Games for Lunch: Rez HD
Developer: Q Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: Jan. 30, 2008
System: Xbox 360 (original on PS2, Dreamcast)
ESRB Rating: E
0:00 Despite being a huge fan of both rhythm and experimental games, my only exposure to this game was seeing a friend play the Dreamcast version at a party roughly five years ago. It was... it was not a wild party.
0:01 A featureless albino woman is trapped in a tube. A vaguely human shape of rounded square discs hovers around, and then a wild quick zoom out from a white room. I feel like I'm in a college film class.
0:02 The tutorial automatically comes on-screen. Hold A and move the cursor to aim, let go to fire. That's it?
0:03 You can target up to eight enemies at a time. Items can increase your "level" or provide a screen-clearing "overdrive." Seems relatively standard so far, though I like the sound effects. "What lies at the dark end of this network?" the game asks. Is it pie? I hope it's pie!
0:04 I turn on vibration for the full Trance Vibrator experience. Also, for some reason, the point display is "off" by default, but how else will I know how awesome I am?
0:05 The options menu has a story, which it refers to as the "purpose of the game": "The world has become massively overpopulated" with lots of crime, so the government decides to solve the problem with an artificial intelligence named Eden. O...K. Anyway, I have to destroy the viruses and firewalls in Eden's virtual subconscious. "Open your senses..." As "purpose of the game"s go, I've seen better. Maybe it lost something in translation.
0:07 No HDTV means I'm forced to choose standard mode. *pout*
0:08 And we're playing! The first minute seems to be making sure I know the controls. Super-easy stuff.
0:11 Initial impressions: The colorful, wire-frame aesthetic is mesmerizing, but it comes at the expense of the gameplay. I'm having a hard time figuring out when I target an enemy and when I've actually fired my shots at them. Seems like a bit like a case of style over substance. The thumping techno is catchy, but a bit incidental to the gameplay. I don't feel like I'm really creating the sound or anything. Maybe I'm just spoiled by more recent rhythm games like Lumines and Rock Band.
0:14 I'd explain what's been happening, but I'm not too sure myself. Enemies keep coming and I keep shooting them down. I think I hit them all, but I can't really tell if/when I fail. The backgrounds are getting more and more psychedelic/distracting and the music is getting more thumping with each new "layer" of the level.
0:16 "The system is trying to defend itself, trapping you inside it. Defend yourself until Earth[Giga] is destroyed or self-destructs." Lesser games would just say: "Boss Time!"
0:21 The totally trippy boss has made the rest of the dull level worthwhile. He starts as a tiled sphere, then morphs into a tentacle monster, then a sort of halo of tiles. My descriptions don't do it justice, go find a video. I'm finally feeling the rhythm and using my ears as well as my eyes to plan my attacks. Still, the confusing on-screen action makes it hard to see the missiles coming at me. I've devolved from a wire-frame humanoid to a depressing polygonal sphere.
0:22 I've destroyed the Earth! Er, in a good way. I get some stats for the level: "96.84% shot down, 88.89% support item." So I guess I was hitting most of the enemies after all.
0:25 Level two features more camera pans and more multi-hit, tanker-type enemies, but seems pretty much the same as level 1. I'm getting into the flow of the music a little more, though. I'm trying really hard to treat the game as a "synaesthetic" experience and to not get hung up on how basic and hard-to-decipher the actual gameplay is.
0:27 Despite my best efforts to get power-ups, I am still a mere floating sphere. This is incredibly demoralizing.
0:29 I take back my comment of this being a warmed-over level 1. The enemies are showing some good variety, morphing into varied and freaky forms that I can't even begin to describe.
0:31 I finally level-up to a humanoid again! I wish I knew what triggered these power-ups' appearance.
0:33 Up next, the imaginatively named "Mars[Giga]." Earth, Mars -- what is this, Sailor Moon?
0:34 Mr. Mars Man alternates between a series of missile-launching tentacles and a series of encroaching walls with targets. Again, my descriptions feel incredibly lame for such an original, imaginative sight.
0:36 Spindly pink tubes launching orange kamikaze ships. A good name for a rock band AND a good description of the boss' latest form.
0:37 I'm a sphere again! Waaaah!
0:38 The boss' last form is a rather unimpressive orange thing that launches unthreatening orange balloons. Oh, well, the boss fight is still the highlight of the level. Only 56.25 percent of the support items this time. No wonder I was so sphere-y for so long.
0:40 Interesting: Apparently if I just ignore the layer-advancing items, I can stay on the easier, lower layers indefinitely, racking up the power-ups and becoming un-sphered! I feel like I'm in a Mega Man game, constantly killing the same enemy until he gives me a health item.
0:44 My "stay on the lower layers" plan backfires as a massive snake-like thing eventually appears and knocks me down a peg. I can take a hint. I know when I've overstayed my welcome.
0:47 The Venus[Giga] boss is preceded by an amazing sequence of cubes bounding along a virtual plain, like something out of "Tron" but much cooler. It's like a horde of locusts, or a buffalo stampede. Very stirring.
0:48 Yikes. Before I know it, I'm hit by Venus' lasers and I explode in a small "poof." What an anti-climactic death.
0:52 Replaying level 3, I encounter the snake again, but this time I'm ready with a rapid-fire attack. Booyah!
0:57 Back at the Venus boss. Now that I know what's coming, I focus my shots on taking out the lasers in front of me and make short work of them. The cascading and rearranging tiles that the lasers sit on are quite beautiful.
0:59 Just finished a thrilling section involving retreating from encroaching missiles. My head is swimming.
1:01 Venus A-SPLODE. The ending section was again a bit anticlimactic -- shoot open the outer shell, then shoot the static core. I feel like these bosses should end just a tad earlier than they actually do.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? After seeing the imaginative enemies and environments in the first three levels, I'm eager to see the rest. I doubt I'll replay the game much past that, though. I'm glad I didn't spend more than $10 on it.
This column is based on a retail copy of the game purchased from Xbox Live Arcade.
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