Review - Waveform
Welcome to OMGeek's review of Waveform: a PC game about manipulating a wave of light in outer space, from indie developer Eden Industries. The format we're trying here is somewhat new: I have written the main review of the game here, but my other two Original OMGeek co-conspirators Mike and James will then chime in at the end with their thoughts. We hope discussing it from three different perspectives gives you a better impression of the game.
Waveform is now out on Steam at a discounted price of 5.95 USD.
INTRODUCING A GAME ABOUT CONTROLLING YOUR LOSS OF CONTROL.
What makes a computer game different from a movie?
If games can look just as good as a movie, and sound just as intense, and provide the same kind of escapism, and elicit just as much emotion from you, then why play games at all?
Could it be that little element of any game that tickles the parts of your brain that says yes or no? Up or down? Blue or red? Merge with an artificial intelligence and become a contemporary techno-god, or plunge the world into a new dark age bereft of modern communication and technology? Interaction. Decision-making. Control.
Ironically, Waveform is the game that it is because of the way that the game takes away some of that control from you. In Waveform, you can't say up or down because you have no choice but to go up or down. You do have a say in when up ends and down begins, but it's really not as easy as it looks.
WAVES... IN SPACE!
Waveform, by indie developer Eden Industries, is a game with a premise like no other: your task is to guide a ball of light from the outer reaches of the solar system all the way to the sun in order to bring light back to the galaxy.
Light going towards sun. Surely we're going against the flow here. Perhaps the game is trying to make a statement.
Each planet is treated like a hub level in that each contains a number of the actual levels that your little ball of light will traverse. The levels get harder, but new gameplay elements also get introduced. There's a lot of variety in Waveform for a game set in outer space, and it just gets better once the game actually starts.
HOW DOES IT PLAY?
There are two basic goals in each level of Waveform. The first is to get from point A to point B, which in this case is to travel along a set path that scrolls right until your ball of light finds a portal out of the level. The second goal is to collect as many light orbs as possible along the way. You're doing this to restore light to the galaxy, after all. What makes the journey so tricky is the lack of precise control over the ball of light. Instead, it follows the rhythmic, symmetrical up and down dance of a sine wave, which you do control. Clicking and dragging left and right will control the frequency of the wave, while dragging up and down will increase or decrease the amplitude. The wave controls are tight and responsive, and it's the only mode of control you'll ever learn and need for the duration of the game.
It's elegant, but maddening: the game will start chucking obstacles in your way, like dark matter, which will explode in clumps (destroying light orbs in the process!) the moment your ball of light touches one of them. Suddenly, what seemed like a fun journey of floating around and collecting stuff has become the computer game equivalent of riding a bucking wild horse. It's still fun, but it's exhilirating, it keeps you thinking, and a momentary lapse in your train of thought can lead to a chain reaction of mishaps.
In case I haven't made it clear yet: Waveform is challenging and exciting, and it will melt your brain if you just let it.
Setting the wave to an optimal path for maximum light orb collection and zero collisions with dark matter brings with it a feeling of great achievement, but this peace of mind is short-lived: the orbs to be collected and the obstacles to be avoided are arranged in a sly way that you'll be making minute adjustments to your wave moment after moment. Some levels will even demand sudden changes to adapt to the current situation, such as going from a slow, flat wave to a fast and tall wave in a split second. This is the part when one little mental hiccup can make the whole house of cards come down crashing on you as you watch disaster after disaster unfold before your eyes.
OTHER WAYS THAT THE GAME CAN MAKE YOU SMILE. AND CRY.
Dark matter is not the only thing you have to avoid in Waveform, and light orbs are not the only things you want to hit. Each planet introduces a new quirk to the formula -- a new tool or a new danger to screw up your plans.
Early on, the game introduces colored paths that you can trace with your ball of light to score more points. It's a bit like holding a note in Rock Band, only the note is curved and you have to pattern your wave just right to fully sustain it. There are also mirror platforms that reflect light: in game terms, the ball of light bounces off them, momentarily breaking the continuous wave with a sharp change in direction. This can make or break your plans, depending on whether you can manipulate your wave to take advantage of them. Sometimes, you'll need to plan out multiple bounces along a collection of mirrors to collect all the light orbs positioned around them. Hitting a bunch of orbs with clever wave positioning is immensely satisfying, but missing them simply makes you want to go back and try again; you just know there's a way to pull it off, and the levels are short enough to make them replayable.
There's also a very good reason for collecting complete clumps of those orbs in the first place: grabbing orbs of the same color in succession builds up your combo meter, which in turn bumps up your point multiplier. Your ball also starts moving faster, which sounds minor at first but turns into a balls-to-the-wall Top Gun adrenaline rush once things get busy. It's similar to the kind of point system in a rhythm game, only you're just using your mouse and it feels totally natural and songs in a rhythm game don't suddenly speed up because you're playing so well.
Waveform also has bonus stages of a sort, only they'll probably drive you more insane than the regular levels could. Each has some unique conditions: one makes you gather orbs along an ever-twisting path while your view undulates and distorts like you just drank a bottle of whisky then opened your eyes from the bottom of a swimming pool. Another sees you spending half the level in total darkness; your vision comes and goes in a lazy, strobe-like effect. It's incredibly challenging but it's funny as well.
HOW DOES IT LOOK?
At the surface, Waveform is by no means a feat of graphical genius. On the technical side, it plays out on a 2D plane and the background just needs to depict a space scene. Waveform accomplishes both with a reliable, workmanlike attitude.
On the creative side, it does look pretty if you're a space fan; planets and nebulae decorate the backdrop, and the colorful orbs and streams of light keep things interesting. The game doesn't look amazing by the usual standards, but one thing it does well is communication. At a glance, you can see the path which your ball is going to take at the current wave setting. You know if you're going to hit anything. You know if you're going to miss those vital orbs. You even know what color your wave is currently at, which is essential for racking up those multipliers.
Waveform looks right for the part, and its visuals are well-designed to properly and efficiently inform the player about the current situation.
HOW DOES IT SOUND?
I'd like to take a moment (and a few paragraphs) to talk about something that truly sets Waveform apart: the music. I'm not the right person to ask when it comes of classifying the different types of techno and synth music, so I'm going to call this some variety of Retro Synth Doubleplusgood Bubble Pop. The music is awesome and energizing, quirky when it wants to be, and it fits the mood of the game entirely.
All the tunes in the game were composed by Scott McFayden, and you can buy the digital album of the game's music here.
The sound effects are no slouch either, but I call them good and functional while I can say with all honesty that the music is that amazing.
HOW'S THE PERFORMANCE?
Being a 2D game does have its perks. Waveform runs smoothly for the most part, although I did run into a hiccup or two during really busy scenes. It's hard to tell if it's the slowness of my ball of light because I was just doing so badly, of it the scene itself was slowing down due to some reason or another.
Currently, Waveform is only available on the Windows platform, but Ryan Vandendyck of Eden Industries has confirmed that they are looking into mobile versions of the game if it does well. It's going to make a very good mobile game. I can say that now.
Once the main quest is over, you can still enjoy Waveform's gameplay over and over again via the Deep Space mode, which essentially a random level generator. There's also a level editor in the works, which the developers plan to release as free DLC.
Continue on to the next page for Mike's and James's take on Waveform, and my final verdict.
Waveform is a really cool concept for a game. An undulating wave manipulated by your mouse, and when you get that right, an awesome sense of satisfaction sets in, along with the corresponding musical tones. It is both relaxing and a joy to play after a long day of work with perhaps some pineapple juice if that’s your thing. The soundtrack of this game is really good, and it's paired well with the visuals which gave off this futuristic sci-fi vibe of travelling through the vastness of outer space. I just love the setting of the game, being a space geek and all. Moving across the universe as a wave through stars and planets presented in bright lights culminating in a beautiful smashing of colourful explosions -- oh so pretty and awesome. My god, its full of... waves and stars.
As for the actual gameplay I thought it was quite challenging at first but once I got into the groove of things, I was able to manipulate the waves a lot better and score some solid points and bonuses. The graphics and animation give you a solid feeling of gratification once you get combos in. My first play through was smooth and I found it to be an enjoyable experience. Overall I find that the game really grows on you. It's mildly addictive, and I would absolutely love to play this on my Android smartphone when I’m on the move during my daily commutes. I’d recommend this game to my friends. So if you’re looking for a fun, easy to jump in game, with a chilled out soundtrack, well then kick back, fire up steam, grab your pineapple juice and get ready to get blasted into space.
Before I tried out Waveform, I admit I didn’t really know anything about it until Ryan from Eden Industries approached us to do a review. Jed was the first one to try it amongst us and he was explaining what kind of a game it is, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the game mechanics. Still, it intrigued me and I had to try it.
Like I said, mechanics were hard to grasp at first, but after a few levels, everything started to make sense and I can understand the addicting and completionist factor to this. It’s gonna make you want to replay each level to get the highest score and stars possible. I know this comes out as an overused phrase with lots of games today, but Waveform is one of those titles which is simple enough to play, but very difficult to master.
It gets more challenging when there are blocks called Dark Matter, which are blocks that you have to avoid. Suddenly, the game’s pace changes because now you’re on your toes maneuvering your orb to avoid the Dark Matter, while collecting Light orbs for points.
The aesthetics and sound design of Waveform lend itself well to the game, because we all know that collecting light orbs in Pluto absolutely makes sense. Seriously though, I like the space feel to it and seeing your orb gliding in space and following the wave makes it very pleasing to watch.
Soundtrack is amazingly done. I’m glad Eden Industries did not go with the cliche-ish chiptune genre (don’t burn me for this guys). The music while playing the game makes it uniquely enjoyable for me. I can feel it really relaxing me while playing, which is a rare feat nowadays.
Waveform is truly an excellent game with professional production values. Maybe the sequel could include coop as I can see this as being a good game to play with someone. Imagine 2 orbs cris-crossing and collecting light orbs at the same time. Please send all royalty checks to my Paypal account, thank you!
I can see this as an addictive game on the mobile platform as well. Ryan mentioned he has plans on releasing a mobile version soon and I will be looking out for this as soon as it gets released.
Waveform, at its very core, is one of those games that is simple to learn but hard to master. The complexity in this case, however, comes not from the control options available to the player, but from all the external factors that can be bolted in to tweak the experience. Waveform is great because there are only four explicit things that you can do at any point in the game: make the wave longer, shorter, bigger, or smaller. Your reaction will always be predictable: you will strategically shift the wave to a more advantageous form to maximize orb collection, avoid danger, and prepare for the next shift. The way you arrive at the conclusion of how to shift the wave, however, is the bit where all the mental acrobatics take place. Dark matter! Mirrors! Score-multiplying color rings! Think fast!
It's a game with a very basic (but elegant!) mechanic and a huge amount of plugins just waiting to insert themselves to make your experience more interesting as the levels progress. Like any good game, these plugins tweak the rules a bit and keep you on your toes. With 6 to 10 hours of gameplay ahead of you, that's a lot of rules tweaking to look forward to.
So why play a game that has one control that doesn't even really control the most important object in the game?
Because it's good, and because it's different. Play it because unlike a movie, a game like Waveform doesn't need a good story or a million-dollar special effects budget to do what it ultimately sets out to do, which is to entertain. Waveform is like a direct shot of space-flavored fun right into your synapses, and that's a lot more than I can say for many other games out there. Play it!
Waveform is now available on Steam at a special release promotion price of 5.95 USD. The promo ends on March 28, so if you like space and light and good music and subjecting your brain to exquisitely excruciating and satisfying challenges, go for it!