Harmonix’s kickstarted reboot is all about evoking frantic excitement, a sense of nostalgia, and the feeling of success.
Bass, vocals, synth, drums, guitar. These are the very core elements that link together Harmonix’s reboot of Amplitude — a video game purely centered around zapping notes, streaking, chasing high scores, and tapping your feet to the rhythm of the beat. And, as that turns out, that’s all the game needs to truly feel like a homecoming of sorts, even with its problems.
While I never had the chance to play the original Amplitude on the PlayStation 2, I’ve been engrossed in the music and rhythm genre for a majority of the time I’ve been playing video games. Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Singstar, Lips… I was enraptured within a world defined by how well you could hit notes that were connected to a piece of music.
I’ve been drumming for almost ten years now, and I’d say it’s a safe bet to attribute that to why I have such an affinity for music and rhythm video games. And even after the return of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band last year, I’ve honestly been more entertained by Amplitude – a title that is no where near as deep or feature-rich.
This is down to the fact that Amplitude, above all else, continually taps into an almost endless bank of nostalgia, and has allowed me to feel like I’m picking up something fresh and exciting again. Yet in saying that, the mold of Amplitude and its three-note highway feels remotely recognizable.
It was Rock Band: Unplugged on the PlayStation Portable that continued to support my obsession with the music genre of video games while I was away at boarding school for the entirety of my high school years – a portable video game that allowed me to jam to some of my favorite songs without the need to lug around plastic instruments. It made for a unique, refreshing experience and was entirely shaped around the formula of Amplitude and Frequency that had come before it.
“I immediately felt connected with the music I’d just played, and wanted to jump right back in.”
Because of this, the kickstarted reboot of Amplitude immediately grabbed me. It all felt so right – feeling like a bit of a homecoming of sorts – even though it didn’t take me long to sift through everything that’s on offer.
Diving in, I was promptly greeted with a tutorial outlining the game’s control scheme and button layout, and was then thrown straight into the action. Bracing myself, I started hitting the notes, one at a time, getting attuned to the beat, and trying to come to grips with everything. Nostalgia quickly introduced itself, and with a smile on my face I made it through the first set of challenges thrown in front of me. I immediately felt connected with the music I’d just played, and wanted to jump right back in.
Amplitude, like all music and rhythm video games, is defined by a feeling of progression. You naturally want to get better, and you also want to challenge your friends and colleagues in the process, if possible. It’s a human tendency, of course, and Amplitude embraces that unconditionally. Whether your friends are just starting out or they’re seasoned veterans of zapping notes, you’re greeted with a stats leaderboard almost everywhere you go. The game constantly invites you to better your score and challenge your friends, and it’s incredibly addictive.
Amplitude’s campaign, while enjoyable, is relatively short – making use of just fifteen of the thirty songs available. You can beat it in one sitting, but that’s not the goal here – the goal, of course, is to get the best score and unlock more songs and bonuses to use in-game. This can be achieved by going back through the campaign and jamming to Harmonix’s tracks, getting high scores, and keeping streaks, or by navigating to the game’s quickplay mode and trying out some of the other songs on offer.
While it’s a blast to cruise around zapping notes and chasing scores, Amplitude’s difficulty spikes quickly become a nuisance. While I was comfortable playing on the third highest difficulty setting during the vast majority of songs in the campaign, there would come a point during a few tracks where I’d hit a section and completely derail. Playing the songs on intermediate difficulty felt like a piece of cake, whereas playing some on advanced felt almost impossible. I was stuck choosing between something too easy and something too difficult, which was fairly frustrating.
Multiplayer is also included in Amplitude, although its confined to four-player couch co-op as well as being littered with a few annoying problems. While single-player saw my camera positioned just behind the craft, multiplayer extends the camera quite far out to accommodate for the extra players, and this really created havoc in the way I perceived the notes and when it was time to zap them. The difficulty setting is also set for all four players across the board, not allowing any sort of handicap whatsoever, which can get really frustrating if players are all used to different difficulty settings.
My time spent with Rock Band: Unplugged no doubt geared me up for what was eventually going to be this year’s Amplitude. While the music genre of video games is usually heavily confined to the use of plastic instruments, Amplitude represents a different kind of rhythm game – one that is a blast to just lose yourself to. I was never completely aware of Unplugged’s influences while I was away at school, but playing through Amplitude continued to remind me of all of the excellent times I’ve had jamming to Everlong, The Middle, Mr. Brightside, and Afterlife, and the affinity I feel towards music and rhythm video games. There’s truly nothing quite like them.
Amplitude is all about enjoying the music, trying out a rhythm game that doesn’t require plastic instruments, and bringing out that competitive edge against your friends, and it’s a hugely enjoyable game because of that. While it is a bit barebones, the core experience is still addictive, unique, and really damn fun – a homecoming definitely worth attending.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 (Autumn 2016)