'Symphony' turns your music into a beautiful shooter

Symphony is a musical shooter that builds its swarms of enemies from your MP3 library.

Music is the weapon, the enemy, and the kidnapped princess of Symphony, a new musical shooter coming to the PC this summer.

Created by the two-man team of Francois Bertrand and Matt Shores of Empty Clip Studios, Symphony walks upon musical gameplay trails previously blazed by the likes of PC game Audiosurf and PlayStation import Vib-Ribbon. Symphony processes a song – any song, but ideally 90 seconds or longer – outputting a unique level based on the beat, tempo and melody of the music.

Symphony flips through your library of MP3s, WAVs, OGGs, FLACs, WMAs and whatever more obscure file formats you may have in the depths of your hard drive, dynamically transforming them into levels and waves of enemies. Those enemies spawn and shoot at you in time with the beat of the music – which during our hands-on demo included Spandau Ballet's "Gold," R.E.M.'s "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1" and Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down."

(During a previous hands-on demo, we'd sampled Symphony to the heavy riffs of Metallica's "Blackened" from ...And Justice For All. That was a punishing six minutes and 40 seconds.)

The goal is to stay alive amidst those screenfuls of enemies bobbing and weaving and shooting in time with the beat. Blast them with a variety of weapons that you can purchase and upgrade over time, and you'll score "inspiration" and "kudos" that can be cashed in for new power-ups.

Snatch up musical notes, build chains and shoot for higher scores.

Symphony starts the player with a simple ship that fires four lasers straight ahead. Turn in your inspiration and kudos for new gear, and you can outfit your ship with, for example, a shotgun, a double cannon, a charging weapon named The Crescendo, and The Subwoofer, a gun that automatically fires wide shots in time with a song's drum beats. How you edit your ship's load out may depend upon the songs and musical styles you prefer. A bass-heavy song, for example, might benefit from a Subwoofer on each wing.

The arsenal doesn't stop there, with additional items and weapons unlockable throughout the game's five major stages and six difficulty levels.

During our demo of six songs, which also included Sammy Davis Jr.'s cover of the show tune "There Is Nothin' Like A Dame" and Audioslave's "Your Time Has Come," we faced a wide variety of abstract enemies. Some looked like slowly flapping birds surrounded by a barrier of musical notation, while others were simple geometric shapes: Clusters of triangles, cylinders, and strange polygonal forms. Each enemy, spawned by some aspect of the song you're playing, has its own behavior. Some block with shields to the beat. Some explode violently when they die, a last ditch attempt to take you with them.

Upon death, those neon-lit enemies will drop notes, power-ups and, sometimes, a screen-clearing bomb called The Bang, once unlocked. Musical notes can recharge your ship when damaged, bringing your quad-weapon ship back to full power.

The action is frenzied, filling the screen with bright lights, sparks, sweeps of primary color and flashes of points acquired. Symphony adheres to the unwritten rule – a positive, we'd argue – that music-driven video games should aesthetically steer toward Tempest, Rez and Tron-inspired graphics.

Underpinning the musical shooter action of Symphony is, somewhat unexpectedly, a story that explains why you're battling your music. Turns out there's some demonic force that has captured the souls of your music's composers, demanding that you liberate this "Symphony of Souls" to reclaim your music.

At times, Symphony will interrupt the shoot 'em up thrills to interject a boss battle, typically disembodied heads that fire barriers at your ship. They'll do their best to put the fear of god into you with brief monologues, then exchange fire with you. Kill one, and you'll progress through the sheet music of the "Symphony of Souls," unlocking new difficulty levels.

That's where Symphony may provide the most replayability, as "Piano" difficulty offers a decent enough challenge. "Fortissimo" difficulty is four tiers higher, and seriously intimidating. Seeing the game's odd little narrative unfold and killing those glowing demon eyes that curse you every few levels may drive the player to hone their mouse control and see Symphony through to the end.

We'll find out soon enough. Symphony will be available for download on August 6th from Steam, Origin, GameFly, GOG.com, and GameStop's Impulse.

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