Soundfall – Shooting To The Rhythm

An interview by Jack Boyles.

The rhythm game at one point was a profitable move. Drunkards playing guitar hero in pubs, Sing Stars own YouTube and Bongo playing fun; rhythm-based games were social gaming at its best.

Students in their dorms or families at Christmas were all jamming out on plastic peripherals. Like all gaming fads, rhythm games became oversaturated. People moved on and the peripherals found a new home in your local pawn shop or market. However, in the past few years, a resurgence in rhythm games has started brewing amongst a certain gaming crowd and one such game is brewing in a cauldron; that game is Soundfall.

Developers Drastic Games have set their ambitious busy minds on reinvigorating the rhythm genre. As Soundfall isn’t just a typical rhythm game, it’s a twin-stick shooting, dungeon crawler rhythm game where you blast enemies to the beat of the music. And it bloody well works.

In Soundfall, you must run around these Sci-fi/Fantasy procedurally generated landscapes, destroying enemies, staying alive and grabbing loot. Yet to get serious points, it’s all about blasting to the beat.

First, it all seems overwhelming; enemies chasing you, bullets flying everywhere and keeping to a beat seems like a lot to take in. Then composure settles in, you start to see the word ‘Good’ pop up, you get into the flow, now the word ‘Great’ and then before you know it, everything in its right place.

This was no easy feat, speaking with Nick Cooper, he and his partner Julian Trutmann had tough questions they had to answer themselves:

“In an action game like ours, there are a lot of things to manage. Like enemies spawning in, environmental hazards and exploration, and making everything smooth, and seamless by paying attention to that — and still paying attention to the music was a big challenge.

“How do we communicate that visually? How do we communicate that through sound? Also, a big challenge to communicate was ‘ohh, you hit your action onbeat not offbeat’, how do we make that clear and at the same time not making noise, in terms of both effects and sounds; not to see or hear what’s going on. To make that distinction whilst not being overwhelmed was a challenge”.

It’s that fine balance Drastic Games absolutely level. Looking at the game and playing is intense but you grasp it so suddenly that it just proves the talent of these two developers. Within a good minute, you’ll be running around blasting enemies away like some Colonel composing Moonlight Sonata with Navy Missile Launchers; basking in a sensory overload.

As ex-Epic employees who have worked on Fortnite and Gears of War; Drastic Games know the importance of quality and accessibility.

“[We want the game to be] easy to learn, difficult to master. We want to satisfy those hardcore players who want it to be crazy rhythm, bullet hell. But we also want to satisfy the player who want to pick up and jam out to their favorite tunes”.

Soundfall is a game beaming with life, from its use of colours, the environments, character and enemy design. This game art style is like a good fresh glass of juice; revitalizing. It’s tone perfectly complements the premises of the game. The main characters are instantly recognizable in their sci-fi body suits and giant swords. Enemies in the game dance towards you in a cute kind of way; it has the charisma of a Saturday morning cartoon.

Yet it’s how all of this works together that creates a sense of cohesion. Talking about these elements in the aesthetic, Nick said:

“How do we make it so everything in the world behaves in time with the music. We want enemies to act on the beat, we want trees in the background to dance on beat, we want other hazards to act on beat; we want everything to be all tied in with the sound”.

This pulsation in the design pumps you up — it helps you understand the beat. A small touch that’s nothing short of genius.

For demo purposes, only dance music was available, albeit a little inoffensive for me, it creates the perfect soundtrack to the concurrent presentation. It’s all energetic, capturing the essence of what Soundfall is, a pick up and play fun time.

When asking how they chose the music for Soundfall, Nick said:

“We found a bunch of up-and-coming artists we thought were a great fit for the game and art style. We plan on having a wide variety of music to play in Soundfall”.

The demo I played was nothing short of brilliant. I’m not much of a twin-stick shooter guy but here there is enough going on for me to want to play the game.

Soundfall is incredibly polished in every aspect. I found myself bopping along to the music and dispatching enemies as I went from segment to segment, zipping through lasers, collecting loot and beat-blasting enemies.

Above all, you can’t help but feel that this is something special and will be a hit among many a gamer. The title is already building some buzz, with YouTube videos of a family dancing to the trailer and people cosplaying the characters; a hit, I’m sure it will be.

To listen to the full interview click here.

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Floor Kids Review [Nintendo Switch] – A Hip, Head Bobbing Good Time

The rhythmic genre found in gaming has recently been regarded as that of a sore spot to much of the gaming community. Sure, we have excellent parties to throw revolving around Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution, but how long has it been since either of those titles or any of the other music-based titles have been even remotely relevant in recent memory? Well, leave it to the Nintendo Switch to bring back the curve of rhythmic button smashing, but instead of hardy rock ‘n’ roll, we now have hip break-dancing in, Floor Kids.

While the overall premise of Floor Kids is straight forward enough – break-dance to the backtrack, pull off slick combos and moves by pressing the appropriate buttons at the right time, earn enough points to win – the game provides an excellent combination of modern edginess and trivial gameplay. Players choose their break-dancer from a selection of characters whose attributes range in four different skill classes. The four classes are also the four styles of break-dancing moves players can pull off in the break-dancing battles.

