I really have no issues with the easy-to-learn, hard-to-master gameplay model. What I do find rather annoying are those which are hard to learn, and even harder to master. Especially when the thing you’re trying your best to understand gives you no hints or tips, refuses to hold your hand and is happy to spit you out at the very first opportunity.
That’ll be Chime Sharp then.
I’ve been hands on with Chime Sharp, the sequel and upgrade to Xbox 360 indie luvvie Chime, for some time now. Even now though, after dropping many an hour into everything it allows, I still don’t really understand what is going on.
Sure, the premise is simple. Sit down with a controller in hand, choose a level and begin to tessellate a whole host of shapes onto a grid, forming Quads and filling it out as you go. With a constantly scrolling beat line dropping the bass and hitting the trebles every time it rolls over one of your completed Quads, the music needs no second opportunity to kick on, wailing away until you’ve got a screen full of shapes and some of the best tunes in recent gaming times swiftly making their way to your ears.
The visuals are super crisp and highly colourful but, hell, they are also pretty hectic – so much so that there is nearly always something going on, with blocks flashing colours, backgrounds spinning away and your own player controlled Polyominos getting rotated to kingdom come. The 16 levels themselves are very simple affairs though, with little difference between any of them. Yes, the background visuals will slightly change and the layout of the huge rectangular grid will come in a slightly different templated form, but on the whole, what you’re looking at is a four sided screen to be filled. And thankfully, the shapes you’ll need to fill them with come in plentiful supply.
Much like the original Tetris, and every single shape sorting clone that has been created on the back of it, the designs of each of the pieces you need to place are key to the overall gameplay found in Chime Sharp. With the rotation being a cinch, and the placement of them even more so, interlocking the pieces in order to create the holy Chime Sharp grail – that of the Quad, a 3×3 block of pixely goodness – will see your score increase, will see the beat line pick up new notes and will see the relaxing, abstract melodies it brings emanate around your head forever more.
And this is where things shine as the music contained within the walls of Chime Sharp is just screaming out to be unlocked, coming across as nothing short of bloody brilliant. With creations from the likes of Chipzel, Symbion Project, CHVRCHES, Steve Reich and more, you’ll quickly understand that it’s not exactly bass pounding. It doesn’t make you want to get up and move to the funky beat either, but what it does do is worm its way into your head to ensure that you’ll be left with a sense of euphoria throughout…especially if you are one who likes to block out the outside world and spend your gaming time with some cans strapped to your skull. For that is where Chime Sharp excels.
But whilst the deliverance of euphoria is something that we have to commend, unfortunately, the actual gameplay behind it all does quite the opposite, leaving you pretty damn frustrated at what needs to be achieved in order to progress your Chime Sharp experience.
This is mostly down to the fact that at no time are you told what you need to do. Yeah, so I know I have to make Quads and fill the grid in the time allowed, something which in turn brings points, ramps up the music and gives the chance to unlock further musical delights and gameplay modes, but other than slotting them together, hoping that what is being actioned is correct, there is no sense of achievement or progression. This is emphasised even more when you check out the objectives needed in order to unlock Sharp mode, Strike mode and the gorgeously sounding but hugely unobtainable Challenge mode.
Now, it would be brilliant if alongside the Practice and Standard modes that are open from the get-go, each of the additional options were able to be played. But unless you cover over 60% of the grid in the timed Standard option, Sharp is unplayable. Similarly, for Strike to open its doors, you need to cover 60% of the grid in Sharp. The problem is, 60% coverage is bloody tough and without any form of tutorial or even a basic hints and tips system, I have no idea if what I’m doing is ever going to get me over the line. Seeing as I spent my first few hours with Chime Sharp trying to play it like Tetris, wishing it would remove lines as the beat-line hits, I’d hazard a guess and say I’m going to have to luck my way through things.
Although of course, even with plenty of hours in the bank, that luck hasn’t decided to appear.
As you can therefore imagine, completion of Standard mode (yes, full completion, whatever that may be), is a requirement and necessity if you wish to ever play the final new game mode that Chime Sharp delivers – Challenge. It is however about as far from my grasp as you’re ever likely to see.
I mentioned at the start of this review that I don’t mind learning something in order to get better. But I need to be told how to get better, and Chime Sharp never even hints at such a thing. The initial difficulty and confusion it brings may be enough to put off many a player, and when combined with slightly twitchy controls will see even more turn away. Precision is key in Chime Sharp, and occasionally the whole thing lets itself down – normally at the most inopportune of moments.
That leaves me with wondering what is the point of Chime Sharp – especially when much of the game will be locked down and inaccessible to many. Well I’m not really sure to be honest, but then I’ve never really understood the point of Tetris either. If however you want a reasonably decent game that you can just sit down with, for ten minutes at a time, drawing off the positive, fast-flowing vibe it brings, then you’re in luck.
If you do ‘get it’, then I can fully understand why you’ll probably adore Chime Sharp, but if you don’t, then, well, it’ll annoy the hell out of you before you get anywhere near a zen like state.