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UglyDuck avatar 11:25 AM on 11.11.2008
Audiosurf: Bewilderment


Where I live, £1.60 can buy you a small birthday or Christmas card. It can buy you a 250g bar of chocolate, a packet of self tapping screws, or a bus ticket from 1998 when we were living in sensible economic times. If you’re very lucky, you can probably find a DRM rich, decedent PC Civilisation game in Gamestation for that much. Then again, if you decide to drop the money on it this week, £1.60 will buy you Audiosurf, and it is far better value and far more fun than all of the above. Except maybe the screws; they’re a fucking riot of laughs.

Unlike my previous ramblings, however, I’m not here to talk about that. Audiosurf bamboozles me. It gives me a feeling of uneasiness beneath that presentation of blissful fun. Don’t let that put you off, every single penny that went into purchasing Audiosurf is grinning like a Cheshire cat on morphine because it knows it was spent on a worthy cause. But it is the exception to too many rules, and being so out of place makes it open to dissection.



For the stupids in the room, Audiosurf is a music game that bears vague similarities to Guitar Hero, but with the unique innovation to automatically transforms any song in your library into a weaving, winding track full of pretty colours and euphoric migraines. It is very, very clever and if you haven’t downloaded the demo then you next few words ought to be carefully chosen lest they be interrupted with my boot down your throat. Seriously, go and play it. Now.

For the rest of us, perhaps you can help me understand why the fuck that is true. The game is just like any other music game in that you go down a linear path hitting coloured geometric shapes, there is no real goal beyond “Get them points” and the puzzle element is exactly the same puzzle game we’ve played before - matching at least three blocks of the same colour for points. It could only be a more boring premise if every ship was a shade of sepia and was piloted by Carol Vorderman.



I hate challenges that focus on point chasing and rank snatching; the notion of scrabbling to climb two places on an arbitrary and isolated leaderboard with only the faintest connection with real world skill is lost on me. Oddly enough, this game evokes a bizarre amount of happiness in the pursuit and attainment of that position. Similarly, I dislike those arbitrary puzzle games that play like you’re organising a cutlery drawer, and Audiosurf would seemingly be just that, but with the spoons flying at you really, really fast.

It can get pretty overwhelming at times as well, like you’re trying to untangle the worlds most difficult matt while driving a convertible down an autobahn at use-your-imagination mph, but that’s mostly a part of the learning curve. One of the things that feels so rewarding about Audiosurf is that you actively feel yourself learning, your brain picks apart every mistake and fixes it on the fly. It also conclusively proves that doing anything at high speeds becomes infinitely more enjoyable.



To be fair, the difficulty is absolutely perfect, ranging anywhere from “let your girlfriend give it a try” to “where the hell did my weekend and girlfriend go?” It balances every step of your learning perfectly; so that you have control over your transition to being an unemployed, friendless sociopath.

But it still doesn’t add up. It is not equal to the sum of its parts, and I have no idea why. Whatever the case, it is one gloriously gratifying mystery.

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