Custom music games may no longer be the go-to genre on PC, but that doesn’t mean that they’re anywhere near dead. In 2008, Dylan Fitterer turned your music into an adventure with Audiosurf, and now Empty Clip Studios turns it into a fight for humanity in Symphony. Though you probably didn’t know it, your music has been infected and the souls of its composers have been stolen. Now it’s up to you to remove the corruption and free the artists from the grasps of this mysterious entity.
Like Audiosurf, Symphony requires that you actually have music files on your computer. While four years ago this wasn’t a problem, now, with the rise of music streaming, fewer and fewer music files are present on our personal hard drives. This happens to be the case for me, as well. I get most of my music from Spotify now. Luckily, though, I still have a fairly large collection of music files on my soundtracks, while more vocal-focused songs tended to detract from the game’s usual atmosphere. Another drawback of playing through your own music library is that Symphony requires songs to be longer than 1:30. Though most popular songs sail past this minimum, it did cause me to miss out on some quick jams I’d been looking forward to.
After you pick your first song, you’ll immediately notice that this isn’t your typical scrolling shooter. Enemies can be seen moving down the top of your screen before they enter the playable stage. However, they always enter from the sides. It sounds confusing, but it means that you’re able to build a strategy as to where they’ll enter and where they’ll go, though it’s ultimately a game of chance when things (inevitably) devolve into pure madness.
Each song manipulates the number of enemies on screen, when bosses spawn, and how fast everything moves. Upon completion, a unique weapon or power-up will be generated, which you can outfit to your ship. All of these add-ons have their own pros and cons. Rockets tend to do vast amounts of damage, but fire rather slowly. A certain beam fires in two directions at once, while another actually changes its strength and fire rate according to the music. With four different slots to outfit, the weapon system is a ton of fun to experiment with, as the game rewards those who complete harder songs with higher scores using weaker weapons.
The biggest pitfall I experienced in Symphony was with its interface. Each of your songs is sorted alphabetically, and while there are filters you can use, there is no way to sort your weapon unlocks. Since you’ll find yourself getting the same weapons over and over again, it’s a rather large pain to figure out exactly which one you have equipped to which slot, making it hard to discern what you need to upgrade.
In all of the confusion it’s easy to lose yourself, let alone the enemy ships. And when those ships have the ability to fire it gets even worse. You will experience many futile attempts to survive due to limited mobility and utter chaos. Luckily, the game grants you an infinite number of lives, though it does penalize you by deducting points each time you revive. There are also some minor lag and stuttering issues when things get really crazy, but it’s nothing you can’t live through, especially when you’re only ponying up $10. Part beauty, part chaos, and part strategy, Symphony will test you in more ways than you thought possible.
The game is available for purchase, DRM free from GOG.
Symphony was developed and published by Empty Clip Studios. A PC copy was provided for the purposes of review.