Popping off combinations of top rock and down rock moves is as easy as keeping the beat of the song with the proper face buttons.
Time to Bust Out Some Moves

Top rock, down rock, power moves and freezes are the four move sets each player has available to them. Top rock has players dancing at a standing position, on two feet, while Down rock takes the agile break-dancer down on all fours. Each of these two positions have four separate dance moves for every one of the eight playable characters, and are accomplished by tapping one of the four face buttons in coordination with the beat of the song. Simply tapping one of the buttons will have players performing top rock, but holding the down motion on the left analog stick while tapping a face button switches to the down rock position. An easy configuration that keeps the dancer from going idle and losing precious points.

The other two positions are Power and Freeze, but these two are performed in slightly different methods. Power refers to the dizzying motion when break-dancers spin for what seems like an eternity on their head, shoulders or hands. By rotating the left stick in either direction, the dancer then begins their own rendition of the power position. By holding down either the L or R shoulder buttons, the dancers will change into an alternate power move to add even more flavour to the performance.

Lastly, the freeze stance is the act of holding a position completely still in the middle of the song. By holding down one of the four face buttons along with the corresponding direction on the left analogue stick, the character will hold out a freeze move. These are crucial to time perfectly, as holding them out too long will result in the dancer toppling over, thus ending a combo and losing points. Combining the freeze moves together is especially fun, watching as your dancer seamlessly shifts from one handstand position to the next.

The four different stances take the dancers between flashy dance moves, even spinning atop one’s head.

Combining and switching between the four different stances successfully strings together combos and accumulates points. Bouncing your fingers to the beat while changing between moves is rewarding and all-too captivating of a ride. Watching as your hand-sketched character throws down their best moves to the DJ Kid Koala tracks, you can’t help but bob your head along to the beat. As cultured and fun the combo busting break-dancing is, however, the solid tapping beat rarely, if at all, changes rhythm from song to song. What does change is the snappy chorus parts that, if done properly, deal a huge portion of points to your overall score.

Tons of Awesome Tracks to Kick It To

Every song in Floor Kids lasts around 3 minutes or so, and each has two unique chorus sections. Taking place about halfway through and one at the end, the chorus sections mix up the strategy by adding distinct beats to the song at hand. By tapping in the correct positions (marked with an ‘X’ on the screen) players will add a bit more swagger to the dancing routine. While the overall beat stays the same – though the songs indeed change – the chorus acts as the game-changer in the songs.

The chorus sections require the player to hit the desired notes at appropriate moments in the song.

The lay of the land, so to speak, in Floor Kids is divided into a flurry of different settings in which these break-dancing battles take place. Each setting has three different songs to get down and earn your place on the cardboard. Players are scored out of a 5 star rating system based on their total score. By unlocking a certain amount of stars in total, the following venue then opens up. From grocery stores and art centers, to arcades and music studios, Floor Kids has a variety of settings, each with their own unique character to unlock.

At the start of the trivial campaign, players choose one of the eight playable characters, which then locks the unchosen seven. After obtaining 3 or more stars on certain levels, characters will unlock pieces of Breakdeck cards. Four pieces of the card deck will unlock a new character, each one varying in specific skills. While the progression system found in Floor Kids is a nice touch to the otherwise simple campaign, the ease of unlocking all of the characters hardly presents a challenge. Good thing the tunes are extra catchy.

In single-player mode, characters are unlocked in the Breakdeck by achieving high enough scores to earn a piece of a character card.
Let the Battles Begin…at the Scratch of the Record

For those looking to indulge in a little friendly competition with friends, a multiplayer Battle mode is available. Each player will choose a character of their liking and set out to dance like they’ve never danced before. In battle mode, each player has two chances to strut flashy moves in retaliation to their adversary, but not without a little dangerous interference from said foe.

While engaging in break-dance combat, looking for crowd requests for extra points to boost your score and keeping every move fresh and “crispy”, the opponents are capable of hurling giant fireballs – known as “Burns” – at the dancer on the floor. The opponent player taps any button to the beat to fill up their burn meter, and once full the player is then ready to launch the burn ball away. However, the dancing player, if paying attention, can trigger a shield to completely block the Burn attack when timed perfectly.

In Battle mode, the dancer on break is able to build up their “Burn” meter and launch disrupting fireballs at their opponent.

With this unique added element, the two player battle mode really shines. The dances are tense and hectic, way more than the simple idea would lead on. Pumping to the beat, switching stances to the crowd’s liking and keeping your guard up from the inevitable “burn ball” headed your way is truly a rewarding phenomenon if accomplished successfully. Not many rhythm games have this much depth of competition in such a simple sequence of events, but Floor Kids absolutely delivers a remarkable 2-player experience.

All in all, Floor Kids is an excellent addition to anyone’s Switch library. A cute little game with modern hip-hop tunes, and a method of dancing that, until now, haven’t seen very much light of day. The rhythmic stylings of Floor Kids revive a genre that seems to have drifted away with the likes of Rocksmith and SingStar. Easy enough for anyone to pick up and play, the beat-bopping tunes and awesome sketched-out visuals from the creative mind of the artist, JonJon, Merj Media has provided a unique form of entertainment to the ever-growing selection of Switch titles.