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Rock Band 4 made me forget that I suck at rhythm games

Sep 09 // Alissa McAloon
During my time with the game I was perfectly content to just smash out different notes on the guitar and see what sounded best, but more skillful players should note that there is an art to creating solos. Switching notes at the right time or using certain strums with certain chords all create different and unique sounds. The notes themselves may change slightly to fit with the key of certain songs, but those patterns do not. With a little time and effort, players can figure out how to create specific tunes in Freestyle Solos and create their own finely crafted guitar solos from scratch. Playing around with solos, both in the training modes and in actual songs, made me feel like I was actually good at the game. The half hour I spent with Rock Band 4 marked the most positive experience I've ever had with a music game of any kind. As someone who is chronically clumsy with any sort of rhythm game, this endorsement doesn't come lightly. I can only imagine what some of those hardcore Rock Band players will be able to do with Freestyle Solos when the game releases for PS4 and Xbox One on October 6. 
Rock Band 4 photo
Freestyle solos are way too much fun
[Disclosure: Nick Chester, who is currently employed at Harmonix, previously worked at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the preview.] Rock Band 4 is spearheading the rhyt...

New Harmonix game photo
New Harmonix game

The joy of hitting balls: New Harmonix game an Apple TV exclusive

From the developer of Rock Band
Sep 09
// Steven Hansen
Harmonix is busy. There's Rock Band 4 to finish and a delayed-into-2016 Amplitude. There's an additional game that needs to be crowdfunded, which I assume is not Beat Sports, which was just announced at Apple's live streamed...
Harmonix and Fig photo
Harmonix and Fig

Harmonix will need your help (again) to make its next game

Sometime this fall
Sep 03
// Brett Makedonski
Harmonix is going back to the crowdfunding well after its successful Amplitude campaign, but it's not going the Kickstarter route. It's going with something far more trendy right now. The music game developer plans ...
Rock Band 4 photo
Rock Band 4

The Rock Band 4 disc will cost $20 extra on Xbox One

All due to wireless protocol
Aug 24
// Brett Makedonski
Those who plan to play Rock Band 4 on Xbox One with their instruments from Xbox 360 will have to pay a bit for the privilege. As it turns out, the standalone Rock Band 4 disc will cost $80 instead of $60. That price...
Rock Band 4 photo
Rock Band 4

Rock Band 4's latest big addition is Van Halen

Aug 17
// Brett Makedonski
Not recognizing a majority of music in games has been a running theme this year. Guitar Hero Live largely falls victim to this. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 definitely does. Fortunately, Rock Band 4 does not. Harm...
Chrvches play Rock Band 4 photo
Chrvches play Rock Band 4

Wow, I'm better at Rock Band than Chvrches is!

But they're still famous, so whatever
Aug 10
// Nic Rowen
I take every opportunity to watch real musicians play Rock Band that I can, I'm always interested to see how they'll do. Especially when it happens to be one of my favorite acts. Extra especially when they're playing a Rock ...
Rock Band 4 photo
Rock Band 4

Piss off your neighbors by singing Fall Out Boy's 'Centuries' (and 16 other Rock Band 4 songs)

Or just be really good at singing, jerk
Aug 03
// Zack Furniss
More Rock Band 4 songs! With music tastes as varied as they are, it's hard to say whether you'll all be excited by the new songs that Harmonix is teasing this time. Personally, I'll enjoy crooning "Fever" by The Black Ke...
Amplitude photo

Harmonix delays Amplitude into 2016

Some Kickstarter backers get it earlier
Aug 01
// Kyle MacGregor
Harmonix's new Amplitude is being delayed once again, as Kickstarter projects are wont to do. The PlayStation 4 version will be launching in December for "early access" backers, the studio just announced, with the public rele...
Rock Band 4 photo
Rock Band 4

Dust off your Robert Smith voice for 11 new Rock Band 4 tracks

And some Grohl for your soul
Jul 13
// Brett Makedonski
I don't care if Monday's blue, Tuesday's gray and Wednesday, too. Today, I have new Rock Band 4 tracks for you, and Friday I'm in love. Harmonix has expounded upon its ever-growing set list for Rock Band 4 by reveal...
Rock Band 4 photo
Rock Band 4

Rock Band 4 pre-orders are up, and the bundle will cost a pretty penny

And 24,998 more pretty pennies
Jun 15
// Brett Makedonski
Harmonix's Rock Band was a significant investment last generation. The barrier to entry for a proper full band experience meant buying a drum set, two guitars (if you didn't have any from Guitar Hero) a microphone, and t...

