I talk about the soundtrack near the end of the review, but for Symphony, a shooter by Empty Clip Studios, I want to start with it. This game indisputably has the greatest soundtrack of all time. Because it’s yours.
“You can play your favorite song over and over”
Symphony is a music based shooter. You select your music folder and the game generates a level based on each song. When the song gets faster and more intense, the level changes color and the enemies start pouring in. When it slows down, so do the enemies. All enemies drop points, and if you kill every enemy in a wave you get a combo. Your points and difficulty level determine your rank, so you can play your favorite song over and over trying to get four gold stars.
After beating each level, you unlock a weapon. If you have more than a few dozen songs then you end up getting repeats over and over, but it’s fun at the beginning to see what weapons you get. Your ship has four weapon slots, and you can angle them for a number of configurations.
Unlike similar games like Melody’s Escape or Riff Racer, Symphony has a story mode. Some otherworldly entity has possessed your music library and uses it as a gateway to take over our world. At the end of each boss fight, which I’ll talk about more later, it talks to you. In the early stages it’s roasting humans for being unable to appreciate music as they can or telling you that it’s going to kill you. Eventually it starts to fear you as you get stronger and stronger and kill more bosses.
The bosses are my least favorite part of the game. Some people must have liked them, and removing the story altogether would’ve destroyed a key part of the game. But I got so frustrated when a song I wanted to play casually turned out to be a boss level. Some of the bosses are fun and challenging, but I preferred none of them to the regular gameplay. Even though you can play the song as normal after defeating the boss, I’d prefer an arcade mode with no bosses at all.
Once I tried deleting an infected song because I got sick of the boss. I was hoping that the game would have a programmed response if I did that, but the boss just moved to a different song.
Let’s talk about the difficulty curve. In The Completionist’s review of the game, he requested a nerf for the final boss because it was insanely hard. That must’ve happened, because now one of the early bosses is much more difficult. The final boss is still hard, but not the hardest.
After every three bosses, you unlock a new difficulty level. The first and easiest is Pianissimo, the sixth and hardest is Fortissimo. The jump between difficulties is insane. Even after almost mastering each difficulty, the next was so much harder than the one before it. I can get the best score on most songs on Forte, but still have trouble even getting the low score on Fortissimo. Be prepared for a huge spike whenever you tackle the next difficulty.
I mentioned above that when the music gets more intense, so does the level. For the most part, this works very well. You can usually guess when the level will get harder and when you’ll get a short break. Enemies also march in to the beat of the music, and it’s fun to predict what enemies will come from where based on your knowledge of the song. In these kinds of games your familiarity of the song should correlate with how well you do in the level. Nine out of ten times, it does.
“The variety of enemies forces you to plan ways around them”
Your ship is orange, and enemy ships are bright blue. The level changes between blue (low intensity) purple (medium) and red (high). Some people complained that the graphics looked gaudy and they didn’t enjoy looking at it, but the bright colors didn’t bother me at all. You can easily see incoming ships, the only problem is that bullets tend to blend in with the background, making them hard to dodge. I liked how the enemy ships used vector style graphics, emulating the look of old arcade games.
I’m also happy with the level of strategy involved. Most of the ships are tiny with low health that swarm around the stage. They act as distractions for the ships that travel in odd patterns, shoot beams in time with the music, self destruct upon dying or descend to block your progress. The variety of enemies forces you to plan ways around them and makes you plan ahead a lot more than most shooters.
Although I personally disliked the way the story worked, I enjoyed the game a lot more when I could just play it as I liked. It’s a decent shooter that has your personal soundtrack in the background. Empty Clip’s website also has a page dedicated for a sequel, Symphony Worlds. Unfortunately, it appears to be cancelled as I couldn’t seem to find anything about it, but I’d definitely play it if it’s ever released. I’ll be checking out Empty Clip’s other games as well.
Final Score: 8/10