By Alex Irish / January 11th, 2019
When you combine an dungeon crawling action RPG with rhythm action combat, you get Soundfall. It’s a most intriguing indie set for release sometime later this year. I recently had the opportunity to demo an early, three-level beta that demonstrates how this hybridization works. It marks the debut game from upstart studio Drastic Games, and if the beta is to go by, their forthcoming game looks mighty promising.
Across all three levels of the Soundfall beta, the goal remains the same: to navigate to the end point before the accompanying music track finishes. You’re secondary goal is to match in time your movement and attacks. Trying to match my action to the musical beats (represented by a rhythm game meter on-screen) was like patting my head and rubbing my tummy at once. If I performed these actions out of sync with the music, it felt like I was having a sloppier, lesser experience. It takes some getting used to, but when it clicked, I had a great time stepping in rhythm.
As Action RPGs do, I was slicing and dicing and shooting twin-stick style at various enemies big and small, while also smashing pots open to farm valuable loot. And as in action RPGs, my character levels up at the end of each run, which in the final game, I can assume will include some sort of skill trees and upgradable abilities. From the beginner-friendly opener level, the remaining two levels grew in complexity and difficulty, with more devious level designs and stronger enemies to deal with. Two of them, a beach area and a clouded grass area, do look a bit similar, I have to admit, but the middle chapter stands out as a dank, volcanic chamber. Across them all, I had nary a moment to rest, as the music and enemy encounters forced me on the move at every turn. It’s a lot to take in at first blush, for sure.
Fortunately, the controls are simple enough to get a grip on, mapped to a conventional action RPG scheme with attacks tied to the back triggers. Performing dodge moves proved to be the trickiest maneuver to get used to, tied to a front shoulder button, which created a disconnect to the rest of my moves. Directional shooting at enemies is simple enough, but the swordplay needs some work. I felt like my strikes were too laggy in trying to maintain rhythm with the meter. In the final game, I would guess the developers will make sword slashes snappier, the better to keep rhythm for the sake of performance.
There’s not much semblance of a story in the Soundfall beta, apart from a brief glimpse of traditional-looking animation in its opening video hinting at a greater narrative. Of course, story isn’t everything for the purposes of this beta, but in the final game, I’d be interested in how Drastic Games will flesh out the experience, perhaps taking additional cues from other action RPGs. A hub world for selling, buying, and upgrading would feel right at home here, along with more colorful characters to interact with when you’re not blasting and slicing monsters.
Soundfall also dabbles in multiplaying dungeon crawling, a smart addition that I had the opportunity to demo with two other players. The co-op in Soundfall is an exercise in unbridled chaos when everyone else is a first-timer. With enemies and effects flying everywhere, and only one playable character at this time, it’s hard to effectively keep track of everyone on screen. Two characters are locked in the selection (I couldn’t unlock them), but with the final game promising more characters to chose from, keeping track of where you are in a co-op game will be less of an issue.
While all three levels remain consistent within multiple playthroughs, one feature promised for the final game that’s not present here…is custom music importation. With your own music (presumed for the PC version), you’ll be able to make your own levels depending on the tracks you use. That opens up the floodgates for lots of video sharing and word-of-mouth for Soundfall‘s audience, not unlike a similar phenomenon that happened with the custom music levels popularly shown off in last year’s Beat Saber.
It’s hard to believe Soundfall is early in development, because based on the beta, it looks and sounds great. The visuals are bright and colorful, which includes the stylish character designs, enhanced with splashy effects work. The music itself, critical in a game like this, has a great, funky techno beat to motivate the action. This may sound presumptuous, but I foresee a collectible vinyl soundtrack release in Soundfall‘s future. And everywhere you look, there’s pulsating color in the style of a DJ’s equalizer that adds to the visual business, an explosion of sight and sound that elevates the world design and brings the music more to life.
Soundfall is not due for release until late 2019, but based on my two hours of play, it holds a lot of potential. Conceptually marvelous and attractive to behold, the potential for more wonderful music, tough-to-master combat, and a colorful aesthetic all synced together makes Soundfall more approachable than typical action RPGs like Diablo. Soundfall will shine even more with fleshed-out content and some needed polish. Who knows what other exciting ways Drastic Studios will expand on the project to make it bigger, deeper and better? The three level beta of Soundfall is a brief but promising look at what will surely catch player’s eyeballs when it arrives later this year.
Beta code for PC provided by developer
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