With the retail space seeing a resurgence in rhythm games – Guitar Hero and Rock Band most notably – it's good to see an indie developer trying to tackle the long-abandoned genre, too. Step forward LOUD on Planet X, a Plants vs. Zombies, Crypt of the Necrodancer hybrid created by one of the developers of Sound Shapes – an obvious association, as this title's beauty is in its simplicity.
The premise is simple: midway through performing at a concert, you're abducted and placed on an alien planet – you're in deep treble, to say the least – where you must fend off alien attackers through the power of music. It's a set-up that David Bowie probably pondered at some point. When you're actually playing the game, the screen is divided up into four lanes – a button on the controller allocated to each one – with aliens speeding down them to destroy your speakers.
Pressing the corresponding button only works, however, when it's to the beat of the song (the outside of the screen pulses to help you keep in rhythm) meaning that it's all about timing – no level can be completed by simply mashing all of the buttons. Killing a certain amount of aliens – the amount of hits they can take is represented by their amount of eyes – in a row gives you a power-up (activated by R2) which can be anything from bouncers defending one of your speakers to projectors providing some extra fire-power.
What's so great about LOUD On Planet X's gameplay is that it's so simple, yet – to be cliché – it's easy to learn but hard to master. Getting the timing right is harder than it looks, and messing up often staggers you for a few seconds, but getting in the zone and really nailing a song feels so satisfying and intense that you'll often take a break to revel in your own success and rest your thumbs.
Of course, a music game is only as good as its songs, and some people may be disappointed with what's on offer. CHVRCHES is arguably the only popular band here, yet that's no skin off the game's nose – there are some really excellent songs, and you could discover a new artist thanks to the variety on offer. Cadence Weapon and METZ are our favourites; the former's 'Conditioning' being a minimalist, low-key piece, and the latter's 'The Swimmer' being a beautifully noisy, gritty, raw track that's one of the most intense and stressful on the title.
There's plenty more: Tegan and Sara offer a synth-filled, indie-pop alternative, July Talk is all about grunge-like garage rock, and Austra is the weird, new-wave band of the game. What's cool is that every band and artist is lovingly recreated in the block-coloured, rounded style of Sound Shapes that's so prevalent in LOUD on Planet X, and the way each band acts differently on-stage is just another feather in its cap. Every band has their own special move that hints at their real-world personalities, too.
And that's really all there is to it. It's an extremely simple game, and thanks to its strong tracklist and addictive gameplay, that isn't a weak point. A bit more content wouldn't be out of place, but the Easy, Medium, and Hard modes should keep many players coming back for more.
Coming from the mind of a Sound Shapes developer, you can really see the influences in LOUD on Planet X; the quirky, minimalist style, the simplicity of its gameplay, and the excellent soundtrack all echo its spiritual predecessor. Yet Pop Sandbox's console debut does plenty to distance itself from its competitors, and its blend of beats and battles makes it a must for any rhythm game fan and a good place to start for those who aren't. Simply put, this'll strike a chord with anyone.