Soundfall blends chaotic bullet-hell action-RPG dungeon-crawling – try and say that with a straight face to your mum when she asks what you’re playing – with the universal language of music. And it works disgustingly well. Like, really, really well.
Release Date: Once The Volume Hits 11 (Spring 2022)
Developer: Drastic Games
Availability: PSN, Microsoft Store, Nintendo eShop, Steam
I sat in on a media preview and watched a gameplay demo presented by the developers at Drastic Games, and while I liked what I saw and heard, I was sceptical. How could a game literally run to the beat of the music? That’s the core of Soundfall – it’s all built around the beat. Everything. Every enemy attack can be placed to the beat of whichever tune is running. Every level is procedurally generated and built around the music. The layouts and what kind of enemies you’ll run into, also built around the music. It’s impressive, and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an early press demo build so I could see it for myself.
The game follows the story of Melody, a young lady who is working a dead-end job but her real passion is music. There’s a music show that her friend thinks she should apply for, but Melody suffers from stage fright and lacks the confidence to put herself out there. Then… she’s whisked away to Symphonia, the magical land of music. Is she on mushrooms? Maybe. I haven’t gone too far into the story – I’ll save that for the full release. For this preview, I just wanted to get a feel for the gameplay.
My time with the demo was a quick play of the tutorial and then I tried every available track in Free Play mode. Yes, there are multiple game modes, and multiplayer if you’ve got the buddies to back you up. There’s couch co-op and online play, neither of which I was able to test, but that’s OK because Soundfall still works beautifully as a single-player game.
It’s a twin-stick shooter and you make your way through the levels while blasting baddies to the beat. If you can keep to the beat, you’ll be rewarded. Your attacks do at least double the normal damage, and you’ll get better loot at the end of your run. A higher scoring run of a level will give you extra Exp and the like, allowing you to level up your character and equip better gear. Standard RPG stuff, then.
To help you keep to the mystical Beat, there’s a metronome at the bottom of the screen that serves as a visual aid. As I played the PC demo with an Xbox One controller, I also got the physical feedback from the controller’s vibrations. I’d also argue that the metronome isn’t really needed. I did use it a couple of times early on, but once I got into the game and started to “feel” it, it was just second nature, and my trigger finger became the extra bit of percussion to every track. There’s also the visual feedback from the levels, with trees and the like pulsing to the beat. You don’t need to look at the metronome – just look at what the trees are doing. Nature, man!
Now for me, Soundfall was very easy to fall into step with. I’m a bit of a music man myself – I’m fairly good at the piano – so I have a natural ear for musical timing. The downside is that I often wanted to improvise, add my own flair, pretend I’m better than I am. This… is not allowed. Well, it is, but it’s not beneficial, which is a shame.
What I particularly liked was that each level is supposed to be completed within the running time of the track. So, if a song is four minutes long, I knew it was expected that I could complete the level before the track looped over. That’s a great thing to know; that I’ll be able to have a quick go if that’s all I want. As an adult and a father of a very demanding five-year-old, I have to grab TV time when I can. Those precious few minutes where he’s drawing on a wall, wrapping string around his finger to see what happens, or flushing random objects down the toilet, that’s when I get my TV time, and I suppose it’ll be nice to have a soundtrack to his antics.
The downside to Soundfall is that not every track is going to be for every player. At least that’s what I thought. A few minutes in and I was doing the whitest thing I’ve ever done – I was popping my shoulders like a Dad at a wedding disco as I blasted baddies away to the beat. The shame. And it wasn’t even to The Killers, who, sadly, do not feature on the soundtrack. Not yet anyway. But they will.
The beauty of Soundfall, on PC at least, is that players will be able to import their own music into the game. The fancy algorithms will run the ones and zeros and produce levels around those tracks, with everything falling into step with the beat. Sadly, this feature will not be available on consoles, and I didn’t even get to try it out using the PC demo, but I guarantee I will be playing through every single song by The Killers when the game releases. Even the crap songs. All two of them.
There’s a lot to like about Soundfall and I’m genuinely looking forward to the full release. It’s that special kind of indie game that just would not get made by a big studio. Yes, we’ve had countless Guitar Hero and Rockband games, but to build a dungeon crawler RPG around music, that’s a tricky one to get right and, if I’m being honest, a hard sell, but my goodness it looks like the developers have actually gone and done it.
Disclaimer: This preview was carried out using an early build of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested: PC.