In a world where casual has become the new hardcore and where hardcore is now more befitting of an experience rather than a group of people, we have Audiosurf. But what is Audiosurf? Believe it or not the title about nails the premise of the game, however for those of you who are skeptical let’s just say that Audiosurf is the chokingly simplistic bastard child of Bejeweled and Tetris combined with a signal crossing, synapse burning roller coaster ride that has been set to the beat of your favorite songs.
So we’ve got yet another music game, you getting tired of these yet? Our friends Guitar Hero and Rock Band seem to comprise one of the main pillars of the casual game craze so like it or not, these music-based games are here to stay. Enter Audiosurf, upon initial inspection it looks to be a cheap cash-in on the music game behemoth but upon closer inspection Audiosurf is an incredibly unique and oddly gratifying experience that keeps you coming back for more. Of course an explanation is probably in order as the thought of a music-based game that lacks a rhythm component is a little tough to wrap your head around at first.
To begin, there are three difficulty levels: Casual, Pro, and Elite. Each level of play offers several characters to choose from and each has their own abilities and strategies. Characters like Mono, who offers a slightly easier and more straightforward version of the game, appeal to the gamers who may not want a hectic and downright difficult experience. Conversely other characters like Pointman and Eraser serve up a challenging experience that will require both skill and cunning to overcome. Now the characters serve as vehicles that you will pilot through the song, an odd concept for certain. Using a bit of software that’s not really worth your time to try to understand, Audiosurf analyzes a song and creates a sort of racetrack with hills, valleys, twists, and turns all based on the speed, tempo, and general feel of the piece.
Peppered all over the tracks are colored blocks and these are the crux of the gameplay. By using your mouse or keyboard (Use the mouse, it’s far more responsive) you will steer your vehicle left and right across the track collecting colored blocks and attempting to line up three or more of the same color. Hot colors like red are worth the most points and cool colors like blue round out the bottom of the list, but if a big enough chain of like-colored blocks is made the point totals will shoot up. Of course it’s not just a block grabbing bonanza, if you overfill a column you will lose a large number of points and in some cases fail the song entirely. This is where character abilities come into play; the ability to move blocks around, erase incoming blocks, or shove blocks out of the way adds a good bit of strategy to Audiosurf that is as deep as the player wishes to make it.
Difficulty depends on many factors and ranges from the proverbial leisurely stroll in the park to a mad dash through a house of knives. The song that the player chooses though is also quite indicative of the game’s difficulty. Fast songs with jarring highs and lows can make even the easiest level of play a struggle while gentle and soothing melodies can be played on the hardest mode with relative ease. The rule of thumb when playing Audiosurf is that uphill climbs represent the slower and comparatively easy parts of the song whereas downhill drops mean that things are going to get rough.
Audiosurf appeals to the hardcore and competitive players as well, it’s not just for the casual. Online leader boards make for good competition and on the highest difficulty every point matters in the quest for the number one spot. A lack of proper multiplayer is disappointing though, especially considering the highly competitive nature of the game. While it is not entirely difficult to grab a friend and compare scores it would have been nice to have real-time multiplayer. Audiosurf does sport a two player mode which two people can play locally at the same computer using the mouse and keyboard (Controllers also work), however the player with the mouse has a distinct advantage what with its more natural feel and fluid movement. Still, the multiplayer issue is addressed in some way by offering a buddy system. After a simple registration process that takes about ten seconds the player is able to add friends to a friend list and keep track of their scores by selecting using a “friend” filter on the high score screen.
Really though, Audiosurf’s ace in the hole is the ability to upload your own music tracks to the game. This feature gives the game a near-infinite level of replay value as there are thousands upon thousands of songs that can be played. It takes about thirty seconds to load a song for the first time and thankfully Audiosurf remembers which songs have already been uploaded so subsequent play throughs see load times drop to mere seconds. The only real limit that players will face is that the game does not allow songs over twenty five minutes to be played.
Games that are this simple yet so very deep are a rarity nowadays, Audiosurf is one of those special titles that serves a large audience of diverse tastes. Anyone can enjoy this game and with the added incentive of playing your favorite songs the package is almost irresistible. Audiosurf is currently distributed on Steam for the low low price of ten dollars and a demo is available. On a “bang for your buck” basis Audiosurf is one of the best values around. There are a few problems with the game; leader boards often load improperly and some performance hiccups show up now and again. Thankfully though since Audiosurf is a part of the Steam network most of these problems can be addressed with a painless and simple update. Music lovers, gamers, and those looking for something different will find Audiosurf to be both enjoyable and engrossing. As a game Audiosurf is a worthy addition to any collection; as well it adds a new level to your favorite songs and offers a unique experience that, for all of its idiosyncrasies, makes perfect sense. Audiosurf is a fine example of innovation in gaming and media and its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, with this in mind is a MUST BUY.