Shooters are a fairly common part of indie bundles, which makes getting one on its own a little harder to justify sometimes unless it has an immediate hook. Thankfully, Symphony has at least a couple of them. One comes in the form of the ability to use your own music library for the game, another is using mouse controls. The most important things it offers players comes from its addictive gameplay and fantastic default soundtrack that is nearly worth the cost of the game on its own.
Symphony is a vertical shooter with a music-heavy twist. The game environment bears a slight resemblance to Guitar Hero/Rock Band-style rhythm games where you’ve got a limited part of the screen to actually use. Unlike a lot of shooters, however, you can move your ship around briskly due to the mouse controls. You can also customize what either the left or right buttons do, and combine both for some super-fast destruction of enemies. Like any shooter, you’ll want to avoid death, but here, you die and have to restart – just deal with a fairly massive point deduction. On lower difficulty levels, it’s not a big deal, but when you play on higher ones, the stakes are raised and you can see the amount of kudos earned for playing a level plummet due to a single careless mistake.
In theory, the idea of having a shooter using your own music sounds a lot like Beat Hazard. However, while that series generated the tempo of the stage based on the music, Symphony doesn’t, instead crafting completely unique stages for every song. Between the two of them, there’s no real ‘better’ option – they’re each great for their own reasons. Changing a level’s pace based on the music is great, but I love always having to ‘on’ in Symphony, and the strange juxtaposition between having a really slow-paced song playing, but not being able to relax due to the crazy stuff happening on-screen. There’s rarely a moment to rest. The occasional boss battles in stages are another draw. You never know when one will pop up, but when it first happens, prepare to be creeped out when the demonic overlord says ominous stuff while sending an underling to destroy you. Boss battles are challenging, becoming much harder when they come in later and later into the song — giving you less time to finish them off in the process.
Outside of the player’s own music collection, Symphony’s genre-spanning soundtrack is pretty awesome. Default tracks like “Asymetric Mutation” will bring a much faster pace than something slower like the piano-heavy “Bokah Loop”. There’s some great techno as well, some dubstep and even some awesome indie rock from Prettydead Ferrari. It’s so good that I immediately put the included soundtrack on my MP3 player.
The music syncing feature is fast and for the most part, really well-integrated. Finding a song to play is fairly easy if you don’t have a huge collection – but if you have it splintered into a billion different folders like I do, you may find yourself spending a long time just going through your albums or artist listing. The best remedy for this is to just make a folder of stuff you’d like to listen to with this game. Sure, it’ll probably cut down on happy accidents like playing a few runs with Fiona Apple’s cover of “Frosty the Snowman” blaring, but it will cut down on your in-game folder clutter.
Symphony is stunning not only to hear, but look at as well. The overall color scheme for each level changes as your song goes on, and it results in smooth transitions from say a super-bright red to a slightly softer blue to then green and maybe some purple mixed in too. The screen is also full of life due to the many enemies, but there’s no slowdown due to them or the color transition. It’s also worth noting that the heavy almost-neon color scheme never gets so bright as to become distracting. The colors pop out of the screen and help give the game life during those few moments when that isn’t provided by enemies swarming all around you.
At $10, Symphony is an easy recommendation given all you get with the GOG bundle. It’s a unique and fun shooter boasting a far more vibrant color palette and better default soundtrack than Beat Hazard. Vertical shooter fans will adore it, as will those with extensive music collections. There’s just something so appealing about playing a game that gives you so much control over something so important to gaming – the music, and it makes the experience far more personal and enjoyable.