Developer: Eden Industries
We can always rely on independent developers to think outside the box and give us totally new, unique experiences to indulge in. Get off the shooter-dominated bestseller lists and you'll find an enormous swathe of radical, exciting new ideas and left-field concepts to enjoy - at prices so low that you can scoop them up by the bucketload. Waveform, from one-man outfit Eden Industries, stands out even amongst its indie peers as something entirely different to the norm thanks to its reliance on a thoroughly unexpected and unprecedented mechanic.
See, in most games, you'll control a character, ship or other traditional contrivance. But in Waveform, you'll modulate a light wave as it careens through the solar system. Refreshing doesn't do Eden Industries' effort justice, and don't worry, you won't need a masters degree to understand it.
Wave particle duality suggests that light can either take the form of a discrete photon or a wave... or has the properties of both... and I'm absolutely not qualified to discuss it any further. In gameplay terms, however, Waveform takes this scientific concept to its logical extreme. Players are presented with a light particle that automatically side-scrolls down a preset path - the titular waveform - which has to be modulated in order to guide your photon through pickups, dodge it past obstacles and even dock it into optional black hole warp zones. You can change both the amplitude (height) and frequency (spaces between peaks and troughs) of the wave by dragging the mouse, challenging you to constantly manipulate your flightpath to adjust to oncoming hazards. It's a mesmerising and hypnotic experience, balancing its simple inputs with a hectic scramble for high scores.
Of course, the flight from Pluto to the Sun introduces you to increasingly complex and intricate new gameplay elements. Mirrors can deflect your particle to advantage or detriment, barriers knock it off course, mines blow up (obviously) and clouds of dark matter refract your wave in unpredictable ways. Oncoming waves of darkness also chase you through the last level of each planetary stage, creating a tense extra feeling of imminent threat. Though the core mechanic is deceptively simple and thrives on repetition, Waveform constantly adds new and exciting challenges to overcome.
Optional black holes up the ante yet further. They're difficult to find (and infinitely trickier to guide your particle into), but doing so throws you into an insane bonus level with unpredictable modifiers such as hyperspeed or ridiculous visual feedback. In an impressive attempt to increase replay value, these modifiers bleed into the New Game + campaign upon completion, increasing both value and variety yet further.
Admittedly this might seem a little confusing, and Waveform will doubtlessly perplex you for a while. Indeed, Waveform is rather difficult, but it's down to the learning curve rather than a ferocious base level of challenge. We've never played anything remotely like this before (though a few maths or physics students may feel right at home), and fully understanding how your mouse movements affect the wave takes a serious time investment. As does logging it into muscle memory. Luckily, Waveform mitigates any potential frustration with its soothing ambient soundtrack and relaxing visuals, which transforms aggravation into compulsion.
Waveform's presentation is absolutely excellent. The crisp, sumptuous graphics are a joy to behold, the aforementioned dynamic musical accompaniment soothes the soul and the GUI - a frequent stumbling block for some indie games - is uncluttered, clear and attractive. Menus are similarly slick, resulting in a game that's as competent as it is imaginative.
And it costs less than a fiver. Get in.
- Refreshing unique gameplay mechanic
- Impressive variety and value
- Crisp, colorful visuals and dynamic BGM
- Relatively learning curve
- Can become repetitious, best for short and frequent play sessions
The Short Version: Waveform is a space oddity that impresses at every turn. Though mastery only comes with practice, this inexpensive little gem offers an entirely unique, addictive and thoroughly worthwhile gaming experience.