Amplitude (PlayStation 2) review
"The system works astonishingly well, because it grows quite difficult to leap from track to track. Making sudden changes can throw off your groove, so to speak. Sometimes, tracks are just too far out of range. This means that you need to anticipate your moves. See two tracks with score multipliers waiting ahead? One of them is going to make it easier to reach the multiplier that lies beyond, while the other will make such a stretch next to impossible."
If you like sneaking around abandoned Russian military compounds, Amplitude is not for you. Or maybe you like saving the kingdom from an evil dictator? Again, this isn't meant to address that. There are a lot of things you may have enjoyed about videogames in the past, but they don't matter. That's because Amplitude is less a game than it is an experience. The love child of Parappa the Rapper and MTV Music Generator, this astonishingly addictive hybrid (and sequel to Frequency, its less polished predecessor) splices music and adrenaline into one of the most unique products on the market.
Look at the cover and you'll find yourself greeted by a serious of names that you've probably heard on the radio: Pink, P.O.D., Blink 182, David Bowie, Weezer, and so forth. Boot up the disc and you'll see more of the same. A video clip runs through footage of the various musicians that contributed to this project, and then you're left staring at the title screen. At this point, you may well be wondering what you've gotten yourself into.
As you wonder about that and press the 'start' button, you'll find yourself greeted by several play modes. Amplitude can be played with a friend. Or you can set up your own music mixes. These are nice modes, but to me they don't matter a single bit. What captivates me and gets me anxious to play 'just one more round' is the addictive nature of the single-player mode.
The premise is quite simple: you are a DJ who mixes music by piloting a tiny little spacecraft along a series of tracks. These loop through psychedelic backgrounds that feature small windows of video footage. It's not the video that's important, though, or anything about the background. You'll hardly notice such details. There could be pictures of flowery fields or strippers or file cabinets and it just wouldn't matter. Thus, I'll speak of graphics no more. Instead, I need to address the music.
Each stage in the game has a different song looping in the background. Most of these songs are quite popular. You've heard the full versions of at least a few of them on the radio if you surf channels very often. Here, though, each song is chopped into smaller pieces, then looped repeatedly (unless you just access the game's soundtrack directly and let it play in the background while you're doing chores around the house). The effect is rather disconcerting if you're familiar with the music in question, but you'll grow accustomed to it because the minute you notice what song is playing, you're forced to react.
This is where the gameplay begins. Remember that I said you got to pilot a spaceship? Well, that comes with a wrinkle or two. Just flying along the tracks isn't going to get you anywhere in Amplitude. You're going to have to drop little bombs if you want to succeed. So there you are, situated at the bottom of the screen, while ahead of you there are three pale outlines of hexagons. The hexagons are the most important feature in the game... next to the pods.
Yes, the pods. While you're racing along the tracks in a vertical fashion, pods are zipping along beneath you. As you pass over each pod, you need to press the button that corresponds to that pod's placement along the track you're following. This is done with the shoulder buttons. The left-most pod is bombed by pressing the 'L1' button, while the 'R1' and 'R2' buttons tend to the middle and right pods. Strictly speaking, those are the only buttons in the game you absolutely must press besides the 'left' and 'right' buttons on the 'd'-pad (unless you press 'X' to use a special item and clear a panel or two).
The 'd'-pad is important because you really don't want to keep following just one track. Suppose you're following a middle track. You come to a set of notes that you must bomb (delineated by glowing panels). You begin pressing the shoulder buttons, but partway through you miss a note. Instantly, the panel's light fades. You can no longer get points by bombing that panel. Now, you can wait for the next panel to come along on the track you're following, or you can save previous time by hopping left to the next track, where a panel is available more readily.
So you move left, and get right to work on the set of notes that waits you. Success! Perhaps this set of notes is simpler, or maybe you've prepared yourself a little better. When you reach its end, you've mastered the notes and your score improves appropriately. More importantly, you notice another track to your immediate right with a 'x2' multiplier hanging in the air above it. This means that if you quickly dash over to that track and successfully complete the next set of notes, the points added to your score for that segment will double. Finish there and you might see a score tripler, and so forth. You can gain up to eight times a track's normal value in this manner, and it's really the best way to improve your score.
The system works astonishingly well, because it grows quite difficult to leap from track to track. Making sudden changes can throw off your groove, