One of my favorite movies is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s one sequence that stands out more than the dramatic evolution of Man and HAL’s chilling murder of the Discovery’s science crew. Upon reaching Jupiter, Dave Bowman – the ship’s only survivor – discovers the mysterious Monolith hovering in orbit above Jupiter. Determined to unlock the object’s secret, Bowman’s attempt to probe the Monolith sends him careening through hyperspace, a dazzling sequence comprised beautifully eerie special effects.
I bring up this part of the film because that’s what Dyad essentially is: a journey through a series of vivid tunnels at breakneck speeds. This “tunnel racing shooter” is a speed freak’s dream that requires the player to be constantly moving forward, making use of different power-ups in order to accomplish a simple goal: move as fast as possible. The hypnotic spectacle is combined with a dynamic soundtrack that results in a psychedelic experience that no other video game has done before.
Dyad is broken up into twenty six levels, each with its own set of individual courses. A typical course begins with a main stage that must be completed in order to advance and open up additional bonus tracks. Success is largely determined by in-game performance towards specific objectives, whether they be based on earning a good race time or performing an action within a specified threshold. Although there are a wide variety of objectives, the real point of the level is to best pre-defined scores. Doing so will grant a star-based rank, with three being the best, one the bare minimum. Earning are three stars unlocks trophy levels that are considerably more challenging than the main track. There’s also a freestyle Remix track that allows you to tweak various level settings.
No matter which gameplay variant you’ll encounter, the core of the game involves zipping along a neon-infused tunnel filled with glowing orbs. By tagging two of the same color, your organic noodly craft will earn a boost of speed. As you progress through the game, additional power-ups designed to increase your momentum (as well as impede your progress) will appear, all with their own set of rules and actions. There’s also a boost maneuver (called “Lancing”) that lets you burst through orbs to earn additional score bonuses and quick speeds. Dyad introduces these power ups gradually, but by the end of the game the once sparse tunnels will be filled with all sorts of bizarre and helpful objects.
Dyad is a game that earns its epilepsy warnings. The numerous courses are often wildly vivid and infused with all sorts of color combinations that bleed, fade and combine with one another in a psychedelic fashion. I’ve never done hallucinogenic drugs before, but I imagine the explosions of color reflect the results of ingesting a drop or two of LSD. As beautiful as the game can be, there are times when it gets to be too much. One level in particular saw my crafter moving faster and faster down a tunnel. Colors melted into one another and repeated lancing techniques turned the screen neon pink with bright white sparkles and stars. It’s almost enough to turn away lest your brain melts from over stimulation.
To put it mildly, Dyad is an amazing experience. The number of tracks combined with the difficulty of earning top marks makes for maximum playability. My only real issue with the game is that it initially presents the concept of matching orb pairs as a deliberate and methodical practice. But that mindset goes right out the window as you scream down pathways and orbs fly by at terrible speeds, turning the gameplay into a button masher. There’s no real time to think about matching pairs and as such, you’ll blindly shoot at objects in order to create nonstop ziplines, boost extenders and invincibility shields. Make sure to keep an ice pack and muscle relaxers on hand because your fingers will get tired.
Dyad is a fantastic debut for ][ studios (that’s read as Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket) and fulfills a gamer’s inner delight for speed. The infusion of ambient electronic music tracks that change depending on the speed with which you travel down tunnels evokes memories of Rez, but Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s game lacks the gorgeousness of Dyad’s visuals (even if it has the potential to turn players into a dribbling mess). This is a PSN title that shouldn’t be missed.