Home > Twin-Stick Shooter, Xbox Indie > Groov [REVIEW]

Groov [REVIEW]

Groov: released January 9th, 2009
Developer: Funkmasonry Industries
Platforms: Xbox Live Indie Game Marketplace

It seems as though many people tend to underestimate the potential power that a well composed soundtrack wields in the gaming world, either to immerse the player, or possibly even lull them to sleep. Having a good rhythm to get lost in, a fast paced track to get the adrenalin going, or a haunting orchestral piece to set the mood is something many gamers may take for granted, but it doesn’t make them any less important. In fact, to accentuate my point, the game I’m reviewing today harvests nearly all of its enjoyment solely by the charming and creative way that it makes use of its soundtrack.

Yes, Groov is technically a twin-stick shooter, but that’s not why you’re going to enjoy it so damn much. Why would it be? There are a million, trillion, zillion twin-stick shooters saturating the market right now, so in order for one of these titles to really stick out, they’ve got to be doing something pretty unique or outstanding, and Groov stands up to these requirements by focusing on one key aspect. This game is all about the music.

From developer Funkmasonry Industries, who originally existed as an experimental jazz band, Groov is all about experiencing the sound, in every aspect possible. When I first started this game up, I actually spent a minute or two simply moving up and down the various options in the main menu, because each time you moved your cursor to a new option, it played a note from a vibraphone. And not the same note mind you, it actually switched it up to create a simple kind of melody, with a tempo controlled by how quickly you scrolled through the selections. You see that? The game hadn’t even started, and yet I was already entranced by the sounds.

Still, as nifty as hearing the vibraphone play throughout the menu selections is, that’s not what you’re here for. You’re in it for the real deal. You want to play the game, and when it comes to this you’ll have a few different options, though you’ll only start off with one: Original Mix.

Original Mix is the main, basic game mode of Groov. As with numberous other twin-stick shooters out there, you’ll start off in a stereotypical box that just so happens to be floating around out in space (apparently) with you trapped inside of it. And what’s this? You’re not alone in this solitary space-box of doom! There are monsters, er, well, shapes, spawning all around you! Oh what ever shall you do?!

 

If you guessed “flick my right stick around in the general direction of mine enemies while fleeing with the left, just like every other game of this nature,” you’d be correct! Or at least partially correct. You see, while you are going to be flying around, dual-sticking those shapes in to oblivion, you’re also going to be composing. Rather effortlessly, actually. Every time you fire your weapon, you’re playing a synthesizer. When those little hockey puck guys blow up, it’s a bass. Those red windmills are the snares, yellow spear heads are the trumpet, and giant green motherships make up the vocals, making a sound every time you shoot them, then finally spitting out one last “come on!” as you finally take them down!

All of this musical composing is coming together flawlessly and all you’re having to do is fly around, shooting at the big bad shapes that want to ruin your day. The way Groov simultaneously controls the flow of the music and still lets the player act as the composer cannot be described as anything other than sick! You will get lost in this groove.

In Original Mix, you have a series of waves that get progressively more crowded as you defeat each one. Triggering the next wave occurs when you reach a set score, and each wave triggers a change in tempo, which in turn affects how quickly your weapon fires. When you first start out, you’re firing a single shot synthesizer that fires to the beat of the rhythm, but as you progress it will evolve into a much faster paced, multi-shot weapon, playing multiple notes at the same time, and providing a noticeably faster and more urgent feel to the game. More enemies will fill the screen, adding in more and more sounds that will go off synchronously as you single-handedly take down the never-ending waves of hostile shapes that are attempting to wash you away.

