"We constantly have to revisit 'Why would Donkey Kong do this?' or 'Why would this environment be like this?' And then we start thinking: 'We're making a game about a gorilla wearing a tie.'"
-Michael Kelbaugh of Retro Studios on Donkey Kong Country Returns
"I have to say it's kinda scary how much you know about this game."
-Nicolau Chaud creator of Marvel Brothel
There is a threshold that gamers have to cross when it comes to indie games on the marketplace. If it isn't 80 MS Points, then you have something to prove. Your game has to be of a quality that gamers have to respect.
Your game not only has to be good, it has to outclass anything that even comes close to resembling it. At 240 MS Points, Iridium needs to knock it out of the park, or at the very least leave an impression.
Fortunately, Sequence will leave an impression on you.
Sequence starts off in the usual fashion of our hero waking up in unknown surroundings with no idea how he got there. You assume the role of a computer engineer named Ky. In this strange new place, he is then attacked by a strange enemy. A female voice from an intercom named Naia defeats the monster and tells him where he is and that his only objective is to climb the different levels of the tower. The only purpose for the tower is to train those who awaken in it. Naia knows the ground rules, but she only serves as a guide. What happens within the tower is for you to find out.
You'll quickly see that the choice of dialog is unique. There is a quality in the writing that is clearly a step above many of their lower priced peers in the way it presents itself. The voice acting seems to fit the characters well, which helps when your game is fully voiced. Too be honest, the voice acting here is at times better than some console experiences.
The interactions between Ky and the people around him is often humorous. He's a sarcastic guy dealing with a know-it-all guide and some of the oddest bosses I've seen in a while. The first one you come across is an obnoxiously racist 17th century noble man.
Each boss following is distinctively weird. This greatly benefits the game by pushing you to see what bizarre opponent will stand before you next. And these opponents do get weirder.
While the writing is still well done, there are some issues. The dialog between Naia and Ky is constantly back and forth. While at times it can be witty, it can also push a bit too hard. What doesn't help is that some of the dialog has written interruptions in it. When reading speech that relies on the player to activate the next set of words, putting an interruption in doesn't work. Since the game is voiced, it's simply unrealistic to hear a half finished sentence waiting for me to press a button to break it apart.
Those issues make the well done voice acting and interactions seem a bit amateurish at times. Not enough to break up the game's flow, its just the execution is short sighted.
Sequence follows your most basic rules of an RPG. Grind out enemies to get items and level up so you can progress to the next part of the world where you'll do the same exact thing. Instead of expanding through exploration, the actual battles themselves change in difficulty and approach.
The unique draw of Sequence is that its battle mechanics follow a rhythm based approach. Similar to Dance Dance Revolution, you'll have to face down an endless barrage of directional arrows that you control with a combination of the d-pad, left stick and face buttons. The apparent difference here is that you have three screens to switch between instead of DDR's one. Navigating three screens means the difference in your offense, defense and how you build your attack.
Attacking is solely dependent on your ability to charge and cast spells. For this reason alone, you will be building your magic the most. When you have your spells fully charged and activated, arrows will start falling from your attack screen. Switch over and input the commands, and success.
In the time you are building to attack your defense screen will randomly drop arrows signifying your opponent's attacks. All of the battles in game will consist of inputting commands successfully across these three screens. It seems daunting, but the level progression is relatively easy. The first floor of enemies are cakewalks and give you a great opportunity to see what you need to do to defeat them and what difficulty level truly works for you. If you just aren't accurate enough, step it down to easy.
Essentially, this system works. It requires some skill in control. This is used in the hopes that your spells come off before you have to switch to the defense screen. As you become more accustomed to the navigation, you start to become more comfortable with how to navigate.
As you progress through the game, you will get stronger and stronger as your arsenal builds. There is an interesting little twist though on how you gain experience.
Experience is expendable. You have no money, so you'll have to sacrifice experience to craft new items for everything in the game. All the leveling and grinding you do will be spent on weapons, keys and spells.
It's an interesting idea. Crafting items is purely based on a percentage. The higher the probability of crafting it revolves around how much experience you are willing to give up. If it's a big item like the key to the next floor, you may have to sacrifice a few gained levels and all the stat boosts that come with it. Want to learn the spell after you crafted that scroll? Sacrifice some experience. Want some new armor? Sacrifice some experience.
Since the game has no over world or any navigation outside of menus, it is entirely about the grind. That is why the battle system is so important. The diversity of enemies isn't so much to make you wander around hoping to stumble across an epic battle. You choose your bad guys from a list based on what items you might need for crafting and you battle.
Each level ramps up the difficulty, but the idea is the same. Gain experience to spend it. Gaining experience from battle is fairly liberal though, so thankfully it never feels overly tedious beyond the first level.
What the addition of new levels brings to the table is a set of new hurdles. The enemy attack patterns become more difficult, but more interestingly, the bosses of that level introduce a spell effect with your attackers. He can use the effect during his battle whenever he wants. His minions can use it once per battle. These spells come in a variety of ways and always as a surprise.
Effects are never the same on each level and add a bit of variety to what would otherwise be a straight forward game. What pushes the game further is the the fact that you need to hunt down the enemies for crafting. Doing so nets you more powerful spells. This grind causes you to swap back and forth between floors to gather materials and really acts to show you how you've progressed through your opponents.
When mastering spells you must then enter an entire song in an attempt to fulfill the criteria of the spell. These change from obtaining a certain percentage to simply producing a combo. Instead of the typical three panel battle screen, this plays out more in the standard DDR presentation with one screen and a lot of falling arrows. It is nice that Sequence tries to mix it up with these events instead of relying on the one battle system.
Sequence is a great looking game. Painted backgrounds with attractive characters make for some quality looking art assets. Ky even has different facial expressions, which sells the quality voice acting even further.
The music in the game however doesn't have enough variety to really push the title to where it could be. Tracks are recycled and for a game that relies so much on the back and forth grind between similar sounding songs, there simply is not enough here. They are good songs, but there isn't something that will make you want to replay the same opponent over and over again. It starts to all blend together after awhile.
One could make the claim that it helps push the game forward so that nothing truly ever sticks. This would obviously help the grind. However, a large majority of the game has songs that just don't pop. For a game so heavily rooted in it's audio, it's disappointing to not be wowed by much of the music.
Sequence is a game that deserves a try. The production is extremely well thought out and exemplifies what the indie games are trying to do on the console. They are just trying to show that the little guy can make a great game. What we see from Sequence is exactly that.
It has minor issues that could only truly deflect from the viewpoint of somebody that is looking for something else. As a rhythm based RPG, it's mechanics hold up. It works and to top it off, it looks good. This is the most fun I've had with a rhythm game to date and I didn't even need a plastic controller.
Sequence should be considered as one of the standouts on Xbox Marketplace.