Music games are back. After a lengthy period away, both Rock Band and Guitar Hero are making a return to the virtual stage this year. But while plastic guitars and drum sets are what most people think of when they reminisce about rhythm games, sometimes you just want something smaller. The upcoming Loud on Planet X looks to be just that. "Rock Band or Guitar Hero are like the stadium experience," says creative producer Alex Jansen. "We're kind of the little bar where you discover your favorite band for the first time."
Loud on Planet X is perhaps best described as Plants vs. Zombies mashed together with PSP cult classic Patapon. Alien creatures will approach you from the right, marching down four different lanes, and you'll need to stop them from reaching the band playing on stage. Doing so is remarkably simple; for the most part, all you need to do is tap the rows in time to the beat to fire blasts at the bad guys. The key is keeping time and managing the ever-increasing hordes of aliens coming your way. There are also power-ups that can ease the onslaught a bit, including a bouncer who will temporarily hold back aliens and a smoke machine that slows them down.
"We're kind of the little bar where you discover your favorite band for the first time."
It doesn't make you feel like you're playing a crazy guitar solo — and that's kind of the point. "A lot of games try to recreate the feeling of making music," explains Jansen. "But what we've embraced is that it's less about creating the song, and more like you're driving your car and tapping the steering wheel in time to it." Just like games like Elite Beat Agents or PaRappa the Rapper, it's just another way to engage with some really great music. And Planet X has quite the lineup of musicians, boasting artists ranging from Tegan and Sara and Lights to Fucked Up and Broken Social Scene.
Right now the game features nine artists and 18 songs, but developed Pop Sandbox is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to expand the scope a bit. No matter what, the plan is to launch the game this fall, but if the crowdfunding is successful the soundtrack will jump to 24 songs from 12 different artists. When it does arrive, Planet X is slated to launch on PS4, Vita, Steam, iOS, and Android, with other platforms like Wii U possible depending on how the Kickstarter goes.
"We've tried to have a really curated list of headliners and emerging artists."
The game is a drastic departure for the Toronto-based studio, which isn't strictly a game developer. The group has created everything from a non-fiction graphic novel about infamous Toronto bike thief Igor Kenk, to a mobile game called Pipe Trouble that aimed to raise awareness about fracking and the dangers of exploiting natural gas. Pipe Trouble also featured a soundtrack from punk band Fucked Up, so when the idea for Planet X first popped up, the studio had a place to start when it came to courting musicians. From there, Jansen says, the bands themselves actually helped sell other artists on working on the game; Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning in particular was a strong champion of the project.
The result is a diverse lineup, but not just in terms of style of music. "The most strategic thing that we've tried to do, is we've tried to have a really curated list of headliners and emerging artists," explains Jansen. "Hopefully someone might come to it because they know Tegan and Sara, but they're going to walk away discovering July Talk." And while the return of the two biggest music games means that there's increased competition for Planet X, the game is different enough that Jansen believes they can be complimentary experiences.
"Hopefully it just gets people thinking about music games more, and playing music games more."