March 20th, 2012 | By Chris Priestman
One thing that I always look out for during my flight across the indie game hemisphere is a game that is utterly different to everything else. Waveform stands out for just this reason, and that’s why all eyeballs should be focused on its wavy existence. There is that singular worry that always pops up on such an occasion, though – when a game bases its appeal around one simple mechanic. We can all hope and pray that Eden Industries has fleshed out its debut title enough to provide a full gaming experience, but wishful thinking alone isn’t going to cut it.
Waveform has dumbfounded me a number of times, even before I played it. Ryan Vandendyck, the sole developer, came up with the idea of controlling a light wave as a mechanic, but the real challenge was turning that into a game. What Vandendyck came up with confused me and many others upon being introduced to it – slotting it into a genre was left to ambiguity and trying to cite a game that comes to close to it seemed impossible. However, having now played it, I can now name a game that is as close to similarity as you’ll get when considering the gameplay of Waveform, and that is Guitar Hero and its ilk.
That might initially make you double-take, but it makes complete sense. Instead of mashing buttons on a plastic guitar when the colored circles meet the line, in Waveform the player controls that line and must maneuver it so that the light orb travelling along it hits the incoming colored circles. It’s really that simple. The challenge in Waveform, or rather the skill, is learning how to control the light wave to bend to your will. This is conducted via the mouse; the player holds down the left button and moves the mouse around to adjust the amplitude and length of the wave. Thinking about how simple it is even now still makes me wonder how Waveform gets so difficult at times. I suppose this derives from the challenge presented by the infamous Medusa heads in Castlevania – those enemies were challenging because their movements were awkward to judge. Similarly, Waveform tasks the player with mastering the movement of a wave and, once again, it proves fairly perplexing, or at least it does at first.
When starting up Waveform, you’re going to want to prepare for a journey across the solar system like no other, and it’s likely one you’re going to want to repeat over and over again. You’ll start off on Pluto with a handful of levels and progress like this along the planets until you eventually meet the Sun. At this point, it’s worth nothing that everything about the layout of Waveform is very tidy – there’s no clutter and it’s a very simple game to navigate. The best example of this is how each new mechanic is introduced with every new planet.
At first, you’ll just be tasked with getting through the levels at barely any risk, just collecting as many of the colored orbs as possible to get the highest score. A few planets later and things definitely start to get a lot trickier, with mirrors to bounce the light off, clouds that refract, dark matter that destroys, space mines to dodge and a load more. One thing is sure, though; Waveform never feels too tricky,merely because the learning curve is near perfect. Mind you, the last level on each planet has an event horizon chasing you and that sure piles on the pressure, much like a surprise exam held during class.
Another thing that helps out when Waveform starts upping the difficulty is how relaxing it is, almost bordering on casual, you could say. The serene space background, the warbling, yet gentle music (sometimes a bit of funk too) and ease of play makes it a game that can provide a decent challenge without sending you into a rage-induced coma. Though I say it provides a challenge, I wouldn’t describe it as a difficult game due to the low input demand from the player. By that I mean it doesn’t require you to perform a complex sequence of button mashing or to think so hard your brain hurts, it’s a simple task of matching a wavy line through an obstacle course – it’s quite mesmerising, in fact.
If I were to be stretched to find a fault in the game, I would bring it up here by saying that the game’s repetition lends itself to being played only in intervals. After about an hour or so, I found I would need a break, if just for a change of scenery. This wasn’t a problem at all; I actually preferred to make the game last as long as possible, and it wouldn’t be long until I craved a wavy trip across space again. Oddly, I am probably going to almost counteract what I just said because, while Waveform could be considered repetitive to some degree, you’ll actually want to play levels over and over again. This will become essential practice later in the game as you need a certain number of stars to unlock levels. You obtain these by getting higher scores on each level or pursuing achievements. When it starts to get to the crunch, you’ll either have to really step up your game to get those stars or you could search for the black holes in some of the levels.
These black holes are best compared to the Warp Zones in Super Meat Boy as they open up previously hidden levels and a potential for more stars. Some just need to be spotted, while other black holes will require the player to do something risky to get sucked in. This, ladies and gentlemen, provides great incentive to replay levels, as I am sure you’ll agree. Complete the game and you’ll unlock New Game+, which mixes up the levels in the style of the many bonus levels that can be played. Mostly these are effects such as pulsing darkness to disrupt you, hyper speed to test your reactions or distortion to make you question your perception.
Other than working your way through the game, there are endless modes on each planet, which, as you can guess, are infinite levels. There are some achievements attached to these, but I am not sure how long these would actually last anyone, despite their capacity to go on forever. Personally, I prefer having that end goal to work towards and due to the game being ever so slightly repetitive – music, gameplay and visuals – this mode only exacerbates this very slight issue the longer you go on.
In wrapping up then, I would place Waveform as the kind of game you would play to wind down. It is challenging, but only enough to keep you trying, rather than frustrate you – luckily, checkpoints usually prevent that. While the gameplay of Waveform is mechanically unique, lending itself to a new challenge for the player, the rest of the game is designed in way that most players will recognise and understand.
You’ll appreciate the game’s subtle changes through progression as they slowly chisel you into a better player, and you’ll enjoy going back over levels and realising how much better you have got. You’ll really love finding hidden levels and the oddities of the bonus levels. It’s a game that comes easily recommended to just about everyone, and one that you’ll come back to again and again, if just to sway along to the sublime soundtrack and calming visuals.