Dancing used to be a whole-body sort of thing. All the way from your head to your toes, the entirety of your being was locked in a compulsive engagement to a rhythm. Whether you looked like a corporeal dream floating across the floor or like someone who missed the point of that episode of Seinfeld, all that mattered was that every inch of you is dedicated to the single task of moving to the music.
Jump to a café with a live band and an America where dancing is frowned upon in any place that isn’t a wedding or an ecstasy-fueled nightclub. It feels almost dystopian in that way where something so natural has been reduced to an regal or illicit affair, so now with this real life musical act in your face, your rhythmic, physical expression of vitality is stuck to hand waving and head bobbing as you sit in a chair. And now when the majority of the world is locked in step toward an inevitable end of working office jobs every single waking hour of the day while your weekends are relegated to suppressing every dream and passion you’ve ever had, no one even has time for that much frivolity.
Enter Soundodger. While that may be a depressing lede into a rather good game, it’s appropriate because it is a further distillation of dancing. Not even much hand waving goes on as it’s really just your mousing hand that moves. Soundodger is a free Flash rhythm game developed by Studio Bean (or rather the one man behind Studio Bean, Michael Molinari) for Adult Swim Games, though it originated during GDC’s 2013 Experimental Gaming Workshop. In it, you move your mouse cursor around a little circular arena as you dodge sound.
Beats and melodies in each song (made by folks like Disasterpeace of Fez soundtrack fame and Lifeformed of Dustforce) are represented by triangles that form around the ring of your navigable area before shooting in towards the center and following out once more. They’ll sometimes fly right through the middle and sometimes they’ll flow around in their own dance, undulating in and out and around as you do nothing more than sit idly by and watch the beautiful Doritos go about their symphonic business. And sometimes they won’t even be triangles.
As you do this and successfully avoid these aggressively mobile shapes, you earn points, and you don’t earn points when you either collide with one or if you click down and hold your mouse button to enter a bullet time mode. The view zooms in ever so slightly and pans around with your movements, giving even the slowed down version of the game a sense of kineticism. Some songs even sound better when you begin to futz around with the electro synth chiptune beat.
The points you get (which are really just a cumulative percentage of successful sound dodging) unlock more songs, but they are further representative of the core tenant of the game, which is to not mess up the song. Feel it, enjoy it, whatever, but the important thing is to not hit the triangles because you will cause the song to skip and hitch and generally sound bad. And it’s almost definitely your fault.
I say that because it never felt like the shapes were necessarily attacking me (save for the diamonds that actively sought out conflict, those bastards). Instead, it felt more like I was within the song and it was my duty to let it spin on. And it’s easy enough to do once you get in the right mindset. Soundodger is definitely less about using your visual acuity and finely tuned reaction time to avoid things as they come and more about feeling the song.
If you play the game right, it feels a lot like dancing. There are no wrong moves in dancing. You don’t even have to move to the beat, but it definitely helps, and that’s what Soundodger is like. The best early example is perhaps “Distant Stars” by Sonic. The early section provides a rigidity that gives you something to musically latch onto, moving in staccato bursts along to a very hard beat. Then whirling circles of triangles flow out to you and encircle you, forcing you move among their little auditory corrals. And after that, dual streams of triangles will come at you, one shooting straight and the other curling back again. They will rapidly fire at this point, urging you along a larger arc of graceful circumnavigation. There’s no wrong way to do all of this, but sticking to the beat is almost mandatory (if you want to make it easier on yourself, anyways).
The difficulty also moves along at a relatively pleasant pace (that’s what the little circles next to track names are for). Whenever you think you’ve got a handle on the game, it will take it up a notch and make you miss such simple times. The problem that arises (though it is also present in the rest of the game) is that when you invariably mess up and hit a note, the game does this record scratch thing where your view twirls and blows up and the song hitches, slows down, and spins back up. It is jarring to say the least and often times leads to subsequent mistakes due to the re-engagement. It’s a real downer.
But for that one thing, Soundodger does so many more things right. It’s no wonder this was all anyone talked about last week. You no longer have to embarrass yourself with sit down dancing let alone real dancing. Now all you need are two ears and a hand. And a mouse, I guess, along with a working computer and Internet connection, but whatever. Soundodger is a fun little game, and for best results, just add dubstep.
Seriously, don’t stop playing until you hit a dubstep song.