I’ve never been to a rave. I do play a lot of videogames, though. I especially love games that are short and focused and less about photorealistic graphics and sprawling stories than about performing a few specific actions as well as possible. I’m talking about games like Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Geometry Wars and Dyad. I’m talking about the works of Jeff Minter. I’m talking about games that, for whatever reason, feel like what I imagine a rave must feel like, with loud electronic dance music and bright neon colors exploding in every direction. Obviously Space Giraffe isn’t an exact replica of losing your early 90s mind in some English field while Orbital ransacks your eardrums, but it seems close enough.
Games have a unique power for discombobulation that they rarely embrace. Games too often strive for realism despite their capacity to fully embrace and promote the impossible and unthinkable. Dropchord, a new music puzzle game from Double Fine, isn’t nearly as abstract as Dyad or a Minter game, but it sports a propulsive electronic score and a dual love for both the minimal and the psychedelic. Basic play and a simple art style undergird an increasingly frenetic audiovisual experience intended to both confuse and stimulate. Dropchord never devolves (or ascends?) into purely formless light and sound, but between the beats and the lights and the slowly escalating tension it plays with our minds the same way any good psychedelic experience does.
So raves, and games, and rave games. You can play them. On a phone or tablet you play Dropchord with two fingers. The game recommends thumbs but I found it easier with my pointers. There’s a glowing circle at the center of the screen, and it’s bisected by a line when you touch opposite points on its circumference. Orbs appear within the circle, and you have a few beats to wipe each orb away with the line formed by your fingers. Clear every orb before they disappear and you’ll earn a score multiplayer which can be consistently chained and increased. Red X’s and lines will appear in the circle—if you hit those you’ll lose your multiplayer and a bit of health. The X’s and orbs can move, and sometimes the orbs have shields that have to be broken down by the line. You’ll slide your fingers around that circle, trying to knock out those orbs while avoiding the indestructible red nuisances. It’s repetitive and not particularly deep. It’s a rave for your fingers.
Music is crucial to Dropchord’s identity. The stages are broken down into verses and choruses, with occasional bonus stages between. The specific puzzle patterns will repeat during different portions of the song, depending on how quickly you clear them. The music isn’t necessarily memorable, though. I can remember specific passages from Dyad or games like Chime that use licensed music. Dropchord’s music is perfectly fine and fits the aesthetic well but won’t stick with you. Also, for a music puzzler Dropchord is curiously indifferent to rhythm. You don’t have to worry about sliding along to the beat—you just have to eliminate every orb before the next pattern emerges.
Modest puzzler Dropchord might resemble my preconceptions of a rave more than any of the other games I mention above. Underneath its bright colors and entrancing music Dropchord is fleeting and shallow. It’s a burst of light and sound without much happening underneath.
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Platform: Android and iOS
Release Date: 8/1/13