Review code was provided to me when Kickstarter Backers started to receive their codes on December 23rd, 2015.
Before Guitar Hero or Rock Band, Harmonix was working on a very different type of music rhythm game. Their names were Frequency and Amplitude, which were the first two games that I can remember that introduced the general public to the notion of what we now know as a “note highways” and well, keeping a rhythm. Back in 2014, Harmonix launched a Kickstarter for a remake to Amplitude, bringing the game back to its roots and giving a way in for newcomers. After 13 years, is the magic still there?
Just from a moment-to-moment perspective, the answer to that question is a yes. Amplitude tasks you with the challenge of hitting a few notes in a track, like synth, bass, drums, or vocals, before switching over to another track to continue your streak of uninterrupted notes. Unlike Rock Band 4 or Guitar Hero Live, Amplitude treats this as added layers on top of the game, instead of a failure so that you may have the sense that you are essentially creating your own version of the track you are playing. Switching between tracks lends a hectic nature to every track, even as you make compromises to ensure that your streak stays alive. As you climb through the game’s various difficulties, you start acting out of instinct instead of thinking about where the notes will be. In fact, I kinda felt like Neo in The Matrix most of the time when I completed a song on Expert.
Although, I can’t help but sit here and find myself dissapointed in the non-Harmonix made tracks. The original Amplitude mixed up the songs, so that you never felt like you were playing the same song (or even a similar song), but this version has less variety than I would like. Sure, there is some cool music from Danny Baranowsky, C418, Freezepop, but it ultimately falls flat. As for the Harmonix tracks, it’s billed as a “15-track concept album”, in Harmonix’s own words. There is some catchy tunes in there, sure, it just all can be written off with the qualifier of electronic music.
You unlock most of the 30 tracks by playing the game, but there are a few that you have to get high scores to achieve. Here’s the kicker: you can’t replay those songs indiviually, you have to go throughout the 15-track campaign mode again and again until you get the highest score. That means playing on Beginner or Intermediate, even if the player is highly skilled in the ways of Amplitude. It’s a small but confounding choice that slows your progression through the game.
Amplitude is a good time whether you are playing alone or with friends, since the game adjusts to whoever’s playing. Single-player is about being precise and focused, asking that you use your power-ups wisely and mantain your streak. Harmonix has also included a little treat — FreQ mode. In this mode, it’s basically like you’re playing Frequency again. You can’t play online, but the options in the local play are robust. Four-player free-for-all quickplay encourages competition, using your power-ups to attack other players. Cooperative and team-based play offer further options for enjoying Amplitude with your friends, and it’s really fun to feel like you and your friends are making your own music.
In 500+ words, it’s hard for me to state exactly how much I love the original Amplitude. While the music selection and progression had me enjoying the game a bit less than I’d hoped, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying this remake. Amplitude is a sampling of what made music rhythm games great, but it’s not outdated.