Symphony: a procedural shmup that uses your music

Symphony, from indie developer Empty Clip Studios, is a vertical shooter that caters to the customized musical taste of any fan. It's unique in both its fluidly artistic visual style and story-driven premise.

The story for Symphony is that an unknown force has abducted a "Symphony of Souls," taking your music and corrupting it for his own twisted ends. The unknown force's army must be taken out over the course of several hours' worth of your own customized playlist. Players unlock numerous weapons and upgrades over the course of the game, as they unlock boss battles and venture towards the final battle with the game's unknown antagonist.


As in Audiosurf, Symphony will work with any song in your music library, as long as it's longer than a minute and a half. After picking one of six difficulty levels, the game will analyze the track and procedurally construct stages and enemies accordingly. Like any bullet hell shooter, I was able to fire away by holding down the mouse button. One cool aspect of the game, however, saw enemies slowly chip away at my ship with every successful hit, rendering my weapons less potent. Inspiration notes allowed my ship to regenerate parts, which helped keep me alive before I ran into a large number of foes.

Enemy waves are determined by the song, so prepare to be bombarded whenever your song hits a major crescendo. I was constantly barraged with attacks from a fleet of enemies during Foo Fighters' "All My Life," with only a few breaks when the song's pace slowed down. Meanwhile, Jeff Mattas picked out "The Bends" from Radiohead and was quickly ambushed from nearly all sides during the song's beat-heavy opening.

"The Bends" was selected about 20 minutes into our playthrough, which led to our first boss battle. The boss was introduced with some brief dialogue from the game's unknown antagonist. He was dispatched just as quickly thanks to the ship's advanced weaponry. Symphony will feature about 25 bosses in total, each unlocked as the player gradually progresses through the "Symphony of Souls."

The visual art style for Symphony is mesmerizing. Games are played out over a colorful vertical plane, changing colors throughout each song. Blasts from both enemies and the player's ship consist of colors from varying spectra, with impacts creating waves that ripple through the area. All of it is played under a horizontal equalizer barrier up top that follows the tempo of the chosen song. There's a lot of visual stimulation, but it's hard to differentiate what's artistic and what's dangerous. Jeff and I both died several times when we couldn't see a small, colorful enemy blast coming towards us.

Symphony looks to be a lot of fun, regardless of what your musical taste is. Jeff and I tested Symphony with a variety of musical styles, picking out Foo Fighters, Radiohead, The Gorillaz, Nirvana, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg, ending with Deadmau5. Each experience was different and each one was enjoyable. Meanwhile, the story-driven focus and customization options help set this game apart from other music-based titles.

Symphony is set to arrive on PC and Mac on August 6.

This Symphony preview was based on hands-on play with a PC version of the game provided by the developer.