GDC 2011: Hands-on with slick rhythm action game Pulse for iPad

The old girl's still got a little left in her

GDC 2011: Hands-on with slick rhythm action game Pulse for iPad

At a time when music games are in decline, the guys at Cipher Prime are proving that there's still life left in the genre.

Pulse, the newest creation from the Philidelphia-based development shop, may not be an innovative new leap for music games, but it is different enough to entertain.

Better still, it comes slathered with style: colour-changing rings, fanciful particle effects, and original music ranging from airy electronica to heavy metal.

Familiar funky fresh

It's a package so thoroughly well put together that you're reminded of why music games were popular in the first place. Cipher Prime has one of the most interesting iPad releases in the first half of 2011.

The objective is straightforward: hit stuff. Concentric circles appear on the screen on which little nodes pop up that must be tapped as a glowing ring expands outward from the center of the device.

The goal is to keep the music going by tapping the nodes to the rhythm of the music. Obviously, there's much more to it: sliding nodes that require you to swipe across the screen to the beat, fast-moving nodes, and even multiple nodes that require the use of two hands.

Each level lasts a couple minutes - long enough to establish a theme and gameplay pattern, but not enough to feel strung out for the sake of play. Not only does this serve to avoid the latter, it also supports great variety. The game boasts an impressive array of musical styles - all original tracks from artists, most of who are local to Philadelphia - and it makes for an eclectic, yet totally invigorating experience.

Style with a side of substance

One moment you're grooving to the cheery reds and oranges of carnival-themed electronica and the next you're flicking your wrists to some nerdcore. There's some heavy metal in Pulse, as well as chiptunes and good house music. It's all good, original stuff and Cipher Prime have done a nice job culling top talent.

Naturally, the game will release with a substantial number of tracks, although more are promised post-launch with an emphasis on increasing the range of styles. In a way, Pulse is a vehicle through which Cipher Prime can express a variety of moods and emotions through colour, sound, and interactivity more than it is a straightforward game.

That said, you can expect to be graded on your performance and hopefully support for leaderboards of some form of social networking (posting your latest performance on Twitter or Facebook, perhaps?) could give it a viral component.

Like any great game, though, it's less about the feature and more about the gameplay experience and Pulse is shaping up to be one cool trip.

Tracy Erickson
Tracy Erickson
Manning our editorial outpost in America, Tracy comes with years of expertise at mashing a keyboard. When he's not out painting the town red, he jets across the home of the brave, covering press events under the Pocket Gamer banner.