‘Soundfall’ Review: A Symphony Of Looter-Shooter Fun
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Featured Image Credit: NoodleCake
For me, music has always had a magical quality. With the right lyrics and the right melody, you can create an experience that transcends all other forms of communication. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. Soundfall perfectly captures that quality.
In Soundfall, you enter the world of Symphonia, the realm of music. It’s a whimsical land protected by its inhabitant guardians, tasked with protecting the world’s music from the evil Discordians.
Be sure to take a look at Soundfall's trailer below.
Drastic Games’ debut effort is pure escapist fun, albeit designed to be enjoyed in small doses. This dungeon-crawler is built upon simple mechanics: you simply shoot to the beat. Even so, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the format. Within minutes, I was bobbing my head along as I attempted to perfectly time my shots with the tempo. In all my years of gaming, never has playing a shooter coincided with having a solo dance party, yet boy did I have fun.
The narrative follows Melody, a young musician who finds herself transported to Symphonia to help battle the Discordians and yes, Melody is of course an intentional pun. Soundfall has plenty of them, but my favourite might just have to be the band Dread by Daylight. An insignificant detail, but I quickly knew Melody was a girl of my own heart after spotting a Taylor Swift Speak Now album poster on her bedroom wall. I’d call that impeccable taste.
From that moment on, I had high hopes for Melody’s adventure and whilst Soundfall’s narrative isn’t going to blow anyone away, it’s pleasant enough to support the fun gameplay. Melody will traverse the various lands of Symphonia, each with its own visual style and genre of music. You’ll pick up extra characters along the way - who you can also play as - but I did tend to find myself largely sticking to Melody. Essentially, you’ll find yourself working through the formula of battling Discordians before progressing on to the next land. Soundfall’s story certainly isn’t its selling point, and I could easily see people skipping the short narrative beats. That being said, it did give some purpose to what I was doing - saving the world’s supply of music.
Soundfall’s gameplay is undeniably its greatest strength, even if it isn’t totally pitch perfect. There’s plenty of help when it comes to mastering the beat. Visually, you’ve got two onscreen metronomes, in addition to the fact that my PlayStation 5 DualSense controller was quite literally pulsing in my hands. It didn’t take long for me to join in, very much becoming a real-life iteration of the bobbing cat meme. A few neck cramps later, I’d mastered the beat and it was a surprisingly euphoric experience. Completing a chain of impeccably synced shots is more than rewarding. I sort of felt like I’d transcended to become at one with the music. A strange feeling, but a lovely one nonetheless.
That’s not to say that the gameplay was always plain sailing, and I should add that I played on Soundfall’s default moderate difficulty settings. I quickly found that the best technique was to keep some distance between myself and the Discordians. I may be launching my attacks to the beat, but the Discordians are not.
The extra space gave me time to counter their attack to the right tempo, with a little room for error if they closed in. The problem is every now and then you find yourself cornered and it becomes a case of performing an off-beat dodge / attack or losing health. Performing an off-beat move causes your metronome to ‘autotune’ which basically blocks you from attacking for a short space of time. I suppose this is part of the challenge of the gameplay system, but in the more intense battle arenas the beat-system did feel incongruous with the challenges I was faced with. With 15 Discordians closing in on me, my instinct was to stay alive - not to stay alive to the beat, which is the only instinct Soundfall wanted me to have.
In terms of level design, Soundfall once again keeps things simple. You travel through various areas of Symphonia, each with its own design and musical genre from the classical notes of the Forest, to heavy metal sounds of the Hotlands. Outside of environmental set dressing, each level essentially unfolds in the same way as you pass through a series of mini battle arenas. I did enjoy the fact that the environment dances along to the beat with you, whether that’s via speakers pulsing or trees having a little shimmy. The world truly is alive with the sound of music.
I had hoped that each land’s musical genre would have more effect on the gameplay. Each level has its own unique song (plus you can import your own choices in Free Play) and therefore, its own tempo. While I could clearly see the varying tempos on screen - displayed as beats per minute - I couldn’t feel it in the gameplay. The pulse of a song that plays at 168 beats per minute felt indistinguishable from a track with a tempo of 182 beats per minute. The changes were nuanced, and far more subtle than I would’ve liked. Every now and then, I’d notice the odd super upbeat track, but most levels played out very much the same.
The Discordians did form a pleasant surprise. In a game that’s largely dictated by repetition, I quickly began to encounter a wider variety of villains as I progressed through the game - adding some much needed change to the formula. Initially, I was taking down the Discordians with two quick and easy shots, long before they got close enough to do any damage. A little too easy, I thought. Several hours of gameplay later, the Discordians were firing cannons, dart guns, and missiles … all within the space of a tiny arena which also had environmental lasers and bombs to avoid. Pure chaos. Very rarely in Soundfall is there any health to pick up, so you can quickly see how things become more challenging and I may have rage quit on a few occasions, only to find myself back for more a short while later.
Soundfall isn’t a perfect game. I’d love to see the narrative throw more challenges my way and the somewhat repetitive levels would benefit from a few added platformer elements for variety's sake. That being said, I haven’t had this much stake-free fun playing a game in a long time. Amidst the heavy gaming themes I’m used to, I loved shimmying my way through Soundfall’s varying levels as it took me on a musical tour for the senses. Soundfall has the groundwork to be a timeless hit, it just needed a little more tweaking in the studio.
Pros: Joyous gameplay, easily enjoyed in short doses, intuitive to play, certain to get you dancing.
Cons: Level design can be repetitive, beat-system is incongruous on occasion.
For fans of: Super Mario Odyssey, Cadence of Hyrule, Ratchet & Clank.
7/10: Very Good
Soundfall is out now on PlayStation (reviewed on PlayStation 5), Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. Review code was provided by publisher NoodleCake. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.