When feelings and senses collide.
When I first joined Xbox Live five years ago, my gamertag was a variation on the word "synesthetic," as a nod to one of my most beloved rhythm games of all time: Rez. Its masterful combination of the action on-screen and the thumping techno accompanying each area was a beautiful thing, and it effectively simulated the blurring of the senses known as synesthesia. Upon learning of the iOS app Synesthetic, promising a similar allure to Rez's visuals and the functionality of Audiosurf, I was beside myself -- could it really blend the best of both of those worlds?
The short answer is "kind of." Synesthetic is unique in that it allows you to access your music library on your device for use with the game itself. Any song is compatible, and for players with hundreds of tunes available this means there's the potential for hours of different songs to try. But rather than a typical rhythm trope like "hit X notes, press X at this time,": Synesthetic generates a hyper-fueled roller coast of sight and sound built to the specifications of the tempo and content of the song selected. You'll be twisting and turning your device in time with the spiraling, LSD-laced tracks, avoiding obstacles and being careful not to miss a specific turn.
Different songs generate alternate tracks, and when switching between radically different tempos or genres, the difference is quite noticeable. However, this isn't always the case. Some songs generate gorgeous winding neon techno rainbows, and others drum up considerably less impressive tracks. It's quite spotty, so creating a great tune coaster of sorts comes down to the luck of the draw.
When it works, Synesthetic is capable of some trippy, gorgeous imagery that wouldn't be out of place in Rez itself, but when it doesn't create any beautiful aesthetics, it isn't as entertaining as it could be. It's painfully inconsistent, and for a game that relies on variety and spontaneity as a selling point, it can't hold up to the demand of players such as myself who practically thrive on the weirdness it promises.
Furthermore, performing badly or doing a great job doesn't realy matter, as you aren't penalized for failing. You can rack up combo points and aim for higher scores, but it never feels as fulfilling as the games that were able to pull this off much more spectacularly. It's a shame though, as it's a mesmerizing cacophony of sight and sound that goes far in its efforts to establish a trippy environment, and the bright lights and colors are a treat to sit and watch. It's just less of a challenging game and more of a cool visualizer for your favorite tunes, and for that it can't really be called much of a game. A few more tweaks and additional content downloads and Synesthetic might be a worthy contender as a rhythm game.