination of Inspiration and Kudos can be used to upgrade your favorite weapons.  Each song can be compared amogst friends for it’s own leaderboard score, except for those songs containing demons, which will remove them from leaderboard placement during that encounter.

The Verdict

I do have a couple criticisms about Symphony, but first, let me say that the game is very enjoyable and at it’s full retail price of $9.99, you will more than get your money’s worth.  That being said, I did find some framerate hiccups and the large gripe I had was the inability to see enemy fire; it blends in very well with your own fire, making hard to avoid until it’s too late.  Slower songs seem to give the player a bit of an advantage, making things much easier and I just can’t shake the “something’s missing” sensation.  Those minor complaints aside, Symphony is a fantastic game that I will be going back to for quite a while.  I simply cannot resist the urge to throw new songs at it and see what weapons or rare loot I might get from it in return!  The gameplay is fast, frenetic and fun with a lot of innovative concepts and the menu system is spot on, making everything from upgrading weapons to finding your music melodically simple.  As if that won’t be enough, the game features a 21 track soundtrack, included with the game and featuring a number of indie music composers.  If you like vertical shooters, if you like other “play your music” games, or if you just like interesting and innovative indie titles, you owe it to yourself to give Symphony a look, it certainly will not disappoint.  Make yourself a digital music playlist and start the quest to free your music now!

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