As with most games of this genre, you start off with three lives, though you will not be earning any more than that, so make use of what limited time you have. Though as standard as the three lives rule may be, the other stand-by of these games (the three bombs that completely nuke everything on screen) has been completely replaced with a rather genius alternative: time slow. You start each game with three slowdowns available for use, but you’ve got to think when trying to activate them because they can only be activated along with the downbeat of the music. Not only does activating this power affect the gameplay (everything slows down except for your ship), but it also affects the music! The tempo slows way down, and the speed in which your ship fires it’s weapon is slowed to match the new tempo. It’s a strategically significant ability, and I love how it ties in so well with the musical aspect of the game.

After you have sufficiently stomped all over the face of Original Mix mode, you unlock Expert Remix mode, which is essentially the same thing as Original Mix, except you only have one life, and you begin in the later, faster paced waves of the Original Mix. Oh, and there’s only one single wave, that never seems to let up. It’s just a constant, crazy, chaotic stream of shapes and sounds and explosions and you will love every moment of it. Just be careful not to get too carried away, as one life won’t last you very long when you’re up against these kinds of odds.

 

Then the third mode, which you unlock by obtaining the new high score in Expert Remix mode, is Jam Session. Basically it lets you create your own mix using the sounds of the game. You can’t die, and there’s no score. You have the ability to change your weapon sound from a synthesizer, to a trumpet, or a vibraphone, and you can also change the overall drum-beat for the game, as well as take control of the drums yourself by way of the face buttons. It’s an interesting idea, but it honestly sounds like more fun than it is. I love the way all of the sounds and instruments fuse together via gameplay to create a jazzy, enchanting melody, but it’s not quite the same when you’re just sitting there making the sounds at random, with no threat of impending doom.

The visuals in this game are simple, to say the least. There are nice touches, such as your ship, the enemies, the box you’re stuck in, and the text at the top of the screen all pulsating to the beat of the music, which are appreciated, and the colors are appropriately bright, but on the whole there’s not much going on. The menus are bland and straight forward, very basic in design, and there are no crazy particle effects of any kind like you’d find in something like Geometry Wars. That being said, as plain as the visuals are, I feel as though that may have been intentional so as to not take away anything from the real focus of this title, which is the sound. The graphics are simple, functional, and most of all, they aren’t going to be what you focus on. They aren’t going to be what you get lost in.

That honor goes to the blood and soul of this game, the one unique and outstanding aspect of Groov that will hook you and make you come back again and again, the feature that this game is quite clearly all about: The music. For eighty points (one measly dollar) on the Xbox Live Marketplace, this short but sweet twin-stick shooter is more than worth your attentions. Even after you’ve completely wrecked it and moved on to bigger, better things (the game is quite short), you will find yourself coming back fairly regularly for short sessions, just to see if you can accumulate a new high score, and to enjoy the fantastic, entrancing music that goes along with the experience.

Groov is trippy as hell, and a joy to play, as well as listen to. It’s addicting and has surprising replay value considering there’s not exactly a ton of content in here. But hey, it’s only a single freakin dollar! What’s there to complain about?! This game is unique and entertaining. Very seldom will you see music and gameplay combined to such outstanding effect. Stop contemplating, and just buy the damn thing. It’s a dollar.

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  1. January 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Thanks for the writeup man! I’m working on a followup to Groov — some info on my website http://www.funkmasonry.com. Hopefully I’ll be able to post more stuff about it soon. It’s taking a long time to develop but it really keeps me motivated when I see posts like this.

    • January 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      Hey, I’ve been having some issues with the commenting on the site for a while now, so I’m not 100% certain you ever got my reply. In the event that you DID get my last reply, you can just go ahead and ignore this, otherwise….hopefully it goes through this time!

      I really just wanted to commend you on Groov Cosmos! It’s lookin pretty slick so far! Music is a HUGE part of my life so it’s really great to see it utilized in such a creative way for gaming, another creative medium that I happen to love ^_^

      One thing that I was curious about though, as I don’t recall being able to find the info on your site, will there be a PC version? I certainly hope so. XBL is host to some pretty great games, but I honestly think you’d find more fans via the PC crowd.

      Either way, I’ll be certainly be on the lookout for it!

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