Monday, November 12, 2007

Phase Review

Introduction
I'd like to think I'm well-versed in rhythm games having played my fair share of Guitar Hero, Karaoke Revolution, Ouendan, Band Brothers, Donkey Konga and DDR. I've even gone in with my share of Samba de Amigo, Taiko Drum Master, Parappa, Gitaroo-man and Amplitude. Shakka de Tambourine has eluded me sadly. Harmonix, the maker of Karaoke Revolution and Guitar Hero, has recently released an iPod rhythm game called Phase.

Phase is only available for the new iPod Nanos, Classic and 5th gen iPods (no iPod Touch or iPhone). Once it's installed (in iTunes 7.5), you'll have a Phase Playlist that you can drag your favorite tracks to. iTunes will spend a few seconds per track calculating game data from the music.

Gameplay
The game itself has a receding 3-d track reminiscent of Guitar Hero. Notes scroll towards you on 3 tracks corresponding to previous, select and next buttons (left, center, right). There is also a slider effect where you sweep your finger along the touch wheel to catch notes.

Each song starts with Easy, Middle, and Hard modes. Apparently more can be unlocked as you clear marathon mode - a series of 5 songs. I have yet to clear marathon mode so I'm just going off one of the random loading screen tips here. High scores are stored for each individual song.

The game is a decent rhythmer that makes good use of the platform. I don't find the side graphics (random 2d bitmaps) or sound effects (cheers and hit confirmations) particularly interesting and I've turned the sound effects off. As is with the case with most rhythm games, you'll probably be too busy concentrating on the notes to see the side graphics anyways.

On my own 5th gen iPod, the game eats the battery about as badly as video playback. My battery life was never good to begin with and I managed about an hour on a charge. The newer iPods should hopefully manage better. I also had an intermittent problem where loading my entire playlist of 150 songs caused the iPod to reboot. I wasn't able to reproduce this later so I'm unsure what the exact cause was.

Takeaways
Phase (or iTunes) does a good job of calculating the game data from the song. And this data generation makes Phase more compelling than it probably would be otherwise. A common weakness for most rhythm games is the song selection. Regardless of the game controllers or graphics quality, the "quality" of the song list tends to be a large factor as to whether or not people like a particular rhythm game. No matter how cool the controller, if a person (me) isn't that big a fan of rock music, he's probably not getting Guitar Hero (I played my sister's copy instead of getting my own).

Phase allows me to tap away to my favorite J-Pop or anime themes which are hard to come by in US rhythm game releases. The guaranteed ability to play to your favorite songs is a definite point (I would say strongest) in Phase's favor.

The creation of game data lends itself to some tantalizing home-brew possibilities. I haven't investigated how the game data is stored, but it could in principle lend itself to game clients on PC and Mac platforms. Given the availability of various game controllers for home computers, one could potentially unlock all of one's song collection for a larger and more immersing interface.

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