Choosing the right soundtrack can make or break or game, so much so that I’ve known people refuse to play brilliant games because they couldn’t stand the style of music used. So what happens if you have a game that not just heavily features music, but actually uses it as its core structure? Well you need a soundtrack that everyone will like, a collection of music that will flawlessly fit into the player’s collection. This is what Symphony does, and the solution is as simple as using the player’s actual music collection.
The idea of Symphony is easy – after scanning selected areas of your computer for music files you can choose any song you like, and moments later the game starts. There’s a bit of a story about bad guys trying to destroy music, but you won’t care a jot about that. What you’ll be more interested in is shooting the living daylights out of anything that moves. Using your mouse to control your ship, Symphony is effectively a top-down shooter that’s incredibly easy to control, needing only your hand movements to fly around and the two main mouse buttons to do your shooting.
But it’s the integration with your music catalogue that sets this aside from other titles that try to use tunes to influence gameplay. A slower or more gentle song will give you a more relaxed game, with slower (and fewer) enemies that give you a much lower chance of getting killed, but a lower score at the end. Turn up the heat a bit and you’ll get not only more enemies but they’ll also move faster, even changing on the fly as the song changes between quieter verses and a rousing chorus. Stick on Song 2 by Blur and your game will be swapping and changing dynamics like there’s no tomorrow as the relatively gentle verses switch to the midly insane chorus. Follow up a Bon Iver song with some Spinal Tap and you’ll not only get two totally different experiences but also some very confused neighbours. Navigating through your songs can be a bit fiddly though, and unlocked powerups are attached to individual songs – if you want to upgrade them you’ll need to find the song again, which is a bit of a pain.
Pick up enough points during the song and you’ll not only chuck yourself towards the top of the online leaderboards (which exist for every song you can throw at the game) but also unlock random powerups for your ship. Some of these can be assigned to one of the two mouse buttons, whereas others react to the music itself or other events during the round. The subwoofer powerup is a great example, pumping out explosive musical notes that react to the bass line of whatever song you’re playing along to and fire themselves from wherever on the ship you’ve attached the powerup.
Generally the game ticks along very nicely. The screen can get very busy with large numbers of enemies, and when everything is styled in glowing neon shapes that’s a lot to keep an eye on. Seemingly random deaths aren’t uncommon as a projectile from a bad guy wipes you out without you even knowing it was heading your way. It’s a bit annoying sometimes, but not uncommon in this style of shooter and having infinite lives certainly helps, even if getting killed makes your final score suffer. There is some occasional slowdown as well, which seems quite random and isn’t always linked to the amount happening on-screen, which is a shame. Every few rounds though you’ll also get a much bigger enemy, a boss I suppose, which gives a half-arsed reminder that there’s a bit of a story to be had, but in essence it’s just something bigger and badder for you to aim at, which is no bad thing.
What you must remember with Symphony is that it isn’t meant to sit alongside huge mainstream games; it’s an indie title that costs under £7, and yet in terms of the amount of fun you can have it genuinely does sit alongside bigger budget titles. Whether you sit for 5 minutes and play one song, or get totally absorbed for an hour Symphony does a fantastic job of turning your music collection into an all-action shooter that lets you pick how manic you want the game to be. For the price of a couple of drinks you can earn a whole new appreciation of your music.
To me, that sounds like a great result.
Reviewed on PC