games / Reviews

Symphony (PC) Review

August 26, 2012 | Posted by Marc Morrison


Title: Symphony
Publisher: Empty Clip Studios
Developer: Empty Clip Studios
Genre: Action-shooter
Players: 1
Rated: E for Everyone

Symphony is continuing the new trend of having a game where the levels are procedurally generated from your own music files. Whereas Beat Hazard was a Geometry War riff, and The Polynomial was a space-shooter from music, Symphony uses your music to generate enemies, weapons and coloring for (relatively) new experiences each time you pick a new song.

Aside from the music aspect of the game though, Symphony is basically Space Invaders, but with a neon pain job. What Geometry Wars did for Robotron, Symphony tries to do to Space Invaders, with mixed results.

When you start in the game, you pick a song, and the game just goes. You have a basic blaster and can shoot the enemies that appear in the screen. Typically enemies either come from left or right, but occasionally they come from the top as well. Enemy types vary from just one-hit kill grunts, to shielded enemies, to more complex and dangerous foes. A triangle that can shoot part of it off at you or a square that emits beams of light in different directions. A few “animal” type enemies also occur, noticeably a bird enemy that takes a lot of shots to kill but is fairly weak when it shoots at your ship. When you defeat an entire enemy wave, a musical note appears and a combo chain starts to occur. If you can keep chaining enemy kills together the combo can grow, which increases your score. Each song has point goals which unlock the currency for the ship store.


Enemies come in waves of your music, growing more challenging with intense music, and easier when your music gets softer. There is a problem though with how enemies appear on the playfield. Sometimes the enemies come out at the very bottom of the screen (where your ship tends to be), which means you have to move up some. Normally your guns fire forward but with enemies coming from behind (in a ship sense) you can’t kill them. You can edit the direction your guns fire, in a ship builder mode, but it’s not perfect. If I have one gun always pointed backward, that leaves one gun missing from shooting forward. Enemies only appear on the bottom row maybe 10% or 15% of the time, but it’s still a notable problem I had.

Once you complete a song, it unlocks a new weapon/item for your ship, and gives you “inspiration” and “kudos”. Think of both of these as your currency, with inspiration being far more prevalent than kudos. You have to buy the new item with the inspiration/kudos you got from beating the song. So if you unlock a Megablaster, it might require 6,000 inspiration to unlock, as well as 1,000 kudos. Once a weapon is unlocked, you can attach it to your ship, via four hard-points that your ship has, two on the left and two on the right. The outer left and right hard-points can be turned in a 180 degree direction of your ship. You can have them firing forwards, straight horizontal from your ship, backwards, or on a diagonal. The inner left and right hard points can also be turned, but only up to a point, they aren’t as flexible as the outer weapons. Inspiration is dropped from enemy ships when they are destroyed. While you’re playing, inspiration is used to repair your ship. When you pick it up, damaged bits of your ship are repaired, which saves you from dying (which causes your score to decrease). The way you earn kudos is that each song has an inspiration score goal. It might be 30,000 and then 50,000. If you score 30,000, you might get 1,000 kudos. However if you score 50,000, you will earn 2,000 kudos. When you pick a song, you also pick a difficulty level, going from Pianissimo (beginner) to Fortissimo (very hard). Goals are changed with higher difficulties, but you also earn more kudos.


Some weapons are standard for the genre but a few are a little different. The “subwoofer” weapon auto-fires in time with the beat of the song. The intensity of the weapon is also tied to the beat, so a techno song with a lot of bass will have it firing constantly, while a piano-driven song won’t have much bass coming in. There are also weapons like the “crescendo” which is a charged weapon. You have to wait a few seconds for it to fully charge then you can fire it at enemies. Along with this though are standard weapons like a scattergun, a shotgun, a double cannon (fires above and below your ship), a rocket launcher, and the before-mentioned Megablaster (basic directional cannon). You can also occasionally find “rare” variants of these weapons which increase their effectiveness.


Items also can be unlocked; the two I’ve found were an invincibility power up, and a missile power up. These just randomly appear on the playfield as you kill enemies, unlock the weapons. The missile’s name is “1812 Overture”, which I kind of found funny. You can also upgrade your weapons and items five levels with your inspiration and kudos currency. One problem though is weapons and items are randomly given out. You might really want a double cannon, but you get a shotgun weapon instead. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to how the power ups are distributed.


