Maybe it’s because I’ve spent my entire life as a musician, but I love rhythm and music games. Back in the day, I played the heck out of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and Beat Saber remains my go-to music game. I was really excited to catch a preview of Soundfall. It’s an action-RPG with a music-related hook. You shoot enemies in time to the beat.
Developer Noodlecake describes Soundfall as a “rhythm driven dungeon crawler.” That’s pretty accurate. Soundfall is a third person action game in which you move around a very dynamic map, shooting enemies in time to the music. The more accurately you stay on the beat, the more damage you do. As with most ARPGs and dungeon crawlers, there are health pickups (in the form of beat boxes), destructible environmental elements, puzzles, and lots of enemy types. You have a dash — also in time to the beat — and of course an evolving, very large selection of weapons and upgrades.
At least in the demo, I played as a young woman named Melody, who is unexpectedly transported to the land of Symphonia, from which she needs to escape by clearing the world of monsters. The final game will have 5 playable characters (in up to 4 player co-op), each with different abilities and weapons.
Here’s Where Things Get Interesting
Soundfall has a number of ideas and conceptual hooks that make it stand out. The developers talked about the game’s algorithm, which analyzes the beat of the music and procedurally generates levels that reflect the tempo and mood of the music. It’s a cool idea. At least in the demo, the difference between levels was pretty subtle. Some levels had more enemies or different types of hazards for sure.
One of the most exciting promises of Soundfall is the ability to import any song, and let the algorithm create the level based on it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t in the demo. It’s a feature I can’t wait to try.
The demo included quite a few songs, most of them — perhaps not surprising — dance and electronic focused. Songs with a strong pulse are obviously easier to “shoot to.” The playlist mixed in a couple of midtempo acoustic pop songs as well. There’s an optional metronome click to help the more rhythmically challenged. Because having really accurate inputs is so important, Soundfall includes a tool to calibrate your controller. Speaking of controllers, the game supports nearly every type — Xbox, Switch and PS4/5 — though I did have a bug where the sound cut out using a PS5 gamepad.
Make Room for Rhythm
While the beat in music is important, especially on the dance floor, what really makes a song rock is syncopation. For the non-musicians, that means emphasizing the off-beat. It’s the difference between a march (ONE-two-THREE-four) and pop, rock, funk and jazz (one-TWO-three-FOUR). In fact, there’s even a musician slogan that goes “friends don’t let friends clap on the beat.”
When I interact with music, I want to make up patterns that play around the beat. I want to play subdivisions (shorter notes within the beat). At least in the demo and with the character I played. Soundfall seems to only reward playing right on the beat. Playing faster notes or fast and slow beat patterns (even if dead on the pulse) didn’t register as accurate shooting and just used up my ammo faster. One of the joys and challenges of Beat Saber is that you’re slicing and dicing to complex rhythmic patterns.
While I hope that the final release of Soundfall allows for a little more creativity, I still appreciate the concept. Rhythm game and hack and slash are not two genres I would have thought to pair before. Soundfall has a lot of cute and clever ideas — like enemies and environments that all dance to the music — and a very open-ended design. The combat is fun and the basics are solid and work great. I’m looking forward to seeing how Soundfall develops.
***PC demo code provided by the publisher***