Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe
Music games have never been a favourite of mine, but I don't think this is necessarily the developers fault or mine. I guess we just don't meet in the middle. The fondly remembered PaRappa the Rapper seems to be the one that critics pull out, putting the 2D hip-hop dog on a pedastal, for some reason. Sure, it was fun, but it exists still due to the design, characters and, importantly, the music, rather than the gameplay. I have no joyful memories of the gameplay, but the music and lyrics have stuck with me since my younger-youth. The strains of PaRappa have evolved into the wallet-hoover Guitar Hero and it's ilk.
Another form of the music game that was crystalised in my mind perfectly by 2000's Vib Ribbon, is the music platformer. And so, Inside My Radio is the latest in a line of this somewhat less prominent branch of the music video game tree.
Inside My Radio has been developed up from a Ludum Dare entry that hit a good number of ratings. I've spoken before about my love of LD games brought up to a fully fledged title, mainly due to the root passion and simplicity of them. Inside My Radio, however, jumps on a shakey fence, in my opinion. On one side is the patio of platforming, and the other the greenhouse of music. I had hoped that due to the recent success of the Bit. Trip Runner series, that other heads could pop up on the fence, but it would appear to be a hard one to balance. Inside My Radio, falls slightly short of either camp.
The game world is set inside a radio that has been afflicted by a dark power. You learn this story through the perspective of various coloured blocks that look like hyperactive Jenga. In fact, the whole world of Inside My Radio suggests what the town areas of Limbo might've looked in their glory-kitsch days. The first little square is a green, rather “cool” character who is symbolised by an edgy, dance-electro sound pallette. The next is a funky purple square with a quiff and soul-funk music. The next is an orange dub-reggae block... you get the idea. The whole set up is charming and fun, in a detailed, yet stylised setting. Lots of little elements react to the music as you pass, pulling a very kinetic, lively situation out of what is a simple gameplay set up.
As a character in the radio, you have to jump and perform your actions to the beat, or else the move fails. An orbiting circle can help you visualise the timing, but this is actually less helpful than it seems. Focussing on the music is the best way to “feel” where you should jump a gap, climb a wall or perform a dash. To this end, the game does well, but it can't escape this simplicity. The platforming, controls and mechanics seem to suggest that you bounce, dash and bash along to the beat in a fluid way, in an uninterrupted stream of good looking moves. I felt like I always do when I dance. Stuttering and useless. I found it hard to tap into this higher place that I felt the game actually could shine. My fault or the devs? Hard to say. Also, the music didn't grab me. It is polished, well constructed and arranged. It paces next to the play, reflecting the flow of the levels. It just felt a tad by-the-book for each genre approached.
The last music game that hooked me was Beat Hazard, but that was because I could put my own music in. In other non-music centric games, I am very affected by the music and how it works with the other elements. I am suggesting with these two comments that I perhaps turned off when I directly had to respond to music I wasn't engaging in. Inside My Radio is by no means a poor title, but it generated neither platformer nor music sparks in me, despite the production being largely solid.