Review

Symphony

I Can Shoot The Music

Symphony turns your own music library into psychedelic space combat.

By Cory Casciato • August 13, 2012

Every few years, technology offers us a new way to experience the music we love. From transistor radios making tunes portable for our grandparents to Rock Band letting us live out rock-star fantasies with tiny toy instruments, new twists on music appreciation pop up once or twice a decade to make us wonder how we ever got along without them. Now along comes Symphony to offer the latest wrinkle by letting us experience music while shooting at it.

To understand how it works, recall the classic Simpsons moment where Lisa exclaims, “I can see the music!” Take that, fuse it to the skeleton of a classic arcade shooter, and you’ve got the heart of Symphony. To put it another way, think of it as if your media player’s visualizer offered the chance to shoot back. You point the game at your music library (or some subset of it), and it realizes each song as a shooter level.

Symphony

Graphically, the game looks like a hyperactive, psychedelic take on what early ’90s pop culture thought cyberspace would look like. You fly through a pulsating maze of unfriendly fire, swarming with enemies built of simple geometric shapes and bright colors. They all move to the beat of your favorite songs. If you’ve played Geometry Wars or Space Giraffe, or even just zoned out for an hour on one of the trippier music visualizers out there, the vibe will be familiar.

As your song plays, enemies spawn off of cues in your music. You’ll hear a snare drum, and voila, an enemy appears. When things get intense, which they do early and often, the screen becomes a pulsing blur of color and motion. At first it’s nearly impossible to figure out what the hell is actually happening, but after a few levels it all starts to make sense.

Symphony

Some songs work better than others as Symphony fodder. I threw a representative mishmash of everything I listen to at the game, from yacht rock to industrial noise. Intense tunes with a driving beat, especially electronica and metal, got the best results. Underworld’s “Cowgirl” was sublime, and both Metallica and Mastodon made for intense, gripping levels. Even if you don’t like those genres, you shouldn’t have trouble finding something that works—Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” made for a surprisingly good level. If all else fails, the game comes with a decent selection of music that should get you started.

Symphony allows you to turn off your thinking brain and enter a zen-like trance of memorization and reaction—once you find the right song. At its best, the music simply clicks into place, triggering a stream of stimulus and response, perfectly soundtracked by music you love. It’s an addictive, deep, and—perhaps most importantly—accessible journey into shooting heaven.

Symphony
Developer: Empty Clip Studios
Publisher: Empty Clip Studios
Platform: PC
Price: $10

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576 Responses to “I Can Shoot The Music”

  1. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I’ll throw on some Leonard Cohen and watch the fights play out with the one-shot-per-minute pacing of the gunfights from ‘Dead Man’.

  2. PaganPoet says:

    This seems tailor made for whirling robo-disco a la Kylie Minogue or Robyn. Too bad my PC sucks.

  3. X_the_Anonymous_Man_or_Woman says:

     I wish I could get my hands on a demo of this. I’m interested in it but worried that I might get bored off it fast.

    • SisterMaryFrancis says:

      Says on steam that they’ll put out a demo after they work on some bugs in the retail version. Might take a while, but I’ll probably wait to see as well.

  4. CrabNaga says:

    I’ve seen a couple reviews of this game, and some have compared it to Audiosurf. However, I haven’t seen a single review that compares it to Beat Hazard, which springs up in my mind as the most readily-available comparison.

    I haven’t actually played this game yet, but based on what I’ve seen of it, it looks very similar to Beat Hazard, with more focus on customization and progression and less focus on the in-game shooter mechanics. When I read an early preview of the game, it was pegged as a shmup “generated by your music” and I immediately imagined something like Gradius or Ikaruga that has navigable levels built around the soundtrack, sort of like a crawling oscilloscope visualizer. Seeing that the game is tied to a single play arena and the enemies just constantly pour in from the sides in patterns that are sort of reminiscent of the tunes currently playing was kind of a huge let down for me. 

    • HobbesMkii says:

      I will say that Beat Hazard was such a huge disappointment for me that I have a hard time conceiving that this game could be worse.

      • CrabNaga says:

        I thoroughly enjoyed Beat Hazard, even moreso when the Ultra DLC came out. For some reason, Audiosurf never got me to stick around for more than a few songs, but the relative mindlessness of Beat Hazard means you can play through an entire album while having it feel like you’re “re-experiencing to the music” instead of “playing a video game with your music attached to it.”

        • HobbesMkii says:

          I never felt like there was much change between songs in the way the levels were composed. I mean, sometimes there were bosses, and sometimes the difficulty was obviously much higher, but for the most part it just felt like the same playthrough with a different song in the background to me. With Audiosurf I find a better variation in the way the tracks are laid out from song to song (though not always).

      • lokimotive says:

        I just played the demo of Beat Hazard, so I can’t speak to the whole game, but yes I was rather disappointed in what it had to offer. I really couldn’t make much of a connection between what I was listening to and what was going on screen. This can sometimes happen with Audiosurf, but, for the most part, it seems pretty well defined. Beat Hazard just seemed like I was shooting at a bunch of crap while listening to Winamp.

        One sort of odd thing to note about Beat Hazard vs. Audiosurf is that they must generate their levels drastically differently. I believe Beat Hazard generates its levels on the fly, whereas Audiosurf has to generate the entire level before you can begin playing it. This normally doesn’t make much of a difference, but Audiosurf does have an upward limit to how long a song can be: one hour. In contrast, Beat Hazard doesn’t seem like it has any limit, which means you can play completely ridiculous tracks like the Flaming Lips six or 24 hour songs, or even Bull of Heaven’s month long “compositions”. I did actually try a Bull of Heaven track that was two weeks, and Beat Hazard didn’t seem to mind one bit. Now, that feeling may change after a certain amount of time, but it’s impressive to me that it even tried.

        Of course, all of this presumes that you’d actually want to slog through a level of Audiosurf OR Beat Hazard for more than an hour, which you probably don’t. And you probably shouldn’t.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      If we’re using classic game analogies and Beat Hazard is a (sometimes over) homage to Asteroids, Symphony runs more in the Galaga tradition, or even a bit farther forward into things like Raptor: Call Of Shadows (in the gun customization). Your ship moves but is always facing forward and you have enemies who swoop in and try to catch you off-guard.

      I liked Beat Hazard quite a bit I think this is a lot more fun. Invariably these lose their shine, but then all games do. They’re cheap, at the least, and the game will never be dull due to lack of new tracks.