Rock Band 4 is doing a new fun thing you wouldn't expect

Jun 15 // Brett Makedonski
Between those dueling stages was an innocuous, decidedly less interesting room. But, what it lacked in flair, it made up for in substance. Some posted up nearby talking Filipino politics, but those who ventured inside found the biggest change to Rock Band in years. Guitar solos aren't what they used to be. Trepidation was abound. Shredding in Rock Band is such a staple. Now it's different. Accuracy has been replaced with creativity. I couldn't help but think that's a musician's move right there. I also couldn't help but be a little dejected that there's less skill involved with the instrument that I spent the most time trying to perfect. Down the hall, Pearl Jam's "Alive" started playing, and Eric Pope couldn't hide his disdain. I thought about firing it up to figure out how these new solos worked. I refrained and chose "Cult of Personality." In everyone else's hands, this is a plastic guitar; in my hands, it's a pipebomb. Things didn't pan out quite as I wanted. Rather than rhythmically dissecting the song until the solo hit, I was met with five minutes of solo. That's a dev mode thing -- perks of the preview event. I guess that's adequate time to figure out the ins and outs of the new format. I was mostly right, but not entirely. [embed]293727:59016:0[/embed] A small group had formed after a few minutes. Someone made a comment about the five buttons on a Rock Band guitar. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. A Harmonix representative sprung into action to correct the misstatement and pitch the Freestyle Solos -- a system that reminded everyone there are ten buttons on these axes. Intricate notes have been left by the wayside for colorful patterns. Blue means to play in first position (normal notes); orange indicates you need to slide up the neck and play on those five forgotten-about buttons. An algorithm decides exactly what gets played, whether it be sustains, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, or just wildly tapping without any strumming. One of the patterns mandates you just play anything. Make noise, anything works. While it sounds somewhat insane, it mostly works. The solos come together in a way that's satisfying -- as if you were actually playing the solo. However, substituting that for nailing a classic solo isn't a trade-off that I necessarily appreciated. It just feels like maybe it's a bit too easy now. That's not the only concern. Harmonix has made a point of framing Rock Band 4 as a party game that anyone can pick up and play. But, I saw many of my peers struggling to integrate the solos into the gameplay they already knew. When I asked the devs how long they expected it'd take for casual players to grasp Freestyle Solos, they thought it'd go pretty quick. I estimate it'll take slightly longer than very casual players want to commit. In that event, the mode can be turned off, which seems like a less than optimal solution. For those who have the patience to learn it but aren't dedicated enough to excel at the old solos, Freestyle may be a fine compromise. Wailing on those solos makes you feel really good even when you're performing a relatively simple task. It makes for a nice little illusion for anyone who doesn't want to look past it. 
Rock Band preview photo
'Play Freestyle!'
Everywhere I looked, my peers seemed to be having fun. Mere minutes before, everyone couldn't stop talking about how cold that Santa Monica rooftop was. It was the opposite of fun. Now, that had melted away, a distant memory ...

Rock Band 4 details photo
Rock Band 4 details

Rock Band 4 wants players to 'color outside the lines'

Improvisational vocals and more
May 05
// Darren Nakamura
IGN has the hot scoop on Rock Band 4 these days, having taken a trip to the Harmonix office to cover the upcoming music game. While it has exclusive gameplay footage going up later this week, the site posted some details yest...
Rock Band 4 photo
Rock Band 4

Harmonix says 'don't throw away your old Guitar Hero controllers'

Rock Band 4 dev hopes to support ALL your old - and new - peripherals
Apr 17
// Vikki Blake
Where are all your old Guitar Hero and/or Rock Band guitars now, eh? Stuffed under the couch? Collecting dusting the basement?  If you haven't thrown them away -- and I really, really hope you haven't thrown them away --...

