Sunday, 10 October 2010

Getting into the (Rhythm) Zone!

I've never played guitar hero, but I've got a good idea of how it should go. In fact my only experience of music based games is the Japanese original version of Elite Beat Agents and also a game I wrote myself called Click Beat! So when I was asked if I wanted to do a write up on Rhythm Zone I said, heck yes!

Rhythm Zone appears to play in a very similar way to Guitar hero but rather than using a guitar shaped controller (not sure if you can plug one in if you have one) you use a row of keys on your IBM Compatible keyboard that comes with every Personal Computer. There's a saving right there, plus it's kinder on the environment which will eventually be polluted by a million plastic guitar shaped controllers...Anyway...

On my first start up of the game I decided to see how it handled a tune it has never ever (I can pretty much guarantee) seen or played and that's something that I've written! I plugged in a little something I wrote the other day and fired it up.

I tried Easy Mode to start with just to get warmed up. When the game actually started I was a bit confused as to what the link was between what I was tapping away to and what was actually playing. There was only a vague resemblance at best with the key prompts appearing at what felt like random times in most cases. Occasionally you would get a few that played on the beat but it certainly didn't seem to follow the melody or even the base line or even the drum line.

I wondered if this was just because I was on easy mode, perhaps my twiddly melodies are too much for the average player, so I turned up the difficulty to "Hard" which is the 3rd level of trickery available. That was much more difficult but I still wasn't sure it was really following the music as such, there seemed to be a lot more of the prompts appearing though. I decided to watch it for a little while to see if I could fathom what it was doing but then it detected I wasn't playing anymore and ended the level!

Okay, I thought to myself, writing something which recognises the beat of a song is not easy so perhaps one of the pre-prepared tunes will work better. I gave the song "On The Edge" by "The Senticsphere" a go on medium difficulty to see if that was any closer. It was a little but I definitely got the feeling this song's prompts had also been generated rather than created in detail by one of the makers of the game.

I probably make it sound worse than it really is, the engine appears to be able to pick up on some things really well. Long guitar note holds it picks up on really well which is fun and it recognises gaps in the music which sounds like a silly plus side but I'd be really complaining if it threw prompts at you while nothing was happening! So there is some link there but personally I would love to see some properly designed levels that are bang, spot-on representations of what you're listening to.

Otherwise everything else is good news here, I did enjoy the graphical stuff while you're playing. Lots of tunnel effects and spinning guitars and um, planets I seem to remember as well as skulls and blimey, I'm not sure if I'm actually making this up now. I played through most of the library of tunes that came with it but mostly on the easy difficulty mode which was quite fun! I even appeared to score quite highly on the leader boards, often getting into the 20's on my first attempts.

The social aspect of Rhythm Zone has been given quite a bit of attention. At the end of each song you play you're given some statistics on how you've done and also how you've done against your friends who have played this song. Unfortunately none of my steam buddies had this at the time of writing so I couldn't tell exactly if I was really doing well on the global leader boards or if I was just playing songs that hardly anyone else was? There also appears to be a levelling system (I almost reached level 5...) but I couldn't tell what the point of that was. There's also a bunch of achievements in the steam version, everyone loves achievements right?

My final thoughts then are that this is an extremely well polished music game. All of the community stuff is in there, it has plenty of music provided to get started with and looks great! The game play lets it down slightly (as I talked about at length above) but I hear that this is not the final version and that further updates are coming. I'll gladly write a large update about that if it improves!

You can get Rhythm Zone from steam (currently on offer at the time of writing) where you can also get the free demo!

For more info and screenshots either visit the official site, or visit the PCGR info page!

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