There are times when I’m playing certain games where I want to play my music on Spotify instead of listening to the in-game soundtrack. I’ve done that for a few games — Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Shantae Half-Genie Hero, and Sonic Forces (the final boss, anyway) — but it doesn’t always work as well as I hope it will. In-game music tends to better suit the mood of the experience compared to anything I try to play over it.
Soundfall, a co-op rhythm-based dungeon crawler from Drastic Games, a startup game studio founded by Epic Games alumni, is a different story. Its soundtrack of indie tunes has the energy of a great Spotify playlist, with each disparate track syncing up to the action perfectly.
In Soundfall, you play as one of the five Guardians of Harmony — musical geniuses Melody, Jaxon, Lydia, Brite, and Ky — who got transported to the musical world of Symphonia while playing some music of their own in the real world. They’re summoned by the Composers to save all the music in the world from Discord, an army of creatures called Discordians who corrupt every song they touch by order of its lieutenant Banshee.
The game comes packed with 140 songs. Every land in Symphonia has an assigned musical genre that its environment vibes to in 1930s cartoon style. For example, Serenade Skylands, where the campaign starts, has a mix of pop and EDM, with songs like Fly Fly Fly by Ethan Martin and Frida Winsth (which I’ve been playing repeatedly on Spotify as I’m writing this) and Drawn To You by Vincent Vega. Minuet Forest, the third land of Symphonia, plays classical music composed by artists few of us may be familiar with.
Soundfall features original tunes too, which play during level selection and in levels where heroes get their Instrument of Harmony, ancient artifacts that grant special abilities. The soundtrack is mostly made up of tracks by lesser-known indie musicians and they work perfectly as a complement to the action — as long as you keep up with the beat of the metronome at the bottom of the screen.
The game’s primary hook is that players will get a bonus for attacking, dashing, and dodging to the music’s beat. The on-screen metronome varies depending on the song’s tempo, which is expressed in the number of beats per minute (BPM). For example, Fly Fly Fly plays at 129 BPM, which is a nice pace for players to space out their attacks between beats. If you attack the Discordians or dash on the beat, you get more powerful, gain a moment of invincibility, for a few moments, and maintain your chain. Execute your attacks off the beat, the chain breaks off and your attacks don’t pack as much of a punch — not to mention your weapon overheats for a bit.
The game takes gameplay elements from Dance Dance Revolution, Just Dance, and Guitar Hero, and puts them all into one roguelike dungeon game. Instead of using a dance mat or guitar, you just tap to the beat with your hands on regular controllers, much like Beatmania or the Crypt of the Necrodancer series.
Soundfall is an especially approachable rhythm game thanks to its flexible levels of difficulty. New difficulty modes are unlocked as characters level up (intermediate at 10, expert at 20). Even if a level is set to the toughest difficulty by default, you have the option to dial it back to Warm-Up if the increasing number of Discordians becomes too overwhelming for you, no matter how much you try to beef up your character’s armor and weaponry. I managed to get through a few levels on an intermediate difficulty, but I mostly played on the easiest difficulty because I operate on the belief that gameplay should be just as relaxing as the music itself.
I love rhythm games as much as I do other game genres, but Soundfall takes the genre to the next level. It takes every daydream I have about fighting bad guys to my favorite songs and brings them to life, making each song a unique challenge. While many popular rhythm games feature a level of physical activity, Soundfall doesn’t demand that you get off your feet and dance. You have permission to stay sitting on your couch at home — or while traveling somewhere if you’re playing the game on the Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck — and vibe to an eclectic playlist of songs from every genre as you loot and shoot your way through every dungeon and temple. The music especially suits its slick presentation, which plays out like a mix of Disney’s Fantasia, Ultra, and Coachella.
If Drastic Games is a DJ, Soundfall is the dancefloor, rhythm, and music all wrapped up in the greatest visual album the world has ever seen.
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