Harmonix are masters of the rhythm game genre. With a back catalogue including the first two Guitar Hero games, Rock Band, Dance Central, and Fantasia, they definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to incorporating music into their games. The original Amplitude was released in 2003 but we’d never heard of it before. This isn’t a simple port of the older version, it’s a brand new game that serves as a kind of reboot.
Amplitude is a rhythm game but you won’t be needing any plastic instruments or Kinect to play it. All based on essentially three buttons the controller, you’re now in control of every instrument in a song rather than just one. For each instrument there’s three lanes and you use l1, r1 and r2 to tap along to the rhythm for a single instrument until you complete a few bars. Once you’ve got a section perfected that instrument lane is cleared and you can switch to another with the analog stick. The idea is to keep seamlessly switching between instruments and keeping your chain going by never missing a beat. On the easier difficulties this can feel a little dull as the notes are so spread out, but on hard or expert it’s a real challenge to keep up with the music.
Often these games live or die by their music selection and Amplitude is an interesting one. The only artist we recognised from the tracklisting was Freezepop (because they’ve been featured in music games before) but all of the rest of it was unknown, with many tracks coming from Harmonix themselves. The music isn’t bad by any means, it’s a compilation of electronic psychedelic tracks with little hints of dubstep and house thrown in here and there, but it definitely feels more like it’s specifically game music because you probably won’t know it. There’s a huge amount of joy to be had playing along to your favourite songs in Rock Band and that’s probably not going to be the case here.
In terms of features Amplitude is a little barebones but that fits with its budget price. There’s a campaign where you play through songs in a set order, unlocking new ones as you go, or there’s quick play where you can play what you want. There’s four difficulties and four ships but the ships are just cosmetic changes, unlike Audiosurf they don’t actually effect the gameplay. There’s a second gameplay mode unlocked once you finish the fairly short campaign (there can only be so many songs and you don’t have to repeat them!) where you play in a cylinder rather than on a track, and there are multiplayer modes that essentially come down to you playing in teams to complete songs, with the gameplay being the same as the core game.
Overall Amplitude succeeds in everything it tries to do. It looks the part (although we find we tend to zone out so much while playing the game you barely notice the trippy scenery and plot about fixing someone’s brain), it sounds great and the controls are quick and precise. We would have liked to have seen more licenced trackers but this was a crowdfunded game and those are expensive I’m sure. It’s a pity there weren’t more customisation options too for the backgrounds and colour schemes but we’re starting to nitpick. As a quick ‘pop it on for ten minutes’ rhythm game, it’s a fantastic purchase and well worth the money.