Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
01 October 2006
I breezed right through to the first ending of Orbital on my GBA and I'm slowly earning the moons I need to see the second ending. If you've read the game has 30 levels, then that's a reference to the standard levels. You get five more after finishing those 30 and then five more again after finishing capturing each moon on each of those 35 levels, giving the game a total of 40 levels. (The moon is a special satellite on each level that looks like the Earth's moon in one of its phases.)

Between plays I've been bouncing around to various games like Ace Combat Advance, Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness, and Pac-Man World, none of which are particularly good. But when I found myself awake and the house quiet (not an easy thing with two kids) that seemed the perfect opportunity to play Soundvoyager, the other bit Generations game Ruffin and I bought. It is completely aural and therefore can be played without looking at the screen, even though the screen does display graphics to give you an idea of what you should be doing.

So far, I've seen two types of levels: Sound Catcher and Sound Drive. When you start Sound Catcher you can initially hear a brief, faint musical track which is gradually getting louder. As it gets louder you can hear that it is stronger in one ear or the other, and the goal is to move the D-pad left or right until the music is centered. If you have it centered when the music reaches its highest volume, then you catch the music and it continues to play. Shortly another track will begin playing -- one which is a little harder to hear over the existing track -- and you must again catch it. Each successive track will mesh with the ones you've caught, and the end result is a short musical piece built layer upon layer. Of course, as the music becomes more complex, each new sound is a little more difficult to hear.

When you finish collecting tracks, a "you won" sound plays and the music you built dies away. What happens next is not entirely clear to me. I believe that you are given a choice between two new sounds, and by centering one of them you can choose the next stage you play.

I didn't notice until after I'd finished the first few levels that there is a stage select screen that is built like a tree, sort of like the tree in the story mode of Bust-a-Move 2. Apparently in each level I've played of Soundvoyager I've chosen to go left in the tree, so there are levels to the right that may be very different.

The second level I played is a Sound Drive level. You can hear cars coming toward you, getting louder, and by figuring out if the sound is centered or to one side, you try to avoid getting hit. There are five lanes of traffic, and the leftmost and rightmost lanes have a bit of white noise, like the reflected road noise I've heard when driving beside a wall in a real car. Simply avoid getting hit to win this level.

The third level, again left on the tree, is another Sound Catcher level with new music. The fourth, again left on the tree, is another Sound Drive level with horses instead of cars. The fifth, again on the left, is another Sound Drive level, with different music yet again.

And that's all I've seen -- I mean, heard -- of the game so far. Hardly any instructions are necessary. Even the stage select screen gives each stage (not each kind of stage, but actually each stage) its own sound so in theory you can find a particular stage without ever looking at the screen.

I played this game for nearly 30 minutes tonight without opening my eyes except to peek at the screen a few times to see what kind of level was coming up and to examine the stage select screen. It's an odd experience, but one that's entirely natural after the first minute. I am curious to see if the Sound Drive levels get much more difficult -- the last one simply moved more quickly at the end. Perhaps they'll use horses and cars simultaneously so you can distinguish the two from each other and get between them to avoid getting hit.

I am not as sold on Soundvoyager as I am on Orbital. The latter simply has more depth so far, but then again I've only played about five of former's 33 levels shown on the stage select screen. Orbital is certainly worth playing. Soundvoyager is more interesting to me as an experimental -- as opposed to enjoyable -- game.
--Matt Matthews at 01:28
Comment [ 4 ]

Comments on this post:

The bit Generations series is a bit hit-and-miss unfortunately. The entire line could be considered experimental, but only a fraction seem to stand out as worth anything beyond a play at the concept.

Dotstream may be the best of the line, but I never warmed to it. Orbital depends a lot on the mentality of the player, but is itself solid as well.

Boundish is variations of Pong. That is both its theme and its weak point, as it is difficult to get a worthwhile sellable game out of a Pong variation. Most aren't even worthwhile compared to Pong itself.

Dialhex is a very budget average puzzle game. Playing briefly has led me to believe presentation (graphics, sound, polish) are a much bigger part of puzzle games than I had previously thought, because I can't help but think a face lift might turn it into something more interesting.

I've only heard about Coloris and Digidrive, so I can't really speak for them.

By Anonymous Baines, at 01 October, 2006 21:37  

I really liked the idea of Soundvoyager, but my hearing isn't the greatest. The use of sound really opened my "ears," so to speak.

It's such a different connection to the game. Not that sound isn't used today, but current games are so heavy on the sensory information that often I tune everything but the visuals out.

It got me thinking about making a game that had no visuals or sound, but was only experienced through rumble. It'd be a maze game, where running into walls caused a rumble and the player could leave trails of "rumble" to let themselves know where they had been. Also, players could activate a rumble compass that would rumble a certain number of times indicating the direction they were facing.

Alas, I have no rumble controller and haven't coded in ages.

By Blogger Mordrak, at 03 October, 2006 17:20  

There have been a few game creation competitions that have placed such restrictive themes on game designs, perhaps just to see what people design.

Someone has done a (non-commercial) game where the only sense was either controller rumble or sound (I forget which) where you tried to trap a monster in a dark lair without being eaten, or something like that.

By Anonymous Baines, at 03 October, 2006 18:31  

Finally got in enough Sound Voyager to make it through a "branch". I got started off in Sound Slalom, where the "gates" are emitting beeps and you have to pilot through. Relatively challenging as you need to get the beeps alternating the sides of your head. Having your earphones in backwards doesn't help, btw. Thought they'd gone wacko making one level difficult when I tried new phones.

Anyhow, just unlocked sound driver. Interesting idea, and the whitenoise is just bad enough to keep you from camping in the outside lanes. Neat idea, and I'm looking forward to finding out what the other minigames are going to be.

This game really calls for a Game Boy Advance Player on your Game Cube and surround sound, btw. Great idea, and I'll post more later, but let's just say I'm glad Nintendo isn't afraid to make games where non-standard peripherials are required to make the gameplay go around. From the NES running pads and glove to headphones on your gba to the Wiimote, at least they aren't sitting idle waiting for the market to come to them.

By Blogger rufbo, at 21 November, 2006 19:36  

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