The first music game I played was Vib Ribbon on the PS One, a trippy black and white side-scroller featuring a polygonal rabbit and lots of squiggly lines. You have no control over the bunny protagonist, who marches tirelessly onwards from left to right, aside from pushing a combination of buttons to help her avoid an onslaught of obstacles - so far so dull, except the obstacles are actually created by your favourite real-life tunes. Simply insert a music CD and each level is crafted from the beats and melody of each song, theoretically giving you infinite replayability. Unless you were poor and your entire CD collection consisted of a scratched-to-death copy of Gloria Gaynor’s Greatest Hits.
But who the hell uses those round plastic hoojimijigs these days? No one, that’s who! Now we have massive hard drives filled with torrented music, and here comes Symphony from Empty Clip Studios to destroy it!
It’s rare for music games to have a plot, but Symphony’s story takes place inside your precious rig, where a malevolent virus is chomping its way through your tuneage. It’s up to you to stop it, Inner Space style: by maneouvering a tiny craft through music-generated levels, blasting apart the malware as you go. Fair enough, the story is as complex as a Katie Price novel, but you’ll want to keep playing partly to destroy the sinister software, and partly because it’s damn good fun.
After scanning your drives for music, Symphony allows you to select any tune you want and generates the level for you - much like AudioSurf. Gameplay mimics space shoot ‘em ups such as Space Invaders Extreme, with you steering a fast-moving ship around a confined space as enemy crafts dance about, firing lasery things at you. The number of baddies and their flight patterns are determined by the structure and intensity of the song, with the background changing from a relaxing purple to a threatening red colour when the serious bass kicks in.
Watch me weave
There’s not a huge amount of variety in the aliens, but Symphony isn’t simply a case of blasting away. Each dead virus leaves behind a collectible music icon, while each successfully obliterated wave gives you a bonus pick-up which further boosts your score. You have to weave carefully through the chaos to grab these collectibles, which proves an intense challenge when things really kick off. Death comes quick, especially when the hard-to-see red bullets start flying, but the only punishment is a point deduction: you won’t find yourself failing a song unless you miss too many enemies, and they degrade your song. Symphony also throws the occasional boss fight your way, which helps to break up the standard action.
One of the best parts of the game is unlocking new weapons, which can then be bolted to your ship and upgraded using the points you accumulate in each level. Some of the guns are crazy powerful, and almost all of them look cool in action. You can have four different weapons equipped at any time, and you even get the choice to angle them in different directions - a good way to prevent those sneaky side attacks.
Take me on
To stroke our competitive spirits and encourage us to keep coming back for more, Empty Clip has implemented an online leaderboard which records your performance in every song and challenges others to beat it. My random music collection ensures I’ll be numero uno in a number of songs which no one else will ever play - so bring it on if you think you can do better in ‘I Will Survive’...
You can also collect achievements for your efforts, although this only works if you’re online at the time. A minor annoyance when we were without the web, but remember kiddies, there’s more to life than achievements. Like vodka mixed with Drambuie. Good morning pick-me-up, that.
Symphony has pretty light PC system requirements, asking only for a Pentium processor plus 2GB of RAM and a reasonably good graphics card for smooth performance. Our two-year-old laptop with dedicated graphics ran it fine.