Let me start off by saying, I love music. I have a ton of it I’ve picked up over the years. Music games however, are another story. I’m not big on dancing, and so the Just Dance games, Dance Central, and even the hallowed Dance Dance Revolution were never my cup of tea. Oh I’ve played them with friends, and relatives. I’ve even managed to eek out a little bit of enjoyment while making a fool out of myself. I’ve actually had fun with a couple of the Guitar Hero, and Rock Band editions at family gatherings. I’m not calling any of these games terrible. They’re all pretty good, save for a few lackluster Guitar Hero, and Rock Band entries.
But why do these otherwise great music games fail to gel with me? The more I thought about it, the more I realized it isn’t the mechanics, or how they play. They actually play wonderfully, and are generally a fun enough time. I found a major reason has probably been the set lists in many of them. Before you start booing me, and throwing rotten vegetables at your monitor or smartphone in disgust I’m not calling all of the music in those games bad. I like a lot of the classic rock in the games of pretend instruments. I recognize the talent the choreography, and singing in dance music requires. A lot of the club music in these dancing games is honestly not bad, it’s just that some of it wasn’t made for me. Which is fine.
PROS: Multitude of modes. You can use your personal library.
CONS: You won’t pretend to play an instrument or dance.
ERASURE: Always + Runner mode = Robot Unicorn Attack reference.
If you were to peruse my music collection though, you might find a lot of it unrecognizable. Well, depending on who you are. I know there are many people out there with music collections much larger than mine. But a lot of the albums in my collection were originally put out by small labels like Lookout!, SST, Epitaph, and Sub Pop. I even have a few otherwise mainstream albums, and EPs that were originally self-published in my collection. Such as the Gin Blossoms’ Dusted. So while I love Rock Band for letting me play The Cars’ Just what I needed, or Just Dance for letting me fail at being Morten Harket during Take On Me, I could never jam on the esoteric stuff in those games.
Audosurf 2 lets me do that. Along with everyone else. It’s a different kind of rhythm game than most. You don’t need plastic instruments. You don’t jump on a screen printed mat. You don’t have to line up dance moves on a camera. Instead you get something that plays like a traditional racing game. Except not really.
Audiosurf 2 combines the racing of F-Zero, the obstacle dodges of Beamrider, the colored blocks of Guitar Hero, and the key component of Vib Ribbon. You race a futuristic hover car over giant blocks for points, and try to dodge obstacles. Hitting obstacles makes you lose those points. What does any of this have to do with music? Well, when a song is chosen, the game creates a course based on the structure, tempo, beat, and even melody of the music within. Every song will resort in a unique track. Even a cover of a song will have differences over the original. Sometimes wildly. The layouts of the blocks you pick up, as well as the obstacles you need to dodge go right along in time with the song.
The hover car will even slow up, or speed up during tempo changes. It’s surreal. But don’t think you can cut corners, and make the game simple by using slow songs. Because no matter what you play, the game is crafty. It will put a bunch of obstacles near something you want to collect. It will start making the road bumpy because that slow song you chose has plenty of bouncy moments in the melody. And it still might get quick anyway. Not only are you collecting blocks, but there is a puzzle element as well. Along the bottom of the screen where your hover car moves are columns. Every time you collect a block you fill a chunk of a column. You want to try to combine as many as you can in a set number of time to score combo points. Hitting spikes impedes this, as well as cost you points. So you’ll need to do your best not to hit them. Although there are a handful of times you might want to do so to clear a space. There are also Turbo blocks that will speed boost your vehicle for more points.
The game has two ways for you to find a song to use. The easiest, and best way is to use your own personal collection. All you need to do is go through your music folder, or wherever else you may have put your purchased song files. Pick a song, and the game will let you preview it, as well as tell you if anyone has raced along to it yet. If they have, you’ll see a list of players who have done exactly that. Because the game will upload your score. Other people who have that song, can then race it, to try to beat your score.
This is where the game’s biggest strength is. Everybody enjoys music of some kind, and so nobody is left out. Obviously for the competitive internet aspect of it, popular songs are still going to be preferred. Because more people will have those songs, so it leads to more competition. Sound cloud also has a major presence here. When you search for a song that isn’t in your personal library, it will scour the site for it. With so many independent people using it, you can get a wide variety of new experiences. There are popular songs on there as well, but these are going to be covers, with the rare exception.
Some people might be disappointed at that. But it works in the developer’s favor, since they don’t have to worry about the labels coming down on them for using songs they don’t have a license for. As a user you’re free to use whatever you want, so long as you’ve legitimately bought the music. And if you’re like me you’ve bought a lot of albums over the years. There’s also the fact that you’re not beholden to a game based e-merchant to buy the songs you want to use. Songs that you can’t export to other games or listen to separately.
But that’s not all, because this game keeps giving. The main game mode has variants. There’s an easier mode for beginners, as well as a Ninja mode, where you get bonus points for not hitting a single spike during a song. Then there is a unique mode where you ride a wakeboard, and can jump waves for more points. But one of the coolest modes is the runner mode. In this mode up to four people can play with gamepads. You have to jump over, and duck under hurdles sent your way. Each time you screw up you lose points. You start with a million points, and it counts down with every mistake. the person who loses the least points wins. You really should check it out. As with the main modes this mode gives you a track based upon the song that has been loaded.
I would end things there, but Audiosurf 2 has even more stuff. Puzzle games. There are four variants of the same mode, but each has you matching up color blocks that you race over during the song of choice. You have to try to set up combos the way you would in things like Puyo Puyo. You can drop blocks if you raise a column too high with the wrong color too. If you’re into balancing driving with puzzling it might be for you. Personally, I found this the least likable mode, but the game does get recognition for trying something.
If ALL of that wasn’t enough for you, the game has an extensive mod community around it. So there are even more modes, and skins you can get for the game if you’re not sated by everything you’re given from the outset. By the way, each mode already comes with some skins for you to use. I do like that there is an option to search for skins in the Steam Workshop. Audiosurf 2 is a very colorful bright game. The minimalist visual design really works in its favor, giving players something akin to an Electronica enthusiast jukebox look. Visuals still look great at lower resolutions, and with lower settings.
But the mods, and skins are a great way for people to personalize the game even further. My hope is that someone with talent makes a skin that removes the fast flashing, and replaces it with something equally cool. I have a friend with Epilepsy who would love to play more musical rhythm games, but doesn’t due to the flashing lights. Hopefully, someone eventually thinks of this, because the game is awesome. Even more people would be able to play it if it had an option for people with colorblindness, and for people with Epilepsy. If not, then maybe we’ll see it in a third game.
Aside from a missed opportunity, there really isn’t much to complain about. It controls well. The sound quality is great, and the tracks it designs for you to play are a wonderful balance between fun, and difficulty. If you’ve been waiting for a music game because your favorite artists have been M.I.A. in other series, then pull the trigger on Audiosurf 2.
Final Score: 9 out of 10