Platform: PS Vita [PSN: £11.99]
Publisher: XSEED Games
Orgarhythm is one of several localised niche games to stumble onto British Vitas months after they released in the States (thanks, XSEED), and it really should have been brilliant. This strategy/rhythm hybrid hails from the legendary Tak Hirai, whose previous grand works include the likes of Space Channel 5 Part 2, Meteos and Shenmue. Its integral soundtrack comes courtesy of Japanese composer Ayako Minami, who helped out on Child Of Eden amongst other things. And, almost more excitingly, it follows in the grand tradition of Patapon, one of the first and entirely successful fusions between the two disparate genres.
It's a formula for success, but unfortunately, rhythmic synesthesia and hectic strategy make for stranger bedfellows than usual.
The core concept is delightfully bizarre. As the God Of Light, you have to lead an army of eager followers into battle against your evil brother's rampaging forces. Your colossal avatar slowly boogies (no, really, he's an excellent dancer) through the isometric levels on a set path, requiring you to intelligently command three types of coloured unit (red, blue and yellow) to take out similarly-hued enemy troops and exploit a familiar set of rock/paper/scissors advantages. The net result is an experience that lies somewhere between Pikmin and Patapon, but naturally, with a musical twist.
Units can be tasked with a number of offensive roles, such as melee attacks, ranged combat and catapults, each of which have their own distinct strengths and weaknesses against corresponding enemy troops. Successfully deploying them requires you to tap corresponding touchscreen icons in rhythm with the constantly-pumping beat of the soundtrack, with your forces increasing in power and size if you manage to keep perfect time. The dancing god also has a few useful ranged and support skills to draw upon, all of which are function in a similar way. Though this relatively simple setup remains broadly identical throughout Orgarhythm's thirteen levels, the dance of death soon reveals hidden depths.
Working out which hue of unit to send out to face a specific threat, then deciding what weapon would be best to use and which support abilities to deploy, becomes increasingly hectic as the ferocious opposing hordes press the attack against the God Of Light. Enemy emplacements require you to field ranged units that need defending themselves, and throughout, you'll have to keep slavish rhythm to the unending beat of Minami's pulsating drums to avoid your buffs and bonuses evaporating into thin air. Major bosses up the ante, often forcing you to switch between perfectly-timed attack and desperate defence at the drop of a hat.
When it all comes together, Orgarhythm is really rather wonderful. The frenetic gameplay goes hand in hand with cheerfully colourful environments and a sensational soundtrack comprising an eclectic mix of rock, tribal and electronica tunes. At its best, you'll frequently slip into a trance-like state, totally oblivious to the world around you. A pair of decent headphones amplifies this effect tenfold.
Sadly, Orgarhythm sometimes falls spectacularly flat when it comes to the real time strategy side of the package, and commits two deadly sins that have crippled plenty of RTS games over the years.
Inconsistent pathfinding makes its presence known from the off. Your units will sometimes refuse to do what you want, getting stuck on scenery or just stubbornly deciding that they'd rather not close into engagement range - often scuppering your entire strategy and forcing a level restart. Keeping the beat is usually difficult enough by itself, but these moments usually end up totally throwing you off rhythm with disastrous results.
Then there's the camera. That old chestnut. While the God Of Light is merrily prancing down his beaten track, the restrictive field of view only lets you see incoming threats at the last possible second, rarely giving enough time or warning to concoct particularly advanced tactics beyond panicked reaction. Conversely, during boss battles, the camera zooms out to an insane degree, turning the action into an indistinct messy shambles. Orga-nising your troops is the key to success, but Orgarhythm rarely gives you the tools for the job.
Minami's soundtrack, sensational as it is, also comes with a few problems of its own. Some of the busier tracks actually obscure the underlying beat, making it all too easy to screw up a few bars and resetting your units back to their basic levels. Patapon worked so well because the rhythm was always obvious, always present, and Orgarhythm ends up confusing the issue from time to time. These frustrations conspire to periodically pull you out of your trance and force you to face up to what is, ultimately, an exceedingly flawed title from a gameplay standpoint.
Length will probably be an issue for value-savvy players. The thirteen levels can be bested in around five to six hours depending on how well you manage to cope with the pathfinding and camera (and more than a little blind luck, it must be said), and despite some unlockable abilities to acquire through multiple playthroughs, it's likely that Orgarhythm will have lost its shine for most players before the first campaign run comes to an end.
Orgarhythm's moments of brilliance occur often enough to turn what could have been a rout into a recommendation for players seeking something new or different, but conversely, what could have been a triumph ends up falling far short of its pedigree and potential.
- Refreshing gameplay fusion of real time strategy and hectic rhythm tapping
- Catchy and varied soundtrack
- Utterly mesmeric at its best
- Aggravatingly inconsistent unit pathfinding
- Awkward camera
- Frequently frustrating, relatively short
The Short Version: Orgarhythm isn't the outstanding rhythm/strategy hybrid that we were hoping for, but will please patient Vita owners looking for a colourful and refreshing diversion. It's a shame that the strategy doesn't live up to the soundtrack.