Don’t look now, but your computer is under attack. A virus has infected your music library and threatens to take control by trapping the souls of composers and the only way to purge the system is to engage in a wholesale clean-up of your music collection by way of a customizable ship that can blast the virus and its minions into oblivion. Yes, the premise is silly, but that’s okay! Symphony offers a genuinely great time. At first glance, there isn’t much to Symphony beyond it taking inspiration from older arcade games, but the hook of using your music library functioning as the game’s levels creates an experience that is thoroughly engaging and infectious (heh, see what I did there?).
Symphony is a shoot ‘em up that follows in the footsteps of classic titles like 1941 and Xevious and like its older brethren, the name of the game is points, points, points. Apart from the thrill of blasting away at an unending stream of progressively difficult foes, taking out invading ships will edge you closer to reaching a predefined score threshold. Blowing up a constant stream of enemies will reward you with chain bonuses that will significantly boost your further. Sustaining damage forces your craft to shrink in size and lose a measure of firepower, while getting blown up completely takes away a significant chunk of points taken away which forces you to quickly make up the difference. At random moments, the game will mix things up by forcing you into an encounter with the sentient virus in the form of timed boss battles. These one on one battles become increasingly challenging as the program grows additional defensive and offensive capabilities.
What separates Symphonyfrom other shmup titles is the emphasis on music. In the context of the narrative, your music library is the battlefield and as such you can import all of your music files into the game. The intensity of a track will influence the speed and rate of fire of enemy ships. Softer moments will make them slow and easier to manage, while hard, driving and beat heavy sections will cause them to move in erratic flight paths at frightening speeds. The only restriction the game places on your music is length as a track needs to be more than a minute long but less than ten minutes. Those out there looking to play through “East Hastings” or Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle might come away disappointed.
Rewards for finishing a level include additional weapons and two forms of currency to spend in order to unlock and upgrade them. Customizing your ship is an important task as you’ll want to find the right weapons to attach to each of the craft’s four hardpoints. Many of the weapons are standard, single line blaster variants while others - rockets, shotguns, spreaders and single shot rail cannons - are far more useful against the horde of enemy ships. Before the start of a round, you’ll have the option to rearrange your arsenal as well as change the angle of each weapon in order to maximize the ship’s area of attack. With a dearth of weapons at your disposal, you’ll want to play it smart by choosing the right weapons (and upgrades) for the job.
Symphony is a visual delight even when the game gets incredibly chaotic. The in-game assets are made up of glowing wireframes, giving the the product a resemblance to the vector graphic arcade games of old. I mentioned earlier that a song’s intensity affects the level’s difficulty and these transitions are marked by shifts of color scheme that goes from from blue to purple to orange and back again. It is during a song’s orange phase that the game explodes and becomes a full blown assault with color, as explosions, sparkles and a flood of enemy fighters makes things difficult to see and tends to result in a few cheap deaths.
Although Symphony comes with its own tracks out of the box, the game is decidedly much more enjoyable when using your music. I only wish there was an option to create a set (or playlist, if you will) instead of having to select each track individually. One element of the game that I found myself really enjoying was the horror experienced when tougher enemies make their appearance on the playing field. Their descent is slow, giving you enough time to plan ahead for the encounter, but it is still enough to freeze the blood. They have the ability to turn a good run into a terrible one as their entrance tends to precede the most intense parts of a song, forcing you to duck and weave through scores of flying ships while avoiding the instant-kill blasts or laser grids Sequences such as these are chaotic and a little unjust, but frantically shooting down ships while the speakers pump out high energy Muse or Metallica tracks is great, great fun.
Although the concept of Symphony is simple, it is one of the most fun and addicting experiences I’ve had in a good while. Much of the enjoyment comes from the title’s ability to incorporate personal music files. Great controls, fun upgrades and a level count that is matched by the number of MP3 files in your collection, Symphony offers a fantastic thrill for a great price.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.