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Audiosurf review
Surfing The Audio Waves


Match three games are fairly commonplace these days. Thanks to Tetris laying the foundations, this sub genre of the block puzzle style has pretty much exploded, especially for the casual scene where they have scored a lot of success. We've seen quite a few spins on the idea, but none quite so "out there" as Audiosurf, whose whole premise revolves around building block patterns out of songs on your computer.

Sounds crazy but that's the gist of it. When you play a round of Audiosurf you can pick out a song from any of the drives hooked up to the computer and this will determine the style and rate of the blocks coming your way. This also serves as a way of setting the difficulty. Pick a slow gentle track and the game plays it very easy, with fewer blocks and a slower pace. Throw in hectic fast music and expect the blocks coming your way to be of a similar nature. It's certainly more impressive than a simple difficulty setting screen.

The game differs from most match 3 puzzle games in the way the field in presented too. Instead of a flat 2D screen you are instead controlling a vehicle on a racetrack, with the blocks sitting on the track. The vehicle moves forward by itself and chooses its own speed, so all you really have to worry about is sideways movement to pick up blocks. The keyboard arrow keys can be used for this, although using the mouse is generally better as it allows for much faster movement. Controls are nicely responsive and accurate so that's nice. A few vehicles will use an extra button for their special talents but nothing more than that which keeps things very simple.

Sitting below your vehicle at all times is a grid, where any blocks your vehicle touches get dropped into the relevant column of the grid. Match 3 colour blocks in any horizontal or vertical direction (even allowing for multiple directions, like L shapes) and they vanish, leaving behind points to add to your score. It's a pretty straightforward system that anyone can really get to grips with.

Time to get started clearing the blocks.

Like any good puzzle game of this style there is some tricks to high scoring. With most vehicles you have a variety of coloured blocks on the track. Blue blocks are easy to pick up and plentiful, resulting in easy chains, but are generally low scoring. Yellow and red blocks are fewer in number and harder to grab but successfully chaining them results in healthy additions to the score line. Upping the number caught in a single clearing and chaining combos can layer even more onto that. Simple and straightforward really for any fan of this genre but it is a system that works for what it does.

The end of race bonuses can be more awkward but rewarding for your total. You gain multipliers for things like if you finish with the grid empty or grabbing the majority of blocks of a certain colour. Though nailing these can come down more to memorising the way blocks come in a certain song rather than reflexes.

There are also a few other special items on the track. A black block can't be chained like the others but offers a point bonus if it hits the bottom of the grid, one power drops a bunch of same colour blocks into the grid and another changes the colour of every block currently in the grid to the same one, all for easy points if you spot them in time. These do help to vary things a bit.

You can also choose a type of vehicle which can offer a few different play styles, as well as doubling as a more traditional difficulty setting. Mono vehicles limit the types of blocks to a single colour for a simpler ride or you can control two at once to maximize point scoring chances. Having these options certainly allows it to mix it up a bit.

No, I need more points. =(

All sounds so nice, but the score doesn't seem to reflect it. Well, that is because once you go past the novelty of how the block patterns are formed, Audiosurf offers nothing new or addicting to the match 3 genre. It is unfortunate that my thoughts turned to "OK, so what else?". Maybe it’s because puzzle games have become complex creatures that the simplicity of this game is perhaps too much. It’s not a bad thing but it is hardly compelling either.

Difficulty is also another factor, in that you can’t really "fail" a track. The worst thing you can be hit with is accidentally filling up a column to full without a chain. Medal scores set by the game (determined by the track selected) try to help by giving targets to aim for, but with no real record of hitting them then it seems a bit pointless. There are the online leaderboards, which are independent for every single score and attempt to convince you to go for that one more go, but I just wasn't enticed too much by it. Part of that might be that playing a track that isn't properly tagged could easily land you a number 1 spot with no real effort and the sheer amount of leaderboards that exist anyway lowers the overall value of aiming for the top.

There really isn't that much variation in the game either. They try, but things like powerups can only go so far. The block layouts might change with the song but it always boils down to the same kind of match three things you've been doing since first loading the game.

Audiosurf has something of a psychedelic look to it. A lot of the game’s environment looks something akin to wire frames, with the visuals made up of neon lights filling the void. Thankfully the creators didn’t overstuff the background which would likely have made it distracting so that is good, although you can certainly expect the track to twist around in all directions. There is also an excellent draw distance which makes spotting upcoming blocks much easier.

In terms of audio this really depends on your own music collection, since that is what you’ll be racing to. What this means is that the music is as epic as you want it to be, and I really think it is awesome to be able to play along to your own tracks.

The system requirements seem to be fairly good. I had no problems running the game at decent settings and everything moved along smoothly. You do have a variety of options you can customize to better suit your hardware setup as well.

I suppose what you get out of Audiosurf really depends on what you’re looking for. It seems perfect for people eager to try their hand at smashing through the online leaderboard scores. Anyone else will probably derive some entertainment from it for a while but may find it too repetitive to play for too long. It does come with an attractive low price which might convince gamers to try it out for the novelty, but just be aware of what you’re getting for that money.

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