Sawbuck Gamer

Stairway To Bullet Heaven

The music is dangerously good in Soundodger.

By Derrick Sanskrit • June 26, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

There comes that beautiful Zen-like moment in “bullet hell” games—that subset of vertical-scrolling shoot-’em-up games where players have to dodge screen-filling waves of enemy fire—where you are no longer looking directly at your own ship, nor at the enemy, but rather allowing your eyes to refocus on the entire playfield, taking in the gestalt of the arena. Anticipation complements observation, and the game becomes more of a dance than combat. Soundodger takes this post-ironic tranquility of bullet hell and slaps a thick coat of rhythmic challenge on top.

The hazards that pop up in each arena are triggered by various voices in the game’s two dozen tracks of original music (which includes pieces from the likes of Fez’s Disasterpeace and Lone Survivor’s Jasper Byrne). Every crash of a cymbal is another volley of spikes. Every twinkle of the piano is another hurtling wave of death balls. Players can hold down the mouse button at any time to slow down into classic Max Payne/Matrix-style “bullet time,” but more often than not, the utility of this gimmick is inferior to your natural observation and reflexes. The later stages, informed by dubstep music, are especially challenging. They will slow down or even reverse the flow of hazards along with the music, which is both terrifying and awesome. A deluxe version is coming soon for Mac and Windows, so now is a great time to build your reflexes and petition your favorite musicians to contribute to the next update.

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6 Responses to “Stairway To Bullet Heaven”

  1. Merve says:

    I’m not a fan of bullet hell games, but I love the music. Do you know if it will be available as a separate soundtrack?

  2. dmikester says:

    I really dig this game a lot, but I’m a sucker for both bullet hell and music games, so hard to argue.  Also, it’s amazing how great of a track record Adult Swim Games has.  I don’t think I’ve ever played an Adult Swim game I didn’t at least appreciate even if it wasn’t my taste, and more often than not I absolutely love them, like Amateur Surgeon 2 and Major Mayhem.

  3. Chalkdust says:

    We better have the opportunity to get the soundtrack separately, considering some of the people contributing!  This is a nifty game, and there were a few touches which impressed upon me a level of care and detail that went into it.  The way the background subtly fills in as the song goes on, for example, and the way your cursor ball stretches and skews depending on how fast you move the mouse!  Small things that have no impact on gameplay but just make it all feel better.  Adult Swim curates a lot of nifty little games with a lot of polish; I’m always quite satisfied.

    • I’m glad you noticed that too. The squash and stretch of the cursor felt so good, I wound up flailing around the stage just to watch it some more. You really don’t see that level of detail in animation anymore. Compare the original intro to the Simpsons, where Marge’s neck, face and hair whip around to see Maggie in the shopping cart, to the new hi-def intro where her neck just rotates 90° like a robot. Disgusting.

  4. TreeRol says:

    This game is gorgeous.

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