I am a games writer. That’s what I do–I write about games. Usually, this involves composing reviews of games. I play a game, analyse both its positive and negative points, and write about thousand words summarising my opinion on said game, followed by a score out of ten. This time, my job was much more difficult.
The operative word in the above paragraph is “game”. It is with that in mind that I’d like to introduce you to AVSEQ. AVSEQ is an interactive music sequencer–as you play the puzzles, a pattern of notes is generated on the screen that is simultaneously projected though your listening device of choice. But is it a game?
Okay, enough with the attempt at clever writing. In AVSEQ, small objects called “atoms” fall from the top of the screen in four different colours: blue, red, green, and white. The three former colours can only be linked to each other or to white atoms, which essentially act as a connector between chains of two different colours. Once a chain has been made, it is detonated to produce note atoms. Note atoms are generally stationary white atoms–once they’ve been detonated, they project a “note” onto the looping background. The more notes detonated, the more complex (and unique) the music becomes–in fact, according to the game’s Steam page, there are a total of 22 tredecillion possible audio permutations per level.
Levels end when the time limit is reached, and are properly “completed” when a specified amount of notes have been reached. If an atom collides with the bottom of the screen before it is detonated, it destroys the previously placed notes in that column of the screen. Given the hectic nature of trying to link up colours with loud music and visually distracting (yet beautiful) colours flying everywhere, despite the simplicity of the game’s base idea, it very quickly becomes much harder than it seems.
AVSEQ advertises itself as a puzzle game. Are they puzzles, though? The gameplay itself relies far more heavily on reflexes and skill with the mouse, not at all presenting itself as requiring puzzle-cracking mental workouts. In fact, if this was actually a puzzle game, then the sheer lack of stages (nine) would be enough to put any puzzle fan off.
That said, with each time you start a stage, the order that the notes drop from the screen seems to be totally randomly generated. This adds replayability, but again seems to detract from the idea of AVSEQ being a “puzzle” game. The only real element of puzzles present in AVSEQ is trying to decide when to detonate a chain to avoid one of the lower atoms touching the floor and breaking it, as any further strategy is quickly bottlenecked by the player’s dexterity with the mouse–particularly so when you take into account that mouse sensitivity is not configurable in-game. The more I think about it, the more I realise how much better suited AVSEQ would be to tablet devices.
No, I find that AVSEQ is more of an action game than a puzzle game. Ensuring that your atoms don’t crash and burn is very much an exercise of peripheral vision and forward planning. The limited time available in which to make your decisions favour gut-instinct calls as found in action games, rather than the carefully planned, thought out solutions as one would present in a puzzle game.
Despite this, it’s a fact that AVSEQ is a thoroughly enjoyable arcade-style action game. For fifteen minutes. There’s something extremely soothing about linking up chains and consequentially making music, even with the abrasive music and near-blinding visuals. The contrast of such a harsh aesthetic to the inherently relaxing nature of the gameplay itself makes AVSEQ almost a zen-like experience–one often feels as though their brain sort of switches off while immersed in AVSEQ, hand moving by itself as it links atoms and detonates chains.
It’s not always as simple as that, though. That’s the sort of amazing gameplay that you’ll experience after a couple of tries on the first few stages. On any stages after the fourth, however, full concentration and awareness are vital if you want to hear more than static as unused atoms hit the bottom of the screen. I’m not entirely certain that this is a good thing–with an experience like AVSEQ, which barely qualifies as being a “game” at all, I’d rather just zone out and appreciate the colours, music and overall atmosphere that’s presented. When the levels start to get properly difficult, however, this becomes impossible as the game becomes far too hectic for anything other than frustration and frantic clicking.
To be honest, I can’t help but think that AVSEQ should have focussed its efforts on being a relaxing, zen-like game rather than attempting to pull off being a puzzler. Instead of capitalising on the potential of a gameplay-driven procedural music generator, AVSEQ tries too hard to integrate traditional “gameplay” and doesn’t quite hit the mark. If you’re looking at getting any significant enjoyment out of this, you really have to avoid thinking of it as a “puzzle” game, which makes me curious as to why Big Robot have chosen to market it as such.
For all the things it does wrong, however, AVSEQ is still an interesting title. The idea of having a game that generates its soundtrack as you play could be the core of a fantastically refreshing game, however it winds up largely resulting in frantic gameplay that doesn’t quite suit the mechanism. I tend to look at AVSEQ as more of a proof-of-concept than a traditional “game”–this is Big Robot’s way of showing the world what they’re capable of doing.
The framework is a promising one, but there’s a significant lack of content that prevents anything past “oh, that’s a nice idea” from materialising, to the point where you’ll actually worry that you missed a button for more content somewhere along the line. There’s even a Steam achievement for “unlocking all the stages”, yet the only stages present are the nine that are available immediately. No real sense of progression is present in AVSEQ, nor is there any replay value whatsoever–upon completing a level you’ll be prompted to enter your name, however there’s no local leaderboard present, let alone an online leaderboard, so there’s actually no reason to bother with it. AVSEQ is a game that could have been worth playing had it been handled with a little bit more care, but at the moment it’s just scaffolding–the building to hold up the procedurally generated music idea hasn’t even been started.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of AVSEQ by Big Robot. Sorry guys.