Amplitude's multiplayer mode has been reworked for the better

Mar 13 // Darren Nakamura
At its core, the multiplayer mode plays the same as the single player. Different tracks are set up, each representing a piece of instrumentation used to build a song. Gems are arranged on the tracks, and it's up to the players to hit the right buttons with the beats to collect the gems. Standard rhythm game fare. In multiplayer, everybody is sharing the same set of tracks, but only one person can score from a given track at one time. Whichever player has been on a track the longest is at the front of the line; those behind have to switch to a different track to collect gems. One of the great things about Amplitude is that it encourages a sort of zen state, where the player is not only focusing on the track at hand, but also dedicating some almost subconscious processing power to the periphery. Not only does a high-level player watch the track currently being played, but also the next track to jump to. Additional players and another layer to this. Now it's necessary to keep tabs on other players, predicting their movements and reacting accordingly. [embed]288465:57583:0[/embed] There are other ways to interfere with opponents. While a track is usually first come, first served, certain powerups can tip the balance. One allows the player to jump to the front of a track, essentially stealing it from another player. In my play time at PAX East, I was able to hop in behind another player, deploy a series staple Autocatcher to delete his track and claim it for my own, then zip off before he realized what had happened. Classic. Harmonix's Annette Gonzales also described a cooperative mode, though I didn't get a chance to try it out. It came from experiences similar to my own with the older titles. When there is a significant skill gap between players, competitive modes aren't really fun for anybody. Like Rock Band, Amplitude can be a place where people come together to (re)create music, not just to see who can press buttons better. Amplitude is expected to release for PlayStation consoles this summer.
Amplitude at PAX East photo
Vying for position
I have some good memories of playing single player FreQuency years ago. However, the only memories I have of the multiplayer mode are of me playing against my friends in high school and crushing them, then going off...

Harmonix Music VR could supplant Audiosurf for me

Mar 12 // Darren Nakamura
Harmonix had two zones on display at PAX East. One was a serene beach scene and the other was an on-rails trip through a constantly changing techno landscape. I chose the latter, and loaded up The Foo Fighters' "Everlong" for my run through. It works a bit like those old school music visualizers in that it reads the characteristics of any song and generates visual content from it. The mini environments were designed; I saw birds flying, giant structures, and other recognizable elements. However, their behaviors and appearances are determined procedurally. I actually had to ask about that last bit, because some sections of the visual content synced up so well to the audio that I wasn't sure if the transitions were built specifically for the limited library on display. During the long snare roll build up near the end of "Everlong," it kept switching between various scenes. The switching increased in frequency until the crescendo when the guitar and vocals come back in, at which point it stuck with one scene that was more colorful and alive than it had been previously. It was incredible. When it was over, it was strange to take off the VR headset. By the end, I definitely felt like I had been in another place, and removing the headset transported me back to the show floor. As a way to enjoy music, I haven't ever experienced anything else like it.
Harmonix Music VR photo
A new way to experience music
Audiosurf is more than seven years old now (wow), but it still holds a place as a desktop icon on my computer. I still play it regularly. The thing is, I almost never play it on any setting other than Casual with Mono. It is ...

Rock Band 4 photo
Rock Band 4

Kinect interference won't be an issue in Rock Band 4

That's certainly reassuring
Mar 09
// Brett Makedonski
Harmonix wants the Rock Band 4 experience to be a social one -- a group of people together in a room using music as the driving force toward enjoyment. However, Microsoft has a once "integral" peripheral for the Xbox One...
Gearbox x Harmonix photo
Gearbox x Harmonix

Borderlands characters are now in Dance Central Spotlight

From Inside Gearbox panel
Mar 08
// Darren Nakamura
Gearbox and Harmonix have worked together in the past with a dance section in one of last year's trailers for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. At the PAX East Inside Gearbox panel, Gearbox and Harmonix announced a new p...
Rock Band 4 photo
Rock Band 4

Tell Harmonix to put the entirety of '...Like Clockwork' in Rock Band 4

Really, just urge them to include the QOTSA discography
Mar 06
// Brittany Vincent
Looking forward to Rock Band 4 just as much as I am? You're probably wondering how the upcoming roster is going to look. Me too. In fact, I'm pretty concerned. I dropped a pretty penny on hundreds of songs, with 70% of them i...

