Obscure Game Review: Audiosurf
By Jake Rushing
Welcome to LTG’s first ever Obscure Game Review! I couldn’t think of a better way to kick the series off than to review the first game to be published on Steam in 2008, Audiosurf!
Some of you readers may remember playing this game years ago. If you don’t, I hope that selecting a song and navigating through a course created by that song rings any bells. I hope it does because I can’t think of any other game that would have that feature. Well, maybe except Audiosurf 2.
Now for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, Audiosurf is an experimental game that allows you to pick any song you have stored somewhere on your computer and then navigate the course that is generated based on that song. During that, you collect color blocks to create color clusters which nets you some sweet points. That’s all there is to it really. You just select a song and you surf with it (hey ho!).
The developers were sure flexible with it. You want to use your mouse? Just move it left and right to control your ship as you move it. Would you rather use the keyboard instead? There are options for that as well! A and D or Left and Right keys control the ship as well. In my opinion, playing the game with the Left and Right arrow keys can be more challenging as you move one lane at a time for each key press. A and D, on the other hand, allow the player to move between the lanes more freely. The game does not come with controller support unfortunately (because it wasn’t hip to have that back then), but you have other options so it’s all good!
The gameplay visuals just scream sleek and smooth and colorful! The atmosphere surrounding the track and the track makes you feel like you are travelling on white silk (or black silk, depending on the color of the track). The ships are smoothed out pretty well and the color blocks stick out on the tracks like colored sore thumbs while looking pretty sweet. The visuals for the menu selection aren’t too bad either. They give off a futuristic look while having visuals in the background that are similar to the basic visuals of car stereo receivers you’d find at Best Buy or car audio stores. Kinda. Not saying there is anything wrong with that. The images are a bit simple in a way that doesn’t match the game well (I feel like that it is anyway), but everything else in the visual department makes up for it.
The developers didn’t provide a backstory/endgame objective to the player, which is why Audiosurf is considered to be obscure. This game back then really deviated from the games that we grew up with back in the day like Donkey Kong Country, Halo, and Mario Kart. Even Mario Kart has some endgame objective which is to earn 1st place at the end of each Grand Prix round. Yet you would have Mario Kart with the head-to-head aspect stripped away from it while making it musical and futuristic and then adding leaderboards into the mix. Even though in a way you are competing to get the highest score for your favorite song, you are battling against yourself to try and score the highest amount of points possible by stacking colored blocks into clusters to score points.
Just like in indie games that have succeeded Audiosurf, it is a mix of both fun and challenging depending on how you play the game. If you play the game just to cruise along to your song, then the game isn’t hard. But if you aim to see your name on the leaderboards, then that’s where skill comes into the picture. How much skill is involved? Well that will vary depending on what song you’d select. You would have to watch how the blocks stack up and make sure they don’t overflow while you’d have to figure out on how to organize certain colors into certain columns for maximum amount of points (Organize blocks…hmmm…sounds a lot like Tetris). On top of that, you are going at a certain speed that is prone to change depending on what song you selected. In other words, you would have more time to think about where to go next at the slower parts of the song while you would end up scrambling in the more intense parts. The difficulty fluctuates based on your song, which adds another layer of challenge to the game.
For being one of the first independent games to obtain publicity among consumers, the game sets the bar for the future independent games. It has a cool premise that hooks the players into the game, immerses users into a pleasant experience that is a good mix of fun and challenge of managing color blocks on the fly and adjusting to the song’s pace, and has some creativity to it regardless of what form creativity is provided. It is perhaps the first independent game to have procedurally generated levels in a game. Each course is generated to time the bumps in tune with the music, have certain colored blocks to match certain tones of different beats (with warmer colors denoting hotter parts of the song and cooler colors denoting cooler parts), and the courses turn to match phrase changes with the song. This procedural generation certainly sets the tone for what’s to come in future indie games when rouge-like games will come into play years later.
With all of the factors considered, this game is a great marriage of fun and challenge as it sets the bar for what’s to come for the future of independent games. If there is one thing that I can’t deny, is that the whole idea of selecting a song and listening to it as you try to score points is pretty freaking sweet! If I want to play a game where I can freely listen to music while playing, this is my go to game without a doubt. If you are ever so curious about getting this game, you can pick it up on Steam for $10. Not a bad price for a game with some good fun, good controls, sexy 3D art, and having the ability to surf to your music!