The nice thing about indie developers is that they aren't afraid to try something new -- or at least they're less afraid than some of the major developers out there, who mostly seem worried about "streamlining" their products so even the dumbest people in the world can play them. The latest example of a creative indie developer is Iridium Studios, which has combined rhythm games (such as Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution) with role-playing games to create Sequence, a hybrid game that's kind of bizarre but also interesting.
In Sequence you play as Ky, an anonymous college student. One day you wake up and find yourself in a strange seven-level tower, and you learn that to escape, you have to defeat various opponents. To help you out in this endeavor, you're assigned a shepherd named Naia, who explains what's going on and gives you some strategy advice. You also meet some other characters in the tower, including a special boss at the end of each level.
Battles are fought using rhythm games, where symbols drift down from the top of the screen, and you have to match them (by pressing the right keys) when they reach the bottom. There are three windows that you have to worry about. In the defensive window, any symbols that you don't match cost you health. In the mana window, any symbols that you match give you mana. And in the spells window, you have to match a complete sequence of symbols to cast a spell. Because there are three windows, battles can be hectic, as you have to switch between windows quickly while also matching symbols and choosing spells.
Fortunately, Sequence supports all kinds of input devices, including controllers, guitars, dance pads, and of course keyboards and mice, so you can choose the one that works best for you. I started out using a keyboard and mouse (where the keyboard matches symbols and the mouse selects windows and spells), but then I switched to a controller, which I think works better because it allows you to match symbols with both hands.
The gameplay in Sequence has some plusses and minuses. On the plus side, the techno music included with the game is pleasant to listen to, which is good because you have to listen to it a lot. Also, the battles are kind of fun. I played the game on the medium difficulty setting, which is for the "musically challenged but stubborn" (which describes me perfectly), and I found the battles to be challenging without being too challenging. I normally don't play rhythm games at all, and I got through Sequence well enough, but people more familiar with the rhythm genre will probably want to ramp up the difficulty.
There is also a lot of humor in the game. The (fully-voiced) banter between Ky and Naia is excellent, and many of the descriptions and situations are funny. For example, one weapon in the game is the Sonic Disruptor ("effective against hedge hogs") and another is the Spiked Club ("a weapon coated in vodka"). There are also a lot of topical references, including mentions of Little Shop of Horrors, YouTube, and text adventures.
But on the downside, Sequence forces a lot of repetition and grinding on you. The battles are short -- you have to finish them during the course of a single song, which means they take less than five minutes -- but you have to repeat them a lot. That's because each enemy can drop up to three ingredients, and you need these ingredients to craft items and spells, including the keys that allow you to move from one level to the next. Some of the ingredients are rare (one only drops 14% of the time), the crafting process costs you experience each time you use it, and the crafting process can also fail, costing you experience without crafting the item. That means you have to defeat enemies dozens of times each, sometimes to finally get the ingredients that you need, and sometimes just to build up your character enough to survive against the tougher opponents.
Overall, I was mildly entertained by Sequence, with its good points making up for the repetition, and leaving a bit little left over. Sequence only costs $5 (from Steam or Xbox Live), and it might take you up to 15 hours to complete, so along with it being odd and unique, it's also a pretty good deal. So if you have dexterous fingers and a weekend that you don't know what to do with, then there are certainly worse ways that you could spend your time.
This review is based on a digital copy of Sequence purchased by the reviewer via Steam.