Rock Band 4 is coming, and it's bringing the party back

Mar 05 // Brett Makedonski
While it's important to look forward, fans also can't help but look back. After all, there are some pretty hefty investments there -- both with regard to instrument peripherals and downloadable tracks. Harmonix acknowledges this and is doing its best to make sure that there's continuity across the Rock Band brand, even if it has jumped to new consoles. With regard to instruments, Sussman says that the team's doing its best to ensure that legacy peripherals will be compatible with Rock Band 4. He couldn't definitively say that it'd happen, but Harmonix is working with Sony and Microsoft to try to work something out. Sussman said that he was confident in the chances those conversations would yield positive results. The other big concern, previously purchased downloadable songs, has an even better outlook. Harmonix is tackling the engineering issue, something that Sony and Microsoft are fully supporting. The only problem is that it'll require a lot of man-hours to essentially recreate every song in the library. It's going to eventually happen, but Harmonix can't say how long it'll take to get there. But, players definitely aren't going to be required to buy tracks a second time or anything in that vein. Of course, alongside Rock Band 4's release will be a set of brand new instruments manufactured by Mad Catz. However, that's not the extent of its involvement. Mad Catz is cooperatively publishing the game with Harmonix. This'll likely mark the largest software publishing deal in Mad Catz's history. [embed]288538:57603:0[/embed] Despite Mad Catz's involvement, Rock Band 4 won't release with a flurry of optional equipment like Rock Band 3 did. Because Harmonix is putting focus on the social aspect, it's mostly doing away with Pro mode. Drums will still be supported because the base instrument is all that's needed. Gone are Pro Guitar and Pro Bass. Also nixed are all forms of keyboard. Sussman said that through data collection, Harmonix saw that keys were played a very small percentage of the time relative to other instruments. Although this is the first time in a half-decade that Rock Band's making a return, there's also the well-founded rumor that Guitar Hero will throw its hat back into the ring this year. When asked if the studio was at all disappointed that it'd face immediate competition, Sussman seemed upbeat about Rock Band 4's chances against Activision's property. "We're focused on things we can control. However, I think our pedigree speaks for itself," he said. He's right; Harmonix has a history that's rooted in quality. However, maybe none of that really matters if the general audience just isn't ready to go back to Rock Band. When we pressed Sussman about the idea that most people from his audience seven years ago are likely in very different places in life now, he was unflinching. "While I realize that people move on, a love for music is all that's needed for Rock Band to be appealing to you. That's something that no one grows out of," he commented. Again, Sussman's right. Even if Harmonix stayed mum on a lot about Rock Band 4, it tipped its hand on what might be the most important facet: the game's tone. Rock Band 4 is all about the unique social experience that comes from playing music together. It wants to be a party, a constant source of good times. Basically, Harmonix is doing everything it can to make sure you want to get the band back together.
Rock Band 4 photo
Releasing in 2015, coming to PS4 and Xbox One
Five years after the latest installment in the seminal music/rhythm franchise, Harmonix is going on a proverbial reunion tour. Rock Band 4 is in development for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and it's currently scheduled fo...

Amplitude photo

I fear for my fingers after seeing Amplitude in action

Playable at PAX East booth #4224
Mar 02
// Jordan Devore
Harmonix is reviving Amplitude this summer and, if recent rumors hold up, Activison might bring back Guitar Hero. The lows of the rhythm genre are real low, but I'm ready for that high again. Going into this weekend's PAX Ea...

