That's not the point of this post, though. What I really want to talk about is Audiosurf, indie dev Invisible Handlebar's entry in this year's IGF Audience Award category (a category that, judging by the relative download counts on FileShack, is going to be demolished by Audiosurf). There are quite a few rhythm games up for the award, which is interesting--it really shows how much influence the genre has on current design aspirations, in the wake of Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Audiosurf, like Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Rez (it's on Xbox Live Arcade now; buy it), is more about the experience of feeling music through a game, rather than really digging deep into the game itself. It is different in that respect from fellow IGF AA candidate Synaesthete, a more involved gameplay experience.
Audiosurf plays sort of like a stripped down, heavily music-integrated version of Wipeout or F-Zero. You coast from one end of a linear track to the other, with your main control input consisting of steering right and left. The track is cluttered with colored blocks which are--here's the clever part--spaced in such a way that they sync up with the tempo of the music, with various colors corresponding to the strength of the beat.
The goal is to collect similarly-colored blocks in groups, for which you are given points, but the points seem almost like an afterthought. This game is all about the journey, not the destination.
There are a few included electronic tracks, but the game also supports--and here's the really wonderful part--importing your own music tracks. And so now I have my rhythm game with funk. It automatically analyzes the piece and creates a stage for it, and it works remarkably well. For some reason, each track I tried had aseveral instances of skipping, but the actual tempo syncing was great.
There are all kinds of subtleties that really drive it home. The track slopes upward for calmer sections, and downward for more intense sections; it gently wavers up and down to the beat; also, transitions between sections of greatly differing dynamics tend to fall on strong beats, which generally makes for those particularly intense moments of synthesis between sound, visuals, and interaction that rhythm games strive for--but the game generates them dynamically.
Because of these moments, I recommmend tracks with a range of dynamics. The game suggests pieces with a strong beat, which makes sense, but I found some of the included beat-heavy electronica to be too busy, not letting the effect really sink in. Stretches of calm go a long way towards making the more intense moments all the more rewarding. I played "Great King Rat" from Queen's first album and The Delfonics' "I'm Sorry" from La La Means I Love You, and both were wonderful.
Then the demo ended, and when I followed the link to purchase the game, I was told it hasn't been released yet.
Damn you, Invisible Handlebar! Let me keep playing your incredible game!
Holy crap. This is great. I've been wanting something like this all my life, I just didn't know it until now.