With Amplitude out earlier this month and Crypt of the Necrodancer arriving in February, we’re beginning to see the alternative side to rhythm-action games on PS4 this year. Rock Band and Guitar Hero provide the popularised modern take on the genre with expensive kits needed just to play them, while the new wave of indie rhythm-action titles cost a fraction of those big names to make, and to buy. They also, arguably, do far more to shake up the genre and provide some imagination.
Sandwiched between those two releases I mentioned at the top of the review is Inside My Radio, a fellow indie rhythm-action game where you play as an LED square, called Taek, sent to revive the different musical styles held within a dying Boombox, which is done by doing absolutely everything but directional movement in time to the beat of the soundtrack. It sits somewhere between Crypt of the Necrodancer and Sound Shapes when it comes to controls, without being quite so difficult as the former.
Inside My Radio is out to grab your attention from the very start. Its visual style is simplistic, but colorful and engaging, designed to work in tandem with the soundtrack. This creates some lovely little audiovisual flourishes as you pass certain objects and interact with the levels. The vibrancy of the whole thing is pleasing and cheerful in a way that sits just right with the way the music is supposed to make you feel. Sound and color is important to rhythm-action games, and Inside My Radio doesn’t disappoint in this regard. In fact, it’s one of the better examples of making good use of both.
You’ll be working your way through a variety of genre-themed musical levels that include Disco and Reggae, but the overarching style of the game and its cubic main protagonist is Electro. Electro, Dance, and its myriad forms, not only have levels of their own, but they also seep into the other genres during the rest of the game. A little Drum N’ Bass percussion during the Reggae level, or a techno beat underscoring a section with Hard Rock, for example. This blending of genres prevents the themed stages from being too predictable in what to expect, taking a neat idea and infusing it with a bit more creativity. A good thing too, as Inside My Radio just starts to get a tad too samey near the end of its brief run.
To begin with however, the game throws variety at you like confetti. The changing musical styles of each area already give you various unique challenges to overcome as it is, but it isn’t too far into the game before you’re given puzzles to solve. They begin simple, the sort of standard test games thrown at you like ‘press three switches in the right order’. From there things branch out a bit. Necessary tasks such as timing your jumps to the beat in order to make it across a sequence of platforms are not as simple as just jumping. The platforms move in different directions, so by changing the tempo of the music, you will make the platforms follow the path you need, using the rhythm to time both the switches and the jumps just right. As you progress, variants of this formula continue to crop up, including moments like sequencing disco lights to open a locked area, changing the settings of lasers in order to use them as scaleable walls, and twiddling on the dials of a mixer to open a door. These are nice little twists on what are normally pretty regular, mundane tasks in platformers.
The fault in this early stream of ideas is that they aren’t quite paced well enough to go the distance, making the finale a little less satisfying than it should be. By the final stage the game has already begun to feel too familiar, too regressive, after such a strong start. Even the fairly clever boss fights start to blend into one another stylistically, which doesn’t do them justice as a whole. All of that is unfortunate considering how short the game is. Inside My Radio will take you no more than a few hours to finish and offers some replay value beyond that, with a token stage select and Time Attack mode filling out the package. To be fair, Time Attack is actually a good addition, distilling what works in the main game into a quick, simple bit of time-wasting fun.
Beyond that the only other gripe I had with Inside My Radio was getting used to the controls. Years of conditioning thanks to 2D platformers meant that getting used to timing jumps and actions in time with music rather than when the opportunity strikes was troublesome at first, and by the time I’d got to grips with it properly, the game was nearly over. Luckily the game doesn’t punish you for these reflexive errors too harshly, and generally, timing is in sync with your muscle memory enough for it to blend together nicely. Sadly, there are some frustrating sections of the game where the balance is just a bit off and it causes you to die over and over. One boss fight sees you platforming on the run as the boss character demolishes the scenery behind you. Split-second timing is required to pull this off, as anyone who’s played similar encounters in the recent Rayman titles will attest to, and confusion erupts as you struggle to focus on the rhythm of the music and what to do next to avoid being squished. It’s by no means impossible to get past, just less of an enjoyable challenge than it probably deserved to be.
While these flaws do prevent Inside My Radio from being truly essential, you’d not be going far wrong in seeking it out if you’re a fan of the rhythm-action genre, or indeed creative platformers. It does just enough to stand out from the crowds of both genres and be its own thing, borrowing only the most basic of ideas with which to assemble the bare bones that the creative, clever meat sits upon. It’s most welcoming to see a musical platformer that embraces vibrant colors and eclectic sounds when the alternatives seem so stuck in the mud in terms of audiovisual design. This is a concept I’d like to see Seaven Studio expand upon in the future, as the developer clearly has some novel ideas that could do with a boost in terms of manpower and budget in order to really push through into greatness.