If this is what a 'rhythm violence' game looks like, I'm all about them

Nominated for Excellence in Audio at the Independent Games Festival
Feb 18
// Jordan Devore
While watching this trailer for THUMPER, a self-described rhythm violence game from current Harmonix artist Brian Gibson and former lead programmer Marc Flury, I didn't want to blink. I also let out a confused "what?" follow...
Rock Band DLC photo
Rock Band DLC

Harmonix releasing more Rock Band DLC, a couple of 'we're back' songs

Hinting at something bigger?
Feb 16
// Brett Makedonski
In mid-January, Harmonix surprised everyone by breaking its radio silence on Rock Band with the first set of downloadable songs in almost two years. While it's not quite the return to weekly DLC, Harmonix looks to be ba...
Amplitude photo

Amplitude delayed from March until 'summer'

It's only on PS3 and PS4
Jan 19
// Chris Carter
I hope you weren't too excited for a March release date for the upcoming Amplitude reboot, as Harmonix has announced that it has been delayed until "summer" for quality concerns. The developer says that they don't want to cut...
Rock Band photo
Rock Band

Harmonix survey asks what you would want from a new Rock Band experience

Just more Rock Band, to be honest
Jan 16
// Brett Makedonski
The Rock Band franchise has shown promising signs of revitalization lately. Earlier this week, there was the surprise announcement of a trio of fresh downloadable tracks. Now, Harmonix has posted a survey throwing all so...
Rock Band DLC photo
Rock Band DLC

Harmonix surprises everyone with an imminent trio of Rock Band DLC songs

Foo Fighters, Avenged Sevenfold, and Arctic Monkeys
Jan 12
// Brett Makedonski
Remember the days of yesteryear when a bevy of plastic instruments was a de facto part of your interior design? Well, if you so wish, that look could make a comeback, as Harmonix is adding to the Rock Band library f...

Harmonix returns to classic rhythm-action with Amplitude

Dec 05 // Alessandro Fillari
Amplitude (PS4 [Previewed], PS3)Developer: Harmonix Publisher: SCEARelease Date: Q2 2015 "This opportunity is to make the game we always wanted to," said product manager Annette Gonzalez while discussing the development of the game. As a reboot of the original, Amplitude features both an expanded track list and gameplay system. Even after the success of the games that followed, the developers wanted to have a shot at creating another title in the vein of Frequency and Amplitude. "People really, really liked those games, they have fond memories of them, I have fond memories of them -- I played FreQuency and Amplitude a lot back in college -- but apparently they didn't really sell very well," said communications lead and former Destructoid editor-in-chief Nick Chester. "People loved it, it reviewed very well, but nobody bought them, so therefore we didn't make another Amplitude game and moved on to Karaoke Revolution, Guitar Hero games with Konami and Activision." With the rise of game development via Kickstarter, Harmonix figured it was the perfect time to get the next game going. With its crowdfunding campaign, the studio wanted to gauge the current interest for the return of its earliest titles. "Kickstarter was a great opportunity for us to say, 'well, you wanted another Amplitude game, right? We have permission from Sony to actually go ahead and do it, but do you really want this game, prove it.' If they were really interested in it, then it would get funded, and it did," said Chester. For the uninitiated, Amplitude tasks players to ride the musical tracks as they match up each beat and verse with the corresponding buttons. With each track spread across multiple lanes, you'll have to actively switch between them to maintain your multiplier. If you miss too many verses and beats, your ship will cease function and end the track. With each timed beat, you rack up points and build your multiplier to activate special abilities, such as slow-mo, which slows down track speed, turning snazzy electro into a soothing and calm ambient pieces. By far, the most apparent aspect of the game was how challenging it was. My first crack at the game was on medium setting, and I barely made it halfway before losing. Perhaps it was because I had a hard time grasping the rhythm, but I initially felt a bit overwhelmed by the pace. Thankfully, playing a few tracks got me in the swing of things. Though I certainly still had my work cut out for me, considering how easy the folks from Harmonix made it look during the more intense tracks. As with all of Harmonix's titles, music is the core element of the experience. Featuring over 20 tracks, including licensed music from artists such as Anamanaguchi, Freezepop, and Kasson Krooker, Amplitude definitely seeks to reaffirm the studio's approach to music games. Moreover, Harmonix has also has incorporated original compositions that not only evoke the same hyperkinetic style of the original, but also manages to tell a consistent story with each passing track. "They [original songs] have this dark and electro vibe to them to tell you enough about the narrative," said Nick Chester. "All the tracks in this build were written in-house by the folks at Harmonix, all of the core story for the game was written by us, and outside of that you can unlock other songs from other artists." While much of the attention will be focused on the music, the visuals also do a lot to bring players into the experience. Amplitude's visual aesthetic feels like a mix between the bombastic and otherworldly Rez, with the vaguely familiar look of the digital world from Tron. Moreover, the visuals become more pronounced and striking as the track reaches crescendo, taking players on a trek through light and sound. Not content with offering the same experience with new visuals and sounds, Harmonix wants to implement features into Amplitude that take advantage of modern gameplay. In addition to online leaderboards for tracks, players can also engage in multiplayer matches against others locally. During our demo, we tried out the four-player battle mode, which pitted players against each other on the same track. As you can imagine, things got pretty hectic as every had to find an empty lane to score points. After each verse, the lane would collapse, forcing everyone scramble for the next lane to maintain the multiplier. I came away pretty pleased with what I played. Harmonix has certainly refined its craft for music games, and even though the title is only 60-70% complete, it is on track as a product that will reassure fans of the original and those looking for a unique and challenging take on rhythm action. Amplitude is one title you'll want to keep an eye out for next year.
Amplitude preview photo
3-2-1, Let's Jam
Before the folks at Harmonix Studios put themselves on the map with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it was known for the cult hits Frequency and Amplitude. Blending fast-paced rhythm-based action with mesmerizing visuals and ...

