A blend of music game, twin stick shooter, and four-player dungeon crawler proves to be quite the mixture in this inventive new indie game.
Rhythm action and dungeon crawlers are two worlds which don’t collide nearly enough. Crypt Of The Necrodancer and Cadence Of Hyrule both demonstrated how this unlikely marriage can soar, where the repetitive nature of exploring dungeons for loot is matched to the pressure of maintaining a repetitive rhythm against the shuffle of your enemies.
On paper, Soundfall, from developer Drastic Games, is another irresistible variation on the concept. This time though, instead of being locked to a grid, you’re moving through procedurally generated levels like a twin-stick shooter – timing your gun blasts to music (with help from a metronome visual aid) to kill waves of enemies and collect loot from treasure chests. If you stay in time with the music, attacks will do double damage, dash manoeuvres will extend further, and you’ll orchestrate an elegant ballet of alien genocide while trapped inside a Clubland compilation.
Soundfall has a vibrant, upbeat setup to match its pulsating soundtrack, that’s crowbarred with musical puns. You play as one of five unlockable Guardians of Harmony, who have been sent to Symphonia to eradicate an alien race called the Discordians. Each Guardian’s story is stylised like a modern anime, with brief, impressive cut scenes whenever you unlock each of their unique weapons – from bows to guitars – across the various biomes.
You start with only one character, with others unlocked as you progress through the linear sequence of levels. Along with different aesthetics, each world is tied to a different musical style, with a beach filled with funk and jazz, a sky garden housing club bangers, and an explosive volcano shredding through rock.
The soundtrack is a mix of original songs and licensed music, and while it lacks any big names, it’s varied and accessible enough where you should easily find something suited to your tastes. If you’re particularly fussy, you can even import your own music to blast aliens to a tune of your choosing.
Not all of these musical styles gel with the gameplay though. As you might expect, bassline heavy dance songs and upbeat pop are perfectly suited to a game where your performance is tied to maintaining a rhythm – especially in combat when your mind is occupied on dodging attacks and aiming and flicking between weapons.
The effect of chaining attacks is more euphoric when tied to these tracks, whereas classical and rock music doesn’t have the same consistent momentum to support a title where you’re rhythmically whacking the triggers.
There’s a learning curve to Soundfall’s pace. The walking speed is annoyingly slow, so you’re encouraged to dash, while combat can be frustrating at the outset when you’re fighting the instinct to fire as you please. Some tips would have been welcome to assist the adjustment. We found shooting constantly throughout a level (and unashamedly bopping in our chair) helped nail the groove Soundfall shoots for.
It’s fun when it works, especially when synchronised in multiplayer, but despite its fun styling and lively dancing trees, Soundfall’s gunplay is oddly lifeless. There’s a variety of weapons – from burst machineguns to rifles with unique damaging effects – but none provide the satisfying kick or visual flourishes a repetitive looter shooter needs. Even powerful rifles feel like tepid pew-pew blasters when you’re in sync.
This undercuts the rewards for staying in rhythm. If you fire multiple shots offbeat, you’re temporarily blocked from shooting on a cooldown meter. The is reasonable in theory but without the satisfying feedback you’d hope for when you are in sync, cheesing becomes a crutch you’ll lean on more than intended. The situation does improve on higher difficulties, where the boosts from staying in rhythm become more essential, but the gameplay still feels less satisfying than it should when you’re blasting aliens to loud music.
Despite this, Soundfall has a promising foundation. Each biome throws new considerations into the mix, from oscillating turrets to door switches and showers of boulders. There’s a nice variety of enemies too, who, while largely formulaic in design, carry some charm as they dance away idly before they’re interrupted. The upbeat personality and slick presentation also helps alleviate the intrinsic repetition of the procedurally generated levels.
The charms of Soundfall go much further in multiplayer. There’s the option to team-up with friends locally or online, although there’s no matchmaking with randoms. There are plenty of levels to tackle, but solo players will likely run out of steam before they’ve reached the end – so the game’s high asking price is perhaps only worth it if you have others to partner up with.
Soundfall almost finds harmony as a musical dungeon crawler, but some aspects hold it back from nailing the performance. If you have friends to journey with this is a fun, lively spin on the formula but do be prepared for some bum notes.
Soundfall review summary
In Short: A stylish blend of rhythm action and dungeon crawler that misses a beat when it comes to satisfying gunplay.
Pros: Great presentation, with plenty of variety and versatility in the soundtrack. Local multiplayer co-op. Levels are pleasing on the eye.
Cons: Gameplay feedback is underwhelming. Not all of the soundtrack gels with the combat. Repetition quickly sets in for solo players.
Reviewed: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Publisher: Noodlecake Studios
Developer: Drastic Games
Release Date: 11th May 2022
Age Rating: 7
By Adam Starkey
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