Earlier this century—before your game room started collecting plastic Rock Band guitars and tiny plug-me-in drum sets—the gamemakers at Harmonix experimented with an early version of what would soon be popularly called a rhythm/music game. And now in 2016, with a grunt of “We don’t need no stinking extra thingamajigs,” the game called Amplitude has been given new life.
Indeed, things are pretty much the same now as they were with the original 2003 entry. The graphics and visuals have been upgraded with plenty of high-def sizzle, but players still pilot an onscreen “beat blaster” rocket ship as it zips along and hops between a series of “tracks”—each representing a different instrument, drum track or vocal line.
Using three controller buttons, you then attempt to zap a string of orbs that fly toward you along the right, center or left side of those tracks, hitting the beats in sync with the tune playing. Juggling these duties—hopping from one disintegrating track to another while nailing those three button-based sequences—is the key to keeping a score streak going, gaining special power-ups and getting into the joyful rhythm of the game.
From Music Studio to … Hospital Bed?
The playback modes are pretty straightforward as well. Quickplay lets you rock through any single track you unlock. And the Campaign mode adds a light story voiceover that turns the game into a voyage through the brain of a comatose patient undergoing a medical experiment. Yep, you read that right! As you swoop into neural pathways and locate the wounded brain’s various misfiring systems, your playlist tune-blasting re-energizes those areas in the hopes of eventually reviving the hospitalized subject.
Call that weird if you want to, but it is kinda fun. And while some will say the game's not complicated or expansive enough, I'll tell you that you’ll still definitely be able to find a challenge to fit whatever level of hand-eye coordination skills you possess. You can also get several friends to join in for single-screen multiplayer action if your neighborhood bandmates are feeling left out.
A Different Kind of Song
The biggest change to this game update is in the music selection. Rather than sporting a number of Top 40 tunes from big name artists like the original did, this go-round features tracks that were largely created in-house. They’re generally synth- and drum-heavy tunes that nicely fit the neon jumpstart-this-brain surroundings.
And that means there's no Miley Cyrus or Drake or The Weeknd to gum up the works with outrageously salacious songs about sex and such. So what is it you hear instead? Well, the substance of these songs is somewhat nebulous and swirling, as if we were actually listening to the thoughts of a dreaming patient. Lyrics range from childhood memories of caring for a wounded bird to mentally wrestling with relational jealousy.
Now, some songs could be interpreted in more sensual ways, with mentions of a lover or requests to be held through the night, but most of the meanings are left up to the listener. Not that you'll have much time to ponder. Your brain'll be too busy trying to keep your toes and fingers tapping.