There seems to be a bit of a trend lately: apparently fairly standard gameplay loops where, however, players have to move to the rhythm of a music, with timing proving crucial on every step and attack. Crypt of the Necrodancer may be the most famous example, but we also covered the exciting BPM: Bullets Per Minute last year. Now, it’s time for an ambitious top-down action game with a meaty soundtrack and a lengthy campaign. Soundfall’s the name, and the beat is the game!
Soundfall’s story serves the basic premise for such a game to function, and it grabs some of the most common tropes in any media. Our main character is suddenly transported from their mundane daily job into the world of Symphonia, a magical place of music and sounds that’s been ran over by demons, and for some convenient lore reasons, only we can stop this by playing our weapons, that are in reality musical instruments. In short, it’s an action rhythm game, and the story becomes largely irrelevant early on. The story is told via on-screen text bubbles and anime-style hand-drawn musical cutscenes, with the latter in particular working very well.
Not really a fatal flaw for the game however, as the gameplay loop underneath is sound (pun intended). At its core, it’s a fairly standard but polished and fast-paced top-down twin stick shooter. Players move through colourful dungeons as they maul dozens to hundreds of enemies with a selection of short-range and distance weapons alike, all resembling musical instruments. Massive firepower has to be alternated with well-timed dodges and other evasive manouvers, with traps, secret paths and loot rendering the maps interesting even in moments that may seem slower. It’s a single player game by default, but it can be played to up to 4 players via local and online co-op alike.
As said, however, the key element is that everything moves to the beat of the soundtrack. Every level, much like in a rhythm game, has a single song with a start and a finish, with players attempting to beat the final enemies before the song loops for higher scores. Unlike in the aforementioned BPM: Bullets Per Minute, moving outside of the beats is possible, and so is attacking, with only a few contextual traversal options that are tied to it. Effectiveness of hits and dodges greatly increases if timed right though, with the game’s score and rating systems also generously rewarding playing the game at the optimal pace.
It’s a simple gameplay loop on paper, but there’s a surpringly deep RPG-esque loot system underneath it all to keep it varied and exciting. Level-based items, 3 kinds of elemental damage, but also a good selection of differently functioning armaments, from the musical equivalent of assault rifles to shotguns and so on. The player can always keep two different weapons in their inventory, so combining their powers is crucial to get through stages. Failing one results in having to start it again, but since levels can mostly be completed in the length of a song ranging from 2 to 5 minutes, we’re not exactly talking about tons of progress lost.
Visually, the game has a colourful and pleasant vibe, with cartoony atmospheres surrounding the player(s). Trees, buildings and other decorations move and dance to the rhythm, which also helps keeping the correct beat when attacking and moving around. All stages are generated by an algorithm, though the various levels of the massive campaign of the game do not change between one playthrough and another. This perhaps is one of Soundfall’s weakest points: the levels feel rather similar between one and another, and the BPM differences don’t exactly alter the gameplay loop all that much. The variety of playable characters and weapons at least helps breaking the monotony.
Indeed, at its core, Soundfall is a pretty standard twin-stick shooter. The rhythm-based aspects certainly give it personality, and the massive soundtrack of over a hundred songs with legendary artists like Frank Klepacki of Command & Conquer soundtrack fame works well. Yet, the action tends to get pretty chaotic with several enemies and traps to look after, so it’s easy to lose the feel of the beat especially on more mellow songs. Ultimately, while the soundtrack is massive and varied, with songs including pop, electronica, rock, rap and others, a core feature of the PC version of Soundfall is not available on consoles – it is, in fact, not possible to generate levels based on custom songs.
You might think that a music game where the actual rhythm-based segment is not all that memorable is doomed from the start, but this isn’t the case: not in Soundfall’s case, anyway. The many AI-generated levels of the massive soundtrack don’t offer a whole lot of visual or gameplay variety between one another, and at its core it’s a fairly standard twin stick shooter. Yet, the game’s colourful and fun visuals, the varied songs and a surprisingly deep loot system make Soundfall a pleasant experience, one that I can see myself coming back to from time to time.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Playstation 4&5, Nintendo Switch, PC|
|Release Date||May 11th 2022|
|Rated||E10+, PEGI 7|