Soundfall Review

by

Breakbeat

There’s a saying that “there’s nothing new under the sun” and that’s certainly a sentiment that we can cynically apply to videogames. We’ve got our standard genres, our shooters, racers and rpgs among others, but amid an endless slew of games as a service first and third person action games it’s easy to feel that the industry has run out of ideas; thankfully there are still developers who are willing to take risks by looking at all those different flavours of games and wondering what it would be like if they mixed them together.

Destiny style looter shooting

We’ve seen rhythm game stylings blended into other genres before, from classics like Amplitude, to cult titles like Gitaroo Man and Crypt of the Necrodancer. It’s this latter game that Noodlecake Studio’s Soundfall feels like it’s taking the most inspiration from, an isometric action game where timing your character’s actions to the beat of the music in a level is the key to success. But Soundfall takes things a little further by adding a splash of Destiny style looter-shooting into the mix.

Soundfall casts the player as Melody, a young woman who gets dragged into the world of Symphonia to battle the evil Discordians using the power of song. Over the course of a campaign played out via a Mario 3 style overworld, Melody dives into different themed missions to blast her way through waves of enemies to the beat of the levels music. Shoot or slash your sword on the beat and you deal full damage; miss the beat and you’ll barely dent the enemies. The same mechanic applies to Melodie’s dodges, where iFrames only trigger when you dodge on the beat. It’s a fairly straightforward gameplay loop and one that can be incredibly rewarding when you get into a rhythm of successful dodges and attacks.

Players will be able to craft a loadout that suits their particular playstyle

Progress through the campaign and you’ll level up Melody, unlock new weapons and abilities and even discover new characters to play as. Weapons and armour are found in a typically Destiny style way in hidden crates and as rewards for finishing missions, and the usual rule of thumb applies with regards item colour representing rarity as well as the types of abilities and power associated with an item. Generally bigger numbers are better, but by taking into account any unique perks on weapons and armour, players will be able to craft a loadout that suits their particular playstyle.

The audio visual design of Soundfall is possibly one of its strengths. Taking a comic book style approach, the graphics are bright and bold, full of primary colours and sci-fi stylings. Music is obviously a key part of the game and there’s around 100 songs on the soundtrack from a variety of indie artists, spanning genres from pop, EDM, classical and even metal and punk, each themed into Symphonia’s specific biomes. Playing a level can be a treat, with the scenery bopping to the beat of the music and a bevvy of bright effects popping off to decorate the screen.

Up to 4 player co-op

Aside from the campaign, Soundfall sports challenge modes on each of the games individual songs, up to 4 player co-op either online or local and, in the PC version, the ability to import your own music for an infinite array of musical possibilities. On paper, this seems like a great recipe for a smart little indie game blaster; in practice, however, there is one big issue that really dragged Soundfall down for me.

One of the big problems with modern A/V setups is our reliance on digital audio – HDMI and external speakers will introduce microsecond delays in the sync up between the video onscreen and the audio you can hear. Most of the time when you’re watching a film or playing a game, this won’t be an issue and your brain will adjust accordingly, but with a rhythm game like Soundfall, that delay can translate to missed beats and failed levels. Many rhythm games will have calibration settings to detect that delay and allow the game to compensate, and Soundfall is no different, but even with calibration in place some levels and songs frequently felt wrong while playing, meaning I was mistiming entire waves of enemy attacks and often frustratingly failing levels under conditions that did not feel like they were my fault as the player. There are things that can mitigate this, of course – rapid fire weapons that keep blasting after a single successful beat, for example, but it’s frustrating to constantly feel like you’re fighting against technical issues.

It’s frustrating to feel like you’re fighting against technical issues

One other possible issue could have been the platform I was playing the game on – Xbox. The Xbox (and indeed PS5) controller has analogue triggers, which the games primary actions are mapped to. Pressing an analogue trigger feels like it adds an additional delay to the action as the button takes time to register, rather than a simple digital ‘tap’ on a controller like the Nintendo Switch. Interestingly, Soundfall was first announced at May’s Nindies presentation as a same-day Switch release (as well as Playstation, Xbox and Steam) and I’d certainly be interested to try the game on the Switch in portable mode to see if its digital triggers and lack of A/V pass through eliminate the audio sync issues I was experiencing.

7

Bright and colourful, with a snappy soundtrack, Soundfall feels like it should be a fun rhythm based action adventure title. Unfortunately synchronisation issues between the audio and video frequently threaten to derail the fun. When the game works as expected, it’s an absolute charmer and surprisingly good fun with a group of friends, but with it's "hit or miss" gameplay, it’s tricky to fully recommend.

Writes and produces films at independent outfit Shortorme Productions. Records music under the guise of Stage of History. Gamer since the days of the ZX Spectrum. Always on the lookout for something new and fresh.

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