The promise has been made.
Back in August, I reviewed another crowdfunded music game, which I guess has locked me into that review niche forever. And that’s fine! When music games are done right, they’re fun as hell. It’s hard to pull off a great music game, but the original Amplitude for PS2 is definitely a classic of the genre. Developer Harmonix went on to create iconic series like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but they recently decided to revamp Amplitude through Kickstarter. The game’s finally out on PS4, so, of course, we gotta know- how is it?
Well, first off, Amplitude plays pretty much exactly like the original- think of a hybrid between Guitar Hero and Audiosurf. You move your little spaceship back and forth between six tracks which represent the various layers of each song and hit L1, R1, and R2 to shoot nodes in time with the music. Clearing a track will keep that part of the song playing for a while, which allows you to move to a different track and chain together combos. The movement feels smooth and snappy, albeit a little slower and less fluid than its cousin Audiosurf. From what I could tell, there’s no way to glide across tracks- instead, you can only jump one at a time.
The game provides you with different power-ups, unlocked by (what else?) playing through a certain number of tracks or getting high enough scores. They do things like preemptively clearing rows. Nothing we haven’t seen before. There’s also four different spaceships, which don’t seem to have any real gameplay difference aside from differentiating players in the multiplayer mode. They’ve got cute little names though, so you can tell your friends and family you’re playing as “Boxy,” or even “Chubs.”
Really, there’s nothing to complain about in regards to gameplay. Amplitude doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it doesn’t have to. The way it plays is tried and true, and it controls simple enough to easily jump into the game. The game also looks great, using the PS4 to bring an abstract world of neon lights and morphing shapes to vivid life. So where does Amplitude suffer? Unfortunately, the game is weakest where a music game can’t afford to be- its music.
There isn’t anything particularly bad about Amplitude’s soundtrack; there aren’t any ear-splitting misfires or boring slow-jams. Instead, Amplitude is cursed by a tracklist that’s often simply forgettable. The bulk of the game’s music are Harmonix originals, comprising the game’s Campaign mode as a loose, and I quote the PlayStation Store page here, “sci-fi concept album” about awakening a “comatose patient and [expanding] her perceptions.” Although it’s a lofty idea, a lot of tracks seem to bleed together, and I could probably name from memory maybe 3 standouts from the 15 tracks of the roughly hour-long campaign.
The only (!) other mode in the game is Quickplay, which lets you pick a song and jump right in. Unfortunately, most likely due to the limited Kickstarter funding, you’ll find no David Bowie remixes or Garbage or even Papa Roach in this version of Amplitude. The biggest names most people will probably (maybe) recognize are Danny Baranowsky, contributing a banger off the NecroDancer OST, and, uh, Freezepop, who did that cool little song about Achewood, which unfortunately isn’t in the game. Also, there’s the guy who did the Minecraft soundtrack I guess? Sure.
As mentioned, there’s only two modes in the game – Campaign and Quickplay, and although there’s local four-player multiplayer, there’s no true online multiplayer or freeform Remix mode like in the original Amplitude. Combined with the lackluster tracklist, Amplitude takes a big hit to longevity. Of course, some people may love the music here, and some might be obsessed with topping the leaderboards, but I personally can only listen to Freezepop so many times before giving up on trying to top my score.
Maybe if online functionality was added, or the tracklist expanded, Amplitude could sit beside titans of the genre. But as it stands now, Amplitude doesn’t have to kind of staying power as other iconic music games. I could recommend this game to hardcore fans of musical games, or big fans of the kind of electronica it features, but anyone coming to the new Amplitude expecting something innovative or something as varied as the original game will end up disappointed. Some classics are just better left alone.