Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Review: Groove Coaster (iPad/ iPhone)

Unbelievably stylish
Square Enix-owned Taito is one of the very best app store developers. It's not the most prolific, but the studio that invented the humble Space Invaders all those years ago has already produced the incredible Mikado Defenders and Space Invaders: Infinity Gene for the Apple App store.

The genius behind that Space Invaders reinvention, Reisuke Ishida, is on the path to serious fame with his new effort, Groove Coaster, completely blowing any other rhythm game out of the water. Groove Coaster has flown in under the radar, but the combination of brilliant music and stylish visuals sets it out as something wholly unique and invigorating.

The gameplay itself is nothing new. Your avatar (selected from a range of retro-cool icons) moves on a single line in time with the music. At various points, you'll need to tap the iPad or iPhone screen in time with the throbbing music beat (represented on screen by a coloured circle sitting on the line the avatar is moving along) to increase your combo rating and score.




Sometimes you'll need to hold your finger on the screen, but that's all the interactivity this game demands. It might not sound like much, but it gets difficult. The higher difficulty levels can be downright brutal in the musicality they require of the player, and much like Nintendo's popular Rhythm Tengoku/ Rhythm Heaven games, it is the musicality that is being tested here and not a mastery over tricky controls or buttons; it's almost possible to play the game without looking at the screen.

Challenge aside (and for less hardcore players, the low level difficulties are very accessible - a problem the Rhythm Tengoku games have never managed to effectively control), the real appeal of this game is the visuals, and the soundtrack itself. Anyone who played Space Invaders: Infinity Gene will instantly recognise Ishida's work; the man manages to combine retro-cool style with modern effects and colour like none other. This is the kind of game that would suit an art gallery and an interactive art exhibition.

The music also suits perfectly, with humming, charming beats that you'll quite happily play at full volume and make your ears bleed over. Additional tracks are also available to purchase as DLC, adding even more value to an already impressive package. The only disappointment would be the lack of a "use your own music" mode. This was such a great feature in Space Invaders: Infinity Gene that it's a pity not to see it return here. The range of music is impressive, too. Across the dozen plus tracks in the initial download is everything from club beats to R & B and more gentle, lyrical and even romantic tracks. This is the kind of game you want the CD soundtrack for.

The game features great Game Center integration too, adding more value to the game as more of your friends make the purchase. A company founded in 1953, Taito is really coming into its own under Square Enix. Where other publishers and developers struggle to mix in retro with the modern, Taito and Ishida have mastered it and turned it into a pure art form. There is nothing on the iPad or iPhone with a stronger visual aesthetic and mastery of music.

Utterly essential.



                           







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