Soundfall is a rhythm based looter shooter with RPG elements that just came out last week (I know, shocker! A game that’s not twenty plus years old!). That’s a lot of add-ons, and it’s also a lot of add-ons that really appeal to me as a player. I grew up during the whole Dance Dance Revolution/Rockband phase, so I naturally have played my share of rhythm games, and just a few weeks ago I wrote up that review for Nine Parchments, which is essentially one of those shooters. Heck, when I looked at this game, I thought it looked like Nine Parchments with rhythm, which I was more than down for.
The story begins with Melody, who has given up her dream music audition because she has to work as a barista. Just as she puts on her headphones for a moment, she’s transported to the world of Symphonia. There, a local resident named Legato explains that Melody is a Guardian of Harmony; she’s given a blaster and told the rid the Songs of Discordians, which are these kinda cute looking guys that pop up.
We follow Melody as she gathers the other four Guardians of Harmony, two of which she already knows (one is a coworker, the other her kid sister), and they join together harmoniously to fend off Discord from the world, in order to safe guard music and allow new songs to be made and pop into the world.
The story’s pretty well done, and probably more than a game with mechanics like this really needs. Most people are going to pick this up for the various mechanics (which is why I put those second this time). However, I still liked a lot of the nods. The game has this sort of awareness to the script, with the various Guardians commenting on the kinds of music that get dropped, the trickiness of picking up the play style, and how they’re progressing through things.
Most of the story is actually told through talking heads like those shown above. There’s no voice acting, which is a bit of a surprise in a game so focused on sound. My buddy and I simply took over speaking a few of the characters’ dialogue aloud instead, which we enjoyed, but that was more us taking advantage of something that may be kind of lacking. The story does feel pretty good though, and the characters are moderately distinct from a story focus, each given their moment to develop further.
They’re not quite as unique from a gameplay standpoint.
Every character can equip up to two different sound blasters, which are pretty much guns. While there are technically hundreds of these guns, it’s more that they just randomize various abilities and slap them on the same four types: quarterizers, which are basic lasers that hit to a beat; boomblasters, which are slightly heavier shots; repeaters, which have an interesting mechanic that involves holding down the shot button; and spread fire weapons, which fire three to five shots at once.
I found myself wishing there was a bit more variety to the weaponry offered. Once you get settled into a particular type of gun or find some with good abilities, there’s not a lot of incentive to switch out for quite a while. It took me a bit to figure out the repeaters, but then I always had at least one on a loadout (my current loadout actually has two). It really feels like there should be some more variety there.
The characters themselves try to add some variety by each including a separate personal weapon. These are their Instruments of Harmony, which match up with whatever style of music the character creates in the real world. Jaxon, resident rocker, gets an ax; Lydia, the cellist, gets a bow. There’s some variety in how these play out for the most part: the shield controls different than the sword controls different than the ax. But two characters: starting character Melody and last recruit Ky have weapons that are functionally identical, including their supposedly original supers.
When there’s only five characters, having two that control almost identically feels like a poor decision. Why couldn’t they have granted one or the other a more original ability or setup? Within seconds of playing Ky, I pointed out that they could’ve easily given him dual discs to wield (he’s a modern DJ who uses a synthesizer) that you have to fling out and catch on beat. I’m not a game designer, and I came up with a better weapon than his copycat scythe within minutes.
Fortunately, the actual gameplay loop is incredibly addicting and well worth the time. As you can see above, sometimes it gets absolutely frantic and bonkers, particularly on a fast paced song or near the end of a particular sub-world. Your character of choice bounces around the map, moving to the beat of whatever song is playing. One button fires your equipped sound blaster, another uses your unique weapon (usually melee save for Lydia), another dashes, another switches weapons, and the last button unleashes your super. It’s all fairly simple and easy to pick up.
It can take a few levels to get adjusted to shooting to a beat and doing, well, just about everything to the beat. The game does a pretty good job easing you in with a few lighter songs that are low on Discordians, so by the time things kick up, you’re pretty much ready for it. I found myself jamming along and really getting into the groove of pretty well every song that came along.
I’ve seen some reviews complain about enemy variety, but I personally didn’t see that as an issue. It really felt like there was just enough difference in the various enemy types, and they did occasionally sneak in some new ones. There’s not dozens of different types, but that’s not really what the game is going for (you could say the same with the guns, but in a game that revolves so heavily around shooting mechanics…)
It’s also worth noting that the game has a pretty solid auto-aiming feature, which snaps your character’s aim onto whatever enemy is closest. This lets the player better focus on matching the beat and getting the right weapon for the circumstance at hand. It had this bad habit of just not working in later levels for me for inexplicable reasons, one of a handful of bugs I encountered during my playthrough (another involved having the graphics for my weapon stop appearing for a while).
Matching the beat increases your damage, lets your dodge work well, and essentially builds everything. It’s really based around that concept, and it can get addicting to match it. It’s a bit of a shame that their ending evaluations are so wrapped up in mastering this though: in order to get higher than the second tier, you have to match every note or keep a chain of matched notes and killed enemies going for the entire song. In my playthrough, this happened to me exactly once, and that was on replaying a stage so my friend could unlock Jaxon.
Another major downside for me was the boss. Yes, singular: there’s probably a couple throughout the game, but we only faced one in our playthrough thus far. She’s been built up throughout the game, sending waves of minions after our heroes and chuckling about her plans. When she finally meets the characters, she drops this:
I was visibly excited after she said that. The villain was going to get her own song number in a game based around music! The idea of playing this chaotic shooter to a villain song just made me grip my controller all the tighter and lean in….
… to hear the absolute worst collection of noise the game had produced thus far. It barely even counted as music, essentially just giving the tick of the metronome. I can understand if the Discordians are against music or whatever, but this whole thing just ran counter to the experience we’d had thus far. We found ourselves shooting a singular bullet sponge enemy to a constant, singular noise. It was grating, it was awful, it was boring, it was several other adjectives you most assuredly don’t want attached to a video game.
They built that fight up so much we actually thought she was the final boss (which was stupid given that we hadn’t unlocked more than about sixty or so songs at that point and were only in the mid-twenties for level). And the pay off was just… bad.
That being said, the pluses still really overcame the negatives for me. The music is surprisingly varied. It’s not just EDM or pop, though those two dominate, but there’s an entire area that thrives on laid-back beach jams and lounge music (awful), and another that uses “classical” music that was most often folk (better). Yet another did rock music; there’s some pop-punk in there, and there were even some international tunes: we played one song that my friend identified as sounding like “the opening them to an anime” and another was very much Indian music. Seriously, if you’re not liking the current music, just play a few levels and it’ll change (or go into the free play).
Supposedly you can also upload your own music if you play it on a computer, which makes me actually tempted to get it on there as well as the Switch version I played. Jamming to songs I actually know and love would be great.
The game really vibes, and it’s addicting in its elements, from rewarding you with a variety of gear to fun songs to characters with some personality. It all comes together for a pretty good package, which is what makes those few elements that don’t quite work stand out all the more. If the final boss is as bad as Banshee was, it’s really going to be a disappointment.
Soundfall’s worth a purchase, though probably more on sale than at the usual $29.99 they’re asking for (we bought it during a launch sale for $25 and thought it worth it).
8 great game with too many glaring flaws to be much better than that; still a blast to play with friends or alone if you’re into the rhythm