Vibes’ key moment isn’t the blistering 303 powered Tekno, or the cheesy pop of Fake Elegance’s Hello – it’s Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, better known to most as the William Tell Overture. When your game has more to offer than just tapping the right button at the right time – in this case the inspired use of the analog nub – you can get a lot more out of your background music despite the fact that in Vibes you actually have zero effect on how the track sounds and whilst losing that sense of integration might make the sensation a little abstract, Vibes doesn’t try to be anything it’s not.
So, equipped with a decent array of music spanning most popular genres (with a few leftfield diversions) Laughing Jackal’s minis game might be at the top end price-wise but it’s also up there in terms of production and value – the menu interface might be simplistic but there’s only one mode and once you’ve jumped into a game by selecting a track (and, ultimately, a difficulty level) you’re only a short pause away from the start. There’s no lead-in, mind, and the name of the track frustratingly covers up much of the first few beats of a couple of tracks, but as long as you’re ready you should be just fine.
In the centre of the screen, then, is your cursor, towards which float four differently coloured circles, each matching one of the PSP’s main face buttons. Press the corresponding button at the correct time and the cursor will flash green, miss and it’ll be red, breaking your combo and hit streak (and, naturally, affecting your score at the end). The aforementioned analog nub ‘points’ the arrow inside the cursor, and the player must ensure that the pointer is facing the incoming circle otherwise it’ll count as a miss. Think Gitaroo Man and you’ll not be too far off the mark.
It might sound complicated, having to deal with two things at once, especially when the circles stop floating in from the sides of the screen you’d expect them to (X circles normally come from the bottom, for example) but the analog concept really works – not only do you have to aim but there are also several sections in a song (and ‘Bumblebee is built up largely from them) where you hold down a button and ‘steer’ the stick along a track laid out in colour. Composers will have a field day here, as the paths loosely match what I’d assume waving your arms around in the air would be like. Clever.
Vibes also manages to really pull you into the tracks by virtue of the pacing and positions of the circles and these paths – rarely do they feel random and most of the tracks are not only excellent musically but also perfectly suited to repeated play (the upper difficulty levels will see to that). The visuals, though, don’t gel nearly as well with the music and whilst there’s a couple that work nicely, most seem both out of place and often distracting – the floating planets during the hiphop track are baffling, their being the same size and speed as the beat circles you’re meant to be hitting is probably the game’s only real mis-step.
Otherwise, though, Vibes is brilliant. It’s a solidly made game with potentially enough repeated play to just about qualify that price tag, at least in comparison to other minis. It’s not perfect by any stretch: the game takes a little while to get going (once you’ve opened up the medium difficulty) and the backgrounds, whilst no doubt technically rather proficient, should have been far simplier aesthetically – or at least come with the option to switch them off – but anyone into their rhythm games and looking for something a bit different on the PSP will do well to check this one out. If only for Korsakov.
- Nice selection of music
- The analog stick mechanic works well
- The backgrounds can be far too distracting