This is the new Peggle. Not that this mellifluous blend of Wipeout, Tetris and Guitar Hero is anything like PopCap’s pachinko masterpiece, but rather that it fulfils the same purpose: a bottomless tub of instant gaming snack, ideal for when you’re waiting for a spot on that Team Fortress 2 server to open up, or trying to break through a hangover, or to play one-handed while enduring a phone call with tedious relatives. Or, most commonly, just because there’s a song you want to hear - but why simply hear it, when instead you can play it?
Audiosurf is one idea repeated ad infinitum, but almost entirely free from nagging repetition. That’s due to the part you play in it: you are the level designer here. Pick a song, any song, so long as you’ve got an mp3 of it. That’s your next Audiosurf course. The track twists, slopes and undulates in time to a quick ’n dirty analysis of the song structure. You then collect or dodge beat-matched coloured blocks, forever chasing the tail of a high score - either your own or those of friends and strangers on the online leader boards.
But that’s not the real challenge. Audiosurf is a test of yourself, of the person you’ve become over these long years of your life. It’s a test of your appreciation for music in all forms. Don’t just play your favorite songs, your favorite band, your favorite genre - play the right songs. That might be Blue Monday, it might be Bohemian Rhapsody, it might be Ghostbusters. Suppress all musical prejudice and try everything. What’s important is that it’s music with changes and speed-ups and speed-downs and crazed drum-breaks and bass solos and pauses and sudden explosions of noise. A song that’s an adventure, a song you know will make for an incredible level.
Besting this challenge is an infinitely greater joy than topping the global scoreboard for Ace of Spades or Still Alive, or whatever else the chattering hordes are scrapping over. Within moments of embarking upon the track, you’ll know if you’ve got it right, both from its immediate feel, how closely it seems synchronized to the underlying rhythms, and from the crazily spiking and spiraling minimap that hints at the rollercoaster to come. Whenever you choose correctly, you’ll want to beckon others over to coo at the orgasmic colors and unreal topography of your achievement.
In many ways, it’s Guitar Hero without inhibitions. You’re not chained to whatever noxious cock rock the publishers could afford rights to, and the overall game-ness is relaxed. Simple mouse or cursor-key controls ease the need for extreme dexterity, but moreover there is no failure here, only self-improvement or the endless hunt for The Perfect Track. Mostly, you play Audiosurf for your own satisfaction, not to meet the game’s expectations. There’s one exception to that, which is competing with a friend who seems to share your musical values. Whatever algorithms are behind Audiosurf seem to reflect how people react to music as much as to how a piece is structured.
All that said, look past your love of pop music and Audiosurf is a plain and skinny creature. The core mechanics of weaving left and right, stacking colors to bump up your score, cursing when you net the wrong one and kill your combo, have very little to do with the song: only the shape and speed of the track is meaningfully affected. Analyze Audiosurf and it’s plain its musical analysis is often vague; sometimes it amounts to nothing more than slow bits easy, fast bits hard. For those who demand the classical values of mechanical efficiency from their games, that may prove an insurmountable barrier to fun. For anyone else, that’s simply not the point. It’s about games and music sheepishly holding hands in public. The resulting couple may not be Brangelina-photogenic, but you can’t deny they look good together.
The late Kurt Vonnegut once said “If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.” If you don’t feel at least a little bit the same way, Audiosurf may well be meaningless. It hinges on the thrill of wondering how it’s going to treat whatever you next throw at it, and those glorious moments when the entire game seems created specifically for the song you’re playing. If music is purely functional to you, so too will be Audiosurf. If, however, music is the closest thing you have to a religion, then consider Audiosurf your new church.
Feb 28, 2008