IGF Audience Award Finalists: Synaesthete

"The fire-breathing voxel king rules over a machine world made of funk and rhythm. The darkness in his heart has plunged his realm into an eternal psychedelic night, which is only navigable by a Synaesthete."

This describes the first boss in Rolling Without Slipping's Synaesthete, which you can download over at FileShack. It is one of the finalists for Independent Game Festival's Audience Award, to be presented during Game Developers Conference.

Synaesthete, clearly hugely influenced by Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Rez (coming soon to Xbox Live Arcade if you've never played it), attempts to combine straight-ahead rhythm games like Guitar Hero or the Bemani series--consisting of pressing specific sequences of buttons in time with music--with more traditional world-exploring gameplay. Essentially, you avoid enemies and control the movement of an avatar through a grid-like, luminescent, Rez-esque world with your left hand, while your right hand shoots those enemies by playing a rhythm game to trance and house music.

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It is different from Rez and other Mizuguchi games, which make the rhythm part a subset of the more traditional gameplay; you simply play the game, and are rewarded if you are doing so rhythmically. In Synaesthete, the two components are more discrete. It is definitely an admirable goal. I've always felt there has to be a way to do something like this, making a game whose gameplay hinges around the rhythm game part but which is more structurally like a traditional game, rather than an abstract one like the "falling gems" rhythm games.

In this case, though, it is a bit disjointed. You end up mainly focusing on the rhythm game part, because it is more important than the movement, and it is difficult to focus on both at the same time. It would also be nice to have some actual audio feedback upon successful rhythm hits, but I fully recognize that was likely a time and budget issue for this student team. Though Synaesthete doesn't hit all the right notes (that's quality punning), it is a worthy effort and I hope the developers use what they've learned from this experience to keep working at bridging rhythm and non-rhythm games.

Also check out my impressions of Battleships Forever, another IGF Audience Award nominee. You can also browse FileShack's IGF directory, then vote for your favorite.