That is basically it, as far as the game goes. Each song has a leaderboard but it doesn’t seem like a lot of people are playing it. I’ve probably played about 50 songs and I was first on the leaderboard with every song. There is a story in the game but it is completely bonkers. The idea is that some evil malevolent entity has captured the souls of composers and is forcing them to do something evil with it. That’s the theory anyway, but it’s so self-serious that you can’t help but laugh at it. Around every third or fourth song you pick, you’ll be plunked into a boss fight to unlock a piece of the “Symphony of Souls” (don’t ask). Each piece of the symphony has three parts, with their being five pages to it. Once you complete a page, a new difficulty option is unlocked so you can try and earn more inspiration and kudos. The boss fights remain the same for the page, so you basically fight the same boss three times in a row for the page to unlock. Like the weapon/item drops, this is completely at random when you are thrust into a boss fight. There is no indication for when you’ll be entered into another boss fight when you select a song. If the boss does summon though, your score is ineligible for the leaderboards. I also found it incredibly funny when the main bad guy said I had freed Josh Whelchel’s and Jeff Gerstmann’s composer souls by playing their music within the game. Hilarious.


The game is fairly simple but I think the Tron/Neon aesthetic works fairly well still. There isn’t a huge amount of detail in your ship, or your enemy’s ships but everything is clean enough. Originally, enemy bullets were very hard to see, but they patched in a small fix. There are still some elements of clutter when you play and it can get a bit too hectic at times. It’s basic, but it works overall.

Well, most of the music is coming from your own personal library, so that is up to you. The menu music is neutral and kind of Enya-like. There are a few packaged in songs (from some indie musicians) that are decent, but you come here to see how your music works in the game. The boss music isn’t great though, whenever you have to hear it try and talk to you.

Lasting Appeal
Like most musically-driven games, this has a large amount of replay factor built in. I’d say it’s not as good as Audiosurf but probably better than the Polynomial in this regard. It will probably take you a very long time for you to fully unlock the Symphony of Souls. If you just forget about that, and want to see your music as a Space Invaders level though, you can play this game for a long time.

Fun Factor
The game is at first glance fun, but becomes tedious after a while. The random nature of the weapons/items/boss fights can become annoying. It just moves very slowly, which draws out the game experience too much. It’s fun to shoot enemies, it’s not fun to only have two difficulty modes unlocked. Of the four popular music games, Audiosurf, Beat Hazard, Symphony, and the Polynomial, I’d rank it 3rd, in terms of fun. Only the Polynomial isn’t as fun, but that’s because it’s barely a game and more of an interactive screen saver where you can shoot stuff.

The 411
Symphony isn’t a bad game but it’s marred by problems of pacing and some fundamental quirkiness to the gameplay. If you like musically-driven games you will probably enjoy aspects of this game. If you’re on the fence though, some of these problems might just annoy you and make you want to stop playing.

Two quick notes

1. The song browser isn’t great. You can add files and folders but it feels clunky. I don’t think there’s a way to just see it as a file/folder structure, instead it’s either grouped by artist, album, or just an “everything” grouping. Also, when I had 200 songs, the game ran fine. When I upped it to about 600 songs, the game’s song scanning feature took a noticeable speed hit. Going over 1,000 seemed to make the problem worse. I’m not sure what was going on, but it was something you might want to consider.

2. I really wish the game had gamepad or controller support. You do everything with the mouse, move and shoot. Tying the game to just use a left analog stick while firing with the right trigger button doesn’t seem that hard. I know xpadder and other programs let the gamepad emulate a mouse, but that’s not what I’m really after. It just seems like a feature that should be included in the game but isn’t.

Graphics7.5Simple but fairly effective. Things can get too busy on the screen. Still the neon look is nice to look at. 
Gameplay7.0The shooting gameplay is solid if a bit simple. Everything around it though takes too long to get interesting. Beating the game takes far too much time. 
Sound8.0Well, it’s using your own music, so that’s up to you. Sound effects are decent, but the boss’s theme is rather annoying. 
Lasting Appeal6.5I had fun when I played it, but if you tried to marathon the game, you will hate it. Play it in 3 to 5 song chunks and you’ll enjoy it. 
Fun Factor 8.5Due to its nature, you could play it for weeks. It is nice to see how music looks in the game; I just wish the rest of it held up. 
Overall7.0   [ Good ]  legend

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Marc Morrison
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