Saturday, June 14, 2008

Music Bounce

Music Bounce is a very interesting game which is also very impossible to describe. Seriously, when you read the instructions, it sounds like the most confusing game ever, but once you actually sit down and start playing you see it's pretty straightforward and intuitive. So I recommend that, if the following attempt at a description confuses you, just try playing it for a minute and you'll see what I'm talking about.

All right. So you have a playing field with some bricks on it. A series of gates is located along the left edge of the field. Clicking a gate will release a ball, which travels diagonally. The ball will then proceed through the playing field; if the ball hits a brick, the ball bounces off and the brick is destroyed, but only if the ball hits the brick from the top or bottom -- if a ball hits a brick from the side, the ball is destroyed instead. You can release more than one ball from the gates; the precise total is determined by the level. (You cannot, however, ever release more than one ball from a single gate, which often means you need to plan carefully.) Some bricks require two hits to destroy, and the object, as I'm sure you can guess, is to destroy all of the bricks with your given allotment of balls.

So far, the game I've described is relatively simple and, I suspect, not terribly interesting. What adds the additional layer of complexity is that everything in Music Bounce is cyclic. The time in of the game is measured in beats, and every eight beats, previously destroyed bricks reappear and another ball is released from your selected gates. This means that your balls soon settle into a rhythm (as long as you're not changing things), but it also adds another layer of order. Obviously, even if everything were static, the order in which you choose to release the balls is important; but now, not only do you have to initially release your balls in the correct order, but you also have to carefully choose what beats your balls are released on, which leads to some surprisingly tricky situations.

A lot of the levels in Music Bounce are clever. Unfortunately, not all of them are -- in some levels you just kind of mess around until you manage to get all of the bricks eliminated somehow. Perhaps not surprisingly, the latter levels also tend to be more difficult than the former, since a clever solution is often easier to figure out than a brute-force solution. This sadly means that you'll spend a lot of time being frustrated. The size and speed of the game mean that tracking the path of a single ball is difficult, so when you're trying to figure out exactly why a particular brick is or isn't getting destroyed, you'll often have to watch very carefully over the course of several cycles. And because the ordering is so sensitive, you can often unexpectedly screw up your whole setup when trying to make small changes (which can sometimes be pretty helpful, of course!).

As for the presentation, the graphics are pretty simple. For a game whose name makes it sound like it depends heavily on sound, the sound effects are definitely mixed; sometimes (especially on some of the more ordered levels) the sounds combine to make a pleasing melody (assuming you're hitting things in the proper order), but on some of the less well-organized levels, the sounds just come out as a seemingly-random assortment of percussion.

This perhaps makes my opinion of the game sound a little more negative than it is. There are a lot of clever puzzles that you will have fun with, but just be warned you'll have to slog through some less interesting ones as well. Level 50 is also exceedingly clever, although (to my shame) I had to look up a solution, as I was utterly stumped. I hate doing this, especially when it's the kind of solution that triggers the "Why didn't I think of that?!" feeling, but I do have to admire the extreme neatness of the solution. Overall, the underlying idea of Music Bounce is an interesting concept, and one I am glad to see brought into this simple but pleasing game.

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