Review of Soundfall: Soundfall is a concept that’s easy to fall in love with. You’ll have to keep up with the beat while you fight and defend yourself in this action role-playing game that combines elements of twin-stick shooters and rhythm games. For the most part, other games have dabbled with a similar concept, and it’s worked well. Soundfall’s extended campaign doesn’t quite mimic these other triumphs in terms of enhancing the mechanic beyond its initial attractiveness.
It’s all in time with the music playing in the background in Soundfall. To be effective, all of your actions must be timed to the beat, whether it’s a distance attack, a close-quarters melee strike, or a damage-dodging dash. Enemies are subject to the same restrictions as allies. They don’t alter their assault patterns to match the beat, but they do speed up. A sniper’s shot will have a faster or slower buildup time depending on the music being played, and environmental risks will have a similar effect.
It’s exhilarating at first to play in time with Soundfall’s music. As soon as you get into a groove, it feels great to unleash hundreds of perfectly timed strikes and perfectly timed dodges in response to a song’s new tempo. Enemy diversity is a little lacking at first, but there are enough combinations to keep most skirmishes interesting and tough enough to have you hitting well-timed attacks to cause the most damage you can. Isometric action in Soundfall is exciting because of the hook, but it rapidly becomes monotonous since Soundfall fails to do anything fresh with it.
As a whole, Soundfall’s evolution doesn’t really feel like it’s going anywhere. In the first hour of fighting, you follow the beat, kill your foes, and collect your loot in the same manner as you will in the tenth. In terms of weapon kinds, there isn’t much to keep things interesting. Semi-automatic weapons, for example, require you to fire on each beat, while automatic weapons allow you to recover your rhythm after a flurry of rounds. This isn’t to say that all of the unlockable characters’ special attacks aren’t enjoyable in their own right, but it’s not enough to make up for the fact that your goal and the way you accomplish it are so predetermined.
For a game that needs you to constantly upgrade your gear, Loot is similarly disappointing. There is a wide selection of weapons to choose from, and these introduce various musically themed status effects to your assaults, but foes rarely present a challenge that forces you to think carefully about what you’re bringing into the next stage. Most of the time, all I had to worry about was making sure my weapon and armor caused the most damage possible while also soaking up as much damage as possible. Gear also doesn’t alter the appearance of your character outside of the weapon they’re wearing, so there’s little motivation to seek out really unusual loot. Aside from pride, it’s difficult to care about better loot when the prizes for completing stages with higher ratings or difficulty aren’t all that appealing.
In order to compensate for the game’s flaws, Soundfall’s vast library of music is strategically designed to provide a variety of various music kinds and signatures to keep gameplay fresh. Unless the timing signatures change midway through a level, you’ll only learn a beat for the first few seconds of the level and then keep repeating the same routine until you’ve got it down pat. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that each of the game’s ten worlds attempts to adhere to a specific musical style. Soundfall’s mechanics need only a small shift in your approach when you switch from 140 bpm to 160 bpm, revealing how little variation Soundfall’s mechanics demand from you. Even when changing from a rapid song to a slower one, the adjustment doesn’t accomplish enough to alleviate the monotony of the experience.
As a result, some tracks from Soundfall’s soundtrack are not well-suited to this kind of game. When music has a distinct bottom beat, Soundfall gets its stride. This allows your ears to tell your hands what to do with your hands. However, this isn’t true of all songs. It’s a well-known fact that classical music is terrible at this, at least in Soundfall. Soundfall’s graphic metronome was a constant companion for me when listening to some of these tracks, as there was no identifiable beat in the music itself. This disrupts the gameplay badly, causing you to miss out on activities on a regular basis or dragging your eyes away from the action to regain your momentum. A big part of the problem is that it’s obvious to detect the difference between a good and bad song as soon as a stage begins, which makes an already long campaign full of frustrating roadblocks.
When it comes to campaign annoyances, the game’s procedural generation appears to be limited in the parts it can choose from when creating a level. Even though each level has a different tune, the overall framework is the same. While the visuals of the planet you’re currently in may change, the same chokepoints and relatively open areas on stage will all look recognizable after only a few hours’ exposure to them. However, despite the visual contrast between a lush forest and a neon-lit auditory expressway, the sameness of the gameplay never quite disappears completely.
Real-world musicians who were mysteriously transported to a land where music is everything is the thread that connects each of these universes together. Every musical pun you can think of is peppered throughout the text-based dialogue, to the point where it becomes tiresome rather than endearing. The tale serves only to set the stage for the game’s action, and you can skip over it as you navigate through menus to begin a new level. Even if it isn’t jarring, the in-game character photo style seems out of place in comparison to the Saturday morning cartoon cutscenes.
Some unforgettable moments may be found in Soundfall despite its many flaws, particularly near the end of each planet. If you don’t have the perfect spot for a traditional boss battle, most final levels are combat trials in which you face a much larger number of adversaries than normal. Although Soundfall’s bullet-hell mode is fun to play for a short period of time, it’s not something you’ll want to keep playing for very long. The strongest aspects of Soundfall’s ideas come together in these brief clashes, but they also serve to underscore how regular the other nine levels seemed. In addition, the few boss encounters fall short of the excitement provided by these brief arena battles, leaving me yearning for more of them.
Even if Soundfall has some interesting ideas, it’s these moments of ecstasy that make the game ultimately unsatisfactory. One that has been better implemented in a few other games already, and Soundfall’s take on it doesn’t manage to develop past its initial hook in the first few hours. This further reveals the game’s dull loot progression and stage variety, making its lengthy campaign feel even longer, even when played in small bursts. The core concept of Soundfall begs for an adventure that makes better use of its strengths, but that’s not what we’ve got right now, unfortunately.