Phase from veteran rhythm game developer Harmonix is a dream come true, for me. Check out what I had to say in my last iPod game review, Musika. In that game, any song on your iPod can be a "level," but all you're really doing is selecting letters from that song's title as they materialize:
"The idea of 'any song as a level' is extremely exciting as someone that is a big fan of the rhythm genre, but what I really want to see is someone with talents like Matsuura's to create an actual rhythm game out of the concept. Imagine procedurally-generated rhythm beats instead of just picking letters."
Phase is that dream game!
Let's go over the essentials, before this gushing gets out of hand. The core gameplay of Phase is essentially like Guitar Hero, but with three scrolling buttons to keep track of, instead of five. Fans of Harmonix's rhythm efforts (Amplitude and Frequency) will recognize the setup. As the notes scroll towards the bottom of the screen you must press the corresponding key - either left, center, or right - to the rhythm of the music. Mixing up the formula are "sweeps" - which require gamers to slide their finger along the scrollwheel to catch a bending path of smaller notes.
Scoring is a little more innovative, but not necessarily in a positive way. In fact it's my only real complaint about the entire package. Each song is divided into several checkpoints, and you have to achieve a specific score in each checkpoint to not lose one of your lives. Lose all your lives, and its game over. On the flipside, performing extremely well in any individual checkpoint can actually earn you bonus lives.
But here's the problem - whether or not you'll score enough points to make it through a checkpoint is dependent more on your multiplier than how well you actually perform. If you screw up at the end of one checkpoint, and thus start the next with a 1X multiplier, you can play through the section perfectly and still lose a life. Depending on where you miss your notes, thus wiping out your multiplier, it's possible to fail tracks despite successfully hitting 95-97% of the beats.
Phase does come with a track selection of its own - a typical Harmonix mixture of rock & pop, complete with a Freezepop track - but the true draw here is that you can import virtually any song on your iPod into Phase, and the game creates a beat for it on the fly - complete with a high score listing. The beats aren't as good as the seven scripted out by Harmonix themselves of course, but half the fun is finding out which tracks work. Some were so-so, but I'd have never guessed that the beats for Objects of My Affection by Peter Bjorn and John was laid out by an algorithm, and not by someone who's job it is to create fun rhythm patterns. It was that good.
Even when the beats don't work out that well, there's still the novelty factor of playing whatever song you want in a rhythm game. I played the Ocean theme from Zelda: The Wind Waker, The Brinstar Theme from Super Metroid, and Wonderful Christmastime from Paul McCartney on my first Phase session. All three of them weren't really fun enough to play again, but it's fun it and of itself just trying out new tracks.
For the record, Beck's Hell Yes EP (Game Boy Remix), and Cicada's Technology Crisis II are among my favorites so far.
Phase is a must-own for rhythm game fans, and a true killer app for iPod games in general. At $5 it's a complete no-brainer. The game has far-reaching implications for the entire rhythm genre, to boot. When this tiny iPod game can create great beat patterns for a decent percentage of my music collection, why pay a premium to download new tracks for Guitar Hero III or even Harmonix's own Rock Band?
What's Hot: Procedurally generated beat patterns! OMG.
What's Not: Win/Lose conditions can be frustrating.