Music and puzzle games have always got on pretty well. We’re thinking of the blissful zen of Lumines, or the throbbing techno of Tetris Effect: Connected. One reason they mesh so well is because puzzle games are all-consuming: you’re focused on the task at hand, and music is pretty much the only sensory stimulus that can sneak its way in. Oh, and when you complete a puzzle, Peggle-style, there’s not much better than a musical fanfare to soundtrack your success.
But as much as music and puzzles have shacked up together in the past, we can’t recall a game that welds them together as tightly as Rytmos. A puzzle game from debut game makers Floppy Club, it’s a supersonic journey through global music, using puzzle games as the conductor’s baton. If it sounds pretentious, you needn’t worry: it’s just as fun and pulsating as Lumines or Tetris Effect: Connected – you just happen to learn something as you solve it.
We had a chance to dive into the full game on Steam, hoping that we discover an Xbox release later. But, yet, we’re loath to play it too much. That’s because it’s so damn good and, like a too-revealing trailer for a movie we’re definitely going to watch, there’s a chance that we will ruin everything for ourselves if we play too much. This is pure gaming gold, and we want to keep it fresh for that playthrough.
Rytmos aims high. The universe has exploded, and it’s your responsibility to wander system to system, rebuilding what’s scattered. These are planets by way of LEGO, with bricks flung in every direction, and the only way to bring them together is a spot of puzzling. So, you zoom into the shattered core of the planet, and find puzzles on its surface. By completing puzzles, the planet magnetises more bricks, and the floating Megablok Meteor reconstitutes itself.
The puzzles are reminiscent of games you might have played, but with just enough rule-changes and additional mechanics that they make things anew. Think of an ice-sliding puzzle, but with Tron bikes and you are confusingly almost there. You start on a glowing red circle on a 2D grid, and your aim is to get back to that circle. Which is easy as pie. You move around the grid with a tap of the analogue stick, and you can only move up, down, left and right.
But ah, there are complications. You keep sliding along the grid until you hit something. You can’t just cheekily turn a corner and pop straight back in the red circle you emerged from. You have to do some good old ice-sliding. What’s more, you produce a yellow trail from your backside as you move (thus the Tron bikes) and you can’t stop, at any point, on that trail. So, you can criss-cross your trail but not park on it, which means there’s a few restrictions to where you can go.
Even so, the puzzles are still – almost uniformly – easy, and you can slip-slide your way to the exit with relative breeziness. But where’s the fun in that? If you really want to challenge yourself, you need to be sliding through some elevated circles that look something like Mario warp-pipes. If you hit all of these on your way, then you will receive a gold award.
It’s the only way to play, for a multitude of reasons. There’s your pride, of course, but if you get all the golds on a given planet then that planet enters into orbit on the level selection screen. Complete the puzzle correctly, and its music will be added to a beautifully layered music track. You wouldn’t want to deny yourself that.
Over the course of planets and systems, new mechanics get liberally sprinkled onto the puzzles. Portals teleport you from one end of the grid to the other. Ice cubes can be moved around to form a portable wall. Holes appear and disappear, and walls slide in and out. Rytmos has fun with its basic mechanics. It’s on the fiddly side – we played with a mouse on Steam, and we hope that a controller can feel more precise when we want to walk back a bad solution – but it’s glorious in its simplicity.
But while the puzzling is all rather lovely and innovative, it was the music that we fell in love with. Each planet in a system is an instrument. You start by reforming a kalimba, before making your way up to electric guitars and synthesizers. When the planet is complete, you get to literally play that instrument. An overlay appears, and you can tap, pluck and toot to the backing track that you previously constructed. Better still, you can record what you make, slotting the resulting musical abomination into a vinyl carry-all.
Chef’s kiss. The music builds with each puzzle – sonorous little motifs that linger as ear-worms for days after. But then you get instruments, the ability to play those instruments, and even a sudden flourish of creativity as you layer your own sounds on top. And through all of this, you learn about the instrument; and you learn about the musical milieu that it comes from, as each system has a region and time that it explores. You will be traveling to German electronic music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, to Ethiopian-Jazz from the same period, all the way to Japanese environmental music of the ‘80s.
And it’s there we stopped. The promise of completing the galaxy, Katamari-style, was enough of a motivation, but we were gripped, vice-like, by the music. We’re not ashamed to say that the puzzles weren’t what beckoned us, siren-like, to play more – it was the chance to build music and then play it. It’s the first time that a puzzle game has been sidelined by the music that surrounds it, and we were happy with the substitution.
Roll on Xbox release: we can’t wait to play Rytmos properly.
Huge thanks go out to the Floppy Club team for giving us access to Rytmos on PC through Steam. You can play the game for yourself right now on PC or Nintendo Switch, whilst a mobile version is promised for later in the year.
We’re hoping beyond hope that an Xbox edition follows that.