Review: Symphony

Symphony

As Shakespeare wrote, “If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.” This line basically boils down to “give me so much music that I choke and die on it.”  Of course the line is spoken by a lord who is love sick for a woman who doesn’t feel the same and thus would rather die by distractions in life than think about her.

Music can be a powerful emotional tool, helping musicians convey their feelings as well as let listeners escape to a world created by the images and feelings stirred up by the sounds within a musical number. While most gamers will likely associate music games to Rock Band or Guitar Hero with their rhythm matching tropes, indie game Symphony focuses on music as a creative spirit living from within the composer.  The premise is an interesting one in which a demon has infected your PC and is attempting to devour music and the “composer” behind the music.  To combat the infection, each musical piece is played and various enemies flow into the game space based on the tempo, melody and rhythm of the music.

Symphony comes with pre-installed tunes, but the real fun comes from the game’s ability to import and analyze music from your own library.  The composer that the demon refers to throughout the game then becomes whichever band you select.  Combat in the game is similar to a bullet hell shmup as players control a ship with four weapon points that can be customized with upgrades that are earned by beating each song.  Each song can be played on up to 6 difficulties that are unlocked via earning Inspiration points and Kudos.

Inspiration points are collected from each enemy that is destroyed during the song and if a full wave of enemies is defeated, a multiplier is applied.  The more waves of enemies destroyed without interruption, the higher the multiplier.  Kudos are earned at the end of a song and are awarded based on the number of Inspiration points earned minus any deaths that may have happened during the song.  Fortunately the game doesn’t punish the player by limiting gameplay with a defined number of lives, but rather reduces Inspiration points if the ship is destroyed.  The ship can take damage, and when that happens the customizable weapons stop working.  Repairs to the ship are done by collecting the Inspiration points.

As difficulty increases the amount of Inspiration points and Kudos also increase, but of course upgrading weapons to more powerful versions also costs more points to unlock.  The weapons can be swapped out between each song selected and can be pointed to shoot in a direction other than straight ahead.  Weapon upgrades and angle placement become key to surviving higher difficulties as enemies don’t simply appear from the top and slide down, they zoom in from the sides, loop around behind and fire various weapons in retaliation.

Empty Clip has a list of top 9001 tracks used and I absolutely love the fact that so many different tastes in music are represented by this list.  I found myself completely engrossed by how each track from so many different bands in my own library played.  Not one track plays the same, effectively giving players virtually limitless replay opportunity.  What is even more amazing about how the game interprets music is the fact that it finds even the slightest variations within the layers of notes and can amplify them to a startling degree in regards to how enemies appear on screen.

Boss battles appear after a number of Inspiration points are accrued and each boss applies new methods of defense which require strategy and planning in how weapons are loaded up on the ship.  The one thing that does get frustrating is how once a boss has appeared on a song, that song is THE boss level.  I found myself wishing at times that the boss level wasn’t necessarily associated with a particular song, but unless I exclude that album from my music listing I don’t see any way to force the game to play out the boss battle differently.

Symphony is more than just a pretty visualizer for your music library.  Increasing difficulties require strategy as well as quick reflexes, providing players a truly fantastic way to experience and interact with their favorite songs. Video game and music fans alike will find Symphony to be a fun and engaging game with hours and hours of replay. Drink, sup and play on!

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Beautiful visuals
+ Personal music library can be imported
+ Challenging strategy adds to the fun at higher difficulties

Cons:
- Boss fights are “stuck” on a song until that track is defeated
- Switching music by filter takes a little getting used to

Game Info:
Platform: PC (Available on Steam, GOG, Origin, Desura, GameStop/Impulse)
Publisher: Empty Clip Studios
Developer: Empty Clip Studios
Release Date: 8/6/2012
Genre: Shooter/Music
ESRB Rating: N/A
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.