Attempting to create a worthy sequel to a game like last year’s rhythm-based surprise hit Frequency is no small feat, and developer Harmonix knew this going in. Aside from the obligatory improvements that people expect from sequels – like enhanced visuals and souped-up sound – Amplitude ups the ante in ways that go far beyond conventional sequel expectations, setting the player loose in an extremely stylish environment that the original game can’t hold a candle to, offering up an extremely functional online component, and introducing incredibly addictive multiplayer modes. And that doesn’t even begin to touch upon the considerably more diverse roster of musical artists found throughout the game, which range in style from hip-hop, hard rock, pop, techno, alternative, and clever combinations thereof. Yes, Amplitude is everything that a sequel should be and oh so much more.
If, by some chance, you’re not already familiar with the concept behind Amplitude, it is actually quite simple. You navigate a series of musical tracks, blasting jewels that are placed on the left, middle, and right sides of your hovering ship that is gliding over the playfield. Each jewel that you destroy unlocks a snippet of the current song’s musical composition, and by consecutively destroying all the jewels on two segments of the same track, you’ll keep that particular portion of the music playing so that you can focus on another element of the song. If you pound out a track and then switch to another track without missing a beat, your points will be carried over and multiplied, giving the player mass potential to achieve impressive scores. But basically, it’s all about keeping the beat alive.
Returning gamers will immediately notice that the in-game interface is no longer an octagonal tunnel, and is instead replaced with a somewhat curved playfield. This is mostly an aesthetic change but it does streamline the process of moving from track to track without missing a beat since you can more easily tell what the first few jewel placements will be at a glance. The actual gameplay is nearly untouched. You’ll still need to blast differently placed jewels in tempo with the music, with each track representing drums, vocals, guitar, bass, etc., but the action feels more fluid and cohesive this time around, perhaps due to the fact that Harmonix was able to procure the master track recordings of each song and thus is more equipped to splice together each musical element without complication. Also, a portion of the included songs are original remixes that, I think, sound way cooler than the originals and are far better suited for use in a musical rhythm game. Run-DMC, for example, did some exclusive remixing for their track entitled The King of Rock. The result is, well, rockin’.
But as addictive as the gameplay’s relative simplicity is, it is immensely complimented by an assortment of power-ups that can be obtained by blasting certain track segments. These power-ups include such favorites as the autoblaster, which “automatically blasts” an entire track in one fell swoop, allowing you to bypass segments that are particularly difficult. Also making a return aare the score doubler and freestyler power-ups. The former is self-explanatory but the freestyler requires some explanation, partly because it has went through a slight alteration since Frequency. In Amplitude the freestyler allows you to use the analog sticks as a means of scratching. Pushing various directions on the sticks in correlation with button presses results in varied authentic scratching sounds, and the more you “mix” it up, the more points you’ll receive. New to the sequel is the slo-mo power-up, which, as the name suggests, slows down the music to a more manageable speed for a short duration of time.
The original game fell short in one key area: lasting appeal. Sure, it had a decent selection of songs and a four-player split-screen mode, but that’s about it. Amplitude goes above and beyond with not only a more efficient multiplayer interface that allows all players to simultaneously play, minus the split-screen, but also two additional multiplayer modes aside from the standard battle type found in the first game. In the main multiplayer mode, the goal remains the same as the single player challenge but introduces new power-ups that allow you to knock an opponent off a track they’re working on, and unleash a huge pulse down the track of another player causing it to rumble wildly. There is also a duel mode, which is a musical take on the game of HORSE, wherein one player hammers out a custom set of notes and the other player attempts to perfectly replicate them. If they fail, they get an “A” and then a “M”, until the word “AMPLITUDE” is completely spelled out. Remix mode allows multiple players to work together cooperatively and opens up an assortment of musical effects that can be used to tweak the song.
But the online component in Amplitude is what really seals the deal and ensures limitless lasting appeal. Here you’ll be able to search for other players and specific game types. All of the aforementioned modes are available online and a constantly updated ranking system will track where you place against the rest of the world. Also, you’ll have access to downloadable content in the form of user-mixed tracks, be able to search for friends by their Freq identity, and chat it up in the lobby. Best of all, whether you have broadband or narrowband Internet access, you can expect fluid play without any of the normal ping issues usually associated with lowly dial-up connections.
From a visual standpoint, Amplitude is loads more flashy and involved than its precursor’s somewhat minimalist graphical approach. The environments are overflowing with tons of spastic eye-candy and multiple video screens depicting the musical artist that is currently playing. Not to mention the insanely colorful textures, screen-filling particle effects, and seemingly drug-induced backgrounds. The surroundings are excellent visual depictions of what the music you’re listening to might look like had they taken visible form, and your custom-made avatar that rocks along with the beat kicks up the immersion level even more. The whole feel of the game is something akin to hypnosis – certain games tend to have that effect where you unknowingly space out and rely purely on instincts to get the job done, but getting into a “rhythm” with this game takes on a whole new meaning thanks in part to the mesmerizing visuals.
And what would a rhythm-based game be without a large locked-and-loaded array of musical talent to back it up? Well, it’d probably be something like Britney’s Dance Beat, but let’s not dig up that corpse. In all, there are 26 different songs included in Amplitude. Some of my personal favorites consist of David Bowie’s Momus-y “Everyone Says ‘Hi’” (Metro Remix), Quarashi’s crunchy hip-hop/rock track “Baseline”, and Mekon’s embarrassingly self-indulgent “What’s Going On?”. My musical preferences aside, there is enough diversity in Amplitude’s rockin’ repertoire to satiate even the most particular tastes, unless of course your favorite genre is “evil robot hymns of death.” Ni-clor ee’nooo norklo rie-noff!!
Overall, Amplitude probably won’t win over many gamers who didn’t like Frequency, but for fans of the original, this is a godsend. The improved multiplayer interface, seamless online integration, improved musical diversity, and tricked out visual presentation outdoes its predecessor in every conceivable way. Rhythm-based perfection, thy name is Amplitude.