This past Game Developers Conference, Synaesthete took home the Independent Games Festival's award for Best Student Game.
Synaesthesia, for which the game is most likely named, is a rare condition in which different sensations run together. Basically, a person with synaesthesia may be able see a word in colors or be able to taste a sound. Mind blowing, isn't it? True to its name, Synaesthete's visuals achieve an almost blurring interpretation of the synaesthetic process in its unique combination of both audio and visual stimulus. The game's abstract quality perhaps surpasses that of Rez, the acclaimed trance rail shooter that Synaesthete so fondly reminds me of.
Fans of the beat game genre will instantly recognize the familiar look and feel of the cascading note style at the core of Synaesthete's game play. This mechanic itself is very reminiscent of Konami's Beatmania IIDX series in both style and pacing. For gamers who are acquainted with the home brew Dance With Intensity and Stepmania games, binding the controls for the notes to the directional pad may come more naturally than the default J, K, and L keys.
Hitting the three different beats is only half of the game play. Players must navigate their Zaikman through various platforms, avoiding the enemies they encounter while simultaneously zapping them with well timed key clicks. Only after clearing every enemy available on a plane are players allowed to progress further or regain their health. While this all may seem daunting at first, there's a handy tip to know about hitting the notes. Though players are obviously penalized for hitting notes off key, they are not necessarily penalized for omitting them altogether. Players can choose to hit only one track, rather than attempt to nail all three. Even though this makes the game more accessible and allows players to avoid any combo penalties for mistakes it does limit the player's fire power. Players who are able to hit the maximum amount of notes are greatly rewarded for their effort.
The rest of the game is neatly tied up by an entrancing sound track, lovable names like Count Stabbington, and glitzy, euphoric special moves.