I’m always interested in trying out games from smaller, more independent studios because they tend to develop a product that is just as good (if not better) than a large budget AAA game. It must be refreshing to work on your own schedule and not have to answer to publishers or legions of easily angered gamers with access to the Internet. The latest indy offering we’re going to be looking at is a celestial puzzler called Waveform, a game that is deceptively difficult. The concept is simple enough: guide an orb of light through a level by manipulating a wavelength to collect other orbs. Just like Othello, while Waveform is easy to learn, it is a challenge to master.
Waveform presents you with eleven stages, each comprised of about ten levels with the ultimate goal of guiding small ball of light as it makes its way from Pluto (which is STILL a planet!) to the sun. Each stage involves manipulating a wavelength’s frequency and amplitude via the mouse in order to collect light orbs and score points. Where the game gets challenging is how a set of light orbs, a sequence, is presented leaving you to decide how to manipulate the wavelength in such a way so that the light ball passes though the entire sequence. Collecting a full sequence will reward you with a speed burst and later power-ups have the ability to increase the size of the light ball, making orbs easier to collect. You can also pass through multiplier rings that will double, triple and even quadruple your score. Standing in your way, however, are small pieces of dark matter that when hit, will destroy all nearby light orb sequences and if you hit too many, the game will end.
At the end of a level, your final score will be tallied and how well you performed (collected all light orbs, didn’t hit dark matter obstacles, highest multiplier, etc) will earn you a number of stars. These stars seem arbitrary at first, but are necessary to unlock the final level of each planet stage. Didn’t earn enough to advance? No worries! Every level can be replayed to get more stars. There’s also a game mode that will randomly generate sequences and obstacles, resulting in a new experience every time.
While Waveform isn’t particularly flashy, it certainly is pretty to look at. During the first several stages, you’ll only be collecting one type of light orbs, but as you progress different colored light orbs appear that changes the game’s hue in a nice, subtle way. Passing through orb sequences will create small visual flourishes that, on more intense levels, tend to get in the way. It is really easy to get distracted by the explosions and ignore incoming dark matter obstacles thus ruining your score streak.
Waveform is fun because it offers a healthy challenge. I would have liked access to an extended tutorial because I tend to have a tricky time differentiating between frequency and amplitude. The game starts you off slow and easy, but you’ll soon have to make changes on the fly in order to maintain multipliers, lowering the amplitude for one sequence and then immediately adjusting the frequency as soon as it finishes in order to grab the next sequence. There are a few instances in which the difficulty spikes a bit (usually during the last level in a planet stage) but a checkpoint system prevents you from having to go all the way back to the beginning of a level. Despite these minor issues, Waveform is still a whole lot of fun. There’s a great feeling of satisfaction that comes with deft, on-the-fly wavelength manipulation and capturing whole sequences while narrowly avoiding obstacles.
As much fun as Waveform is, it really isn’t the sort of game you’d sit down and play for long periods of time, especially when the levels get difficult. Waveform lends itself to jump in and out type of play, perfect when you’ve got time to kill or want to take a study break. The soothing, retro-style electronica soundtrack will put you into a state of calm. Well, until you break a score streak or miss several light orb sequences.
My only real complaint with the game is that it is technically unstable at times. The first time I launched the game, it either crashed or the screen wouldn’t display properly. Things got better after I re-installed the software, but it crashed again for me some hours later. Hopefully these issues will be addressed at some point in the future.
Are you in the mood for a unique puzzle game filled with ambient electronic music and want to feel good about supporting independent game development? Waveform may just be right up your alley. It is elegant in its simplicity, but don’t let that fool you. The game quickly becomes challenging and with about eleven stages (filled with ten levels each), there’s a surprisingly large amount of game and replayability to be had. I see myself coming back to this game often.
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.