Review: A City Sleeps

Oct 21 // Nic Rowen
A City Sleeps (PC [reviewed], Mac)Developer: Harmonix Music Systems, IncPublisher: Harmonix Music Systems, IncReleased: October 16, 2014MSRP:$14.99 A City Sleeps is an experiment for Harmonix, and it very much feels like it (with all the good and ill that implies). While the side-scrolling arcade shoot-'em-up genre is a total departure from its previous body of work, the studio's fixation with music remains present as ever, cleverly blending the action on screen to the soundtrack. Both the player and the enemies fire in time with the music, creating a synesthesia-like experience of sensory interplay; listening is often as important as watching closely, and getting into the rhythm of the soundtrack can mean the difference between successfully anticipating attacks and being in the right place at the right time, or dying a clumsy embarrassing death. More than any other shmup I've played, when it's at its best, City encourages the sublime trance-like experience of total concentration that enthusiasts of the genre know and love. Which is why it's a shame there are so many small annoyances and flaws that will frequently, and rudely, snap you out of that hypnotic state. City casts the player as Poe, a sort of dream-exorcist who is able to dive into the sub-conscious minds of others and purge them of their personal demons. The game is set in a super-slick techno-future where the line between "person" and "personal computer" has blurred to a point of non-distinction. The dreamlike imagery focuses on that tension, calling up visions of ruined cities, clockwork machinery, and teaming insects representing the hivemind grid the entire population is plugged into. The soundtrack alternates between the synthy-electronica of living inside a computer and sombre, ambient sounds that bring to mind isolation and disconnection. It has a great, hip futuristic sensibility reminiscent of Transistor (always a good thing). [embed]282861:56040:0[/embed] Sadly, those interesting visuals are as much a stumbling block as an asset. Each screen is cluttered with a barrage of visual information. Dull, frequently static and unanimated enemies get lost in the backgrounds, often colored too similarly to stand out against them. Enemy fire and obstacles dissolve in a mess of sheer sensory overload, with too many competing colors and flashing lights assaulting your eyes at once. It's frustrating to constantly smack into unseen attacks even after replaying a Dream several times over. Adding to the visual clutter are the Idols, a key gameplay mechanic unique to City that sets it apart from other shmups. As a dream-exorcist, Poe has a collection of helpful Ghosts that can be plugged into Idols, large floating, abstract objects such as statues or railway cars, to provide various support effects also in time with the music. You start with the Ghosts of Anger and Mercy, which act as an extra damage dealer and a healing fountain respectively, and unlock more exotic options as you complete the Dreams on higher stages of difficulty. Poe can only carry three Ghosts at once and each Ghost has two different functions depending on what type of Idol it is slotted into, creating a variety of tactical choices to consider. While offering an intriguing element of depth, the Ghosts are also visually overwhelming. The Idols take up a massive amount of the screen, and when active, emit a large colored highlight around themselves, as well as spew out whatever effect the Ghost is producing. The screen is soon dominated by colossal shock-waves, a smattering of orbs, and tons of other visual garbage that betray not only the cool aesthetic of the title, but the ability to proficiently play it. The Idols and Ghosts are a fantastic idea, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Difficulty is always a personal thing, especially in a niche genre like shmups that tends to cater to a hardcore, specialized audience. I consider myself a shmup enthusiast; while I've never 1-CCed a game, I'm in deep enough to know and care about what a 1-CC is (clearing the game on a single credit or continue for the uninformed