In the beginning, everything is quiet. But as you pilot your cute, triangular spaceship through the levels of Wave Trip, the world begins to fill with sound. For each coin you collect a new note is added to the soundtrack — whether it's a thumping bass beat or the strum of a guitar — and before long you have a song to nod along to. Wave Trip is the latest release from Edinburgh game studio Lucky Frame, and is available starting today on iOS for $1.99. It's fun and challenging, and so deeply inspired by music that it's even structured more like an album than a game. You can't die in Wave Trip and each stage is unlocked from the beginning. Picking a level to play is sort of like pulling out an album and choosing your favorite track. "It's much more about the experience," says Lucky Frame's Yann Seznec. "Though if people want to chase after high scores that's totally fine too."
A mashup of 'Jetpack Joyride' and 'Sound Shapes'
Wave Trip is a two dimensional side-scrolling game that plays sort of like a mashup of the auto-runner Jetpack Joyride and the musical platformer Sound Shapes. You tap the right side of the screen to control the ship's movement, while tapping the left will give you a temporary shield to protect the ship from obstacles. Each stage is filled with coins that are often in hard-to-collect formations. You're not punished for missing coins, but the more you collect the richer the music is, and it's incredibly satisfying to hear the soundscape grow as you collect a series of coins in a row. Meanwhile, flying into obstacles will simply cause the music to stutter briefly — playing poorly doesn't prevent you from progressing through the level, it just makes the music slightly less enjoyable.
And for those who crave a challenge, the high score feature should serve as a suitable replacement, especially considering just how difficult it is to collect each and every coin. At the beginning of each stage you're even told the global high score, letting you know just how good you could be if you really applied yourself.
"We were big in Pittsburgh."
The musical nature of the game shouldn't be too surprising. Lucky Frame has a history with music games — it was actually formed with the creation of the Wii Loop Machine software, which turns Wii remotes into musical instruments — ranging from the quirky Pugs Luv Beats to the award-winning tower defense title Bad Hotel. Its members also happen to be musicians themselves — both Seznec and team member Jonathan Brodsky still perform, and their first project together was an "8-bit dance punk band" known as Handface. "We were big in Pittsburgh," says Seznec. Wave Trip started life as a simple platforming mini-game prototype Brodsky had been working on, before the team realized that the concept had some musical potential. "After a fair amount of game design tweaking," says Seznec, "we decided to create a game that you literally couldn't lose." That included pulling sound samples from an incredibly diverse selection of sources, including recordings of everything from figure skaters in Scotland to churches in Poland.
The decision to make a game free of death was made partly due to the response to Bad Hotel, which many players thought was too difficult, but also because Wave Trip simply wasn't as enjoyable if you could die. "We realized that it was incredibly frustrating to build up a song into something wonderful, only to die and be forced to start again," says Seznec. "It wasn't fun." But Wave Trip isn't just about playing through the levels that are included, it's also about making your own. Much like Sounds Shapes, the game features a very intuitive level editor where you can make your own music and stages and share them with other players. As people make more and more levels, it should extend the life of the game quite a bit, and it's also just plain fun to fool around with — I found it difficult to make levels that actually sounded bad.
The creation aspect was important to the team because, at least in Seznec's opinion, there simply aren't enough people making music — the glut of great music already out there, he believes, discourages people from creating more of it themselves. "Because music creation is seen as something for specialists, it can create a really artificial separation between so-called challenging music vs. pop music, which is such a shame," he explains. "I think games offer a really brilliant platform for working on these problems, so it's really exciting to us that we were able to integrate it into Wave Trip."
"It's the form of creativity that comes most naturally to me."
The result is a game that's as much about simply enjoying the music as it is trying to collect every coin on screen. The challenge is there if you want it, but if not, you can just zone out with a pair of headphones on. Playing on an iPhone — a device where many of us keep our entire music libraries — Wave Trip feels like it just makes sense: you pick it up and put it down just as you would your favorite album. The game will likely continue to expand after it's released with new levels and worlds. And what will Lucky Frame will tackle next? Well, there's a pretty good chance that it too will have a musical influence. "I am somewhat unable to work on a project without finding some musical angle on it," says Seznec."It's the form of creativity that comes most naturally to me."