out there). I can safely say, this game is hard (and not in a fun way). There are five stages of difficulty to play through, and the curve is severe. City is unsatisfyingly breezy on the lowest difficulty setting, but quickly escalates to near-impossibility. The confusing visuals are compounded by slippery controls that don't respond quickly or accurately enough to deal with the lattice-work of death you'll frequently contend with. Furthering the frustration is Poe's anemic firepower, that is often unable to defeat larger enemies before they simply wander off after torturing you for a while. I eventually managed to beat all three Dreams on the forth difficulty setting and two of them on the fifth by the very skin of my teeth (from the leaderboard information, it seems only one person has conquered the most demanding Dream on the highest difficulty at the time of this review). While hardcore shmup nuts will appreciate the challenge, many players will likely find themselves stymied and unable to progress deeper into the game. This is doubly frustrating as City locks alternate Ghosts and passive upgrade Relics behind successfully completing higher difficulties. These Ghosts and upgrades offer some of the coolest mechanics in the game, and in many ways seem necessary to enjoying it. For example, the Master Ghost and its associated Relic allow you to apply devastating damage to enemies through skillful, and risky, screen positioning based on where you are relative to the possessed Idol. It's a great mechanic. On one hand, it adds another layer of strategy and thought onto an already hectic and stressful situation, but if you use it right, you'll be able to eliminate enemies before they can overwhelm you. It quickly became my favorite tool. Handy as it is, some players might not ever be able to unlock it, and this seems to be a constant theme. As you progress you get speed-boosting passives, an upgrade that makes the healing Ghost substantially more effective, and damage perks that all combine to offset much of the earlier frustration. It's understandable that Harmonix wanted to include some element of progression and reward for tackling the bigger challenges, but it seems like all the best toys are hidden in the back-end of the game, past the point where many players will likely throw up their hands and uninstall. Adding insult to injury, you can take those unlocked Ghosts and perks back to earlier tiers of difficulty. So players stuck at one point can't even amuse themselves trying to crack the leaderboard. A player that has unlocked all the goodies can just circle back and ace those difficulties to a degree that's impossible to compete with if you only have the default loadout. There are only three Dreams and three interactive soundtracks to enjoy. While the higher difficulty levels do offer some degree of replayability, it's hard not to feel left wanting by the paltry amount of content available. It feels like the game is just starting to roll when you hit the credits, the record scratching to a sudden unexpected stop. The whole experience is frustrating, because there is a genuinely cool game hidden somewhere in there. As an examination of other ways to apply rhythm and sound to gameplay mechanics, it is a solid proof of concept. There were moments while I was playing it that the world around me seemed to fade away and I didn't even think about the controller in my hand. But then I'd hit one of the many snags, die another frustrating unfair death, and the experience would be soured. A City Sleeps feels like a half-made game. Perhaps if they had a little more time or budget to add a few more Dreams, and even out the experience for players of all skill levels, it might have been something special. As it is, A City Sleeps is strictly for hardcore shoot-'em-up fans and people who are intensely curious about the future of rhythm games (an interesting Venn diagram for sure).
A City Sleeps review photo
Flat note
[Disclosure: Nick Chester, who is currently employed at Harmonix, previously worked at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.] It's a weird time to be Harmonix. It i...

Review: Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved

Oct 21 // Chris Carter
Fantasia: Music Evolved (Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: HarmonixPublisher: Disney Interactive StudiosReleased: October 21, 2014MSRP: $59.99 (Xbox One) / $49.99 (Xbox 360) At first glance Fantasia looks rather confusing, but it's basically Elite Beat Agents mixed with the Kinect. During each song, specific notes will appear on the screen. The most basic note is the directional swipe, which allows you to use either hand to gesture in the direction required. Next are dots, which require a punch forward to initiate. Then you have holds that involve holding one or two arms for a specific amount of time. On paper it sounds simplistic, but sitting down (or standing up) and playing is something else entirely. The way Fantasia gives you said notes feels fluid. The aim is to make you feel like you're conducting what's on screen, and based on my experiences, it accomplishes that goal. Like any rhythm game you'll eventually start figuring out how to get the highest score, and come up with your own advanced tactics. What I quickly learned is that any "flick" motion with either of your hands will cue a swipe. So I got into the habit of using both hands at the same time, "queuing" up directions in my head as they appeared on-screen. You can also use two hands for fun even if it's a single note -- it's a flexible, intuitive system without being too forgiving. [embed]281980:56008:0[/embed] It reminds me of the first time I played Guitar Hero, and had to relearn almost everything I knew about the genre with the new guitar controller. It's like that, with your body replacing a plastic instrument. Harmonix has done right by the device. Since it's the Kinect 2.0 with vastly superior sensors, it actually works. I hardly ever had a moment where the game didn't recognize what I was doing, and it only took me a few songs to get into the rhythm of how to play. The Sorcerer Yen Sid and his apprentice Scout will guide you through the game's campaign mode, which is a journey through various themed worlds like "The Hollow," and "The Nation." These venues range from space-age structures to modern cities, and serve as a delivery system for the game's beautiful art (and the soundtrack, of course). While I wouldn't say that Music Evolved is one of the best-looking current-gen games on a technical level, the art style itself ranks among Harmonix's finest work. The story itself might not be groundbreaking, but it's worth the ride. Sadly, you'll have to play through the game's story mode to unlock a lot of the track list for free play. I'm generally not a fan of this locking method for rhythm games, as it can often lead to playing a great deal of songs you have zero interest in just to get to the "good stuff." The campaign is decent enough on its own to warrant a playthrough without locking content, and hopefully an update can change this ideology in the future. Free play also supports multiplayer, which is fun enough with two people in the mix even if it doesn't fundamentally change the mechanics. As for the track list itself, the actual Fantasia songs are easily the best part -- the "conductor" gameplay simply feels better and more rewarding with older tunes than newer ones. Tracks from Vivaldi and Franz Liszt felt like unique experiences I can't get from any other game on the market. Then the game pulls a 180 and throws "Super Bass" from Nicki Minaj on the screen, followed by "Take Care" from Drake, and I'm thrown out of the moment a bit and put into a zone that feels more like Dance Central. The good news is out of the 33 songs in the base game, there is a decent mix of artists that are older but not quite ancient and still offer up something special, like Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie. Fantasia's in-game soundtrack by Inon Zur is also fantastic, and a great tribute to the films. Another cool thing about the track list is that each song has multiple remixes, including metal and orchestral mixes. You can change up the theme dynamically through an in-game mechanic, which is tied to extra multipliers and thus a higher score. Still, I wish there were more classical songs on offer, and nearly all of the announced DLC so far is contemporary. I definitely understand what Harmonix seeks to gain from mixing in Justin Bieber with timeless tunes like "Night on Bald Mountain" in Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, but at times, it feels like a waste of the license. I'm just glad that the gameplay is so solid and feels so new that the sound of a less-than-desirable song is still something worth playing.
Disney Fantasia review photo
Magical, but I want a bit more old pixie dust
[Disclosure: Nick Chester, who is currently employed at Harmonix, previously worked at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.] Fantasia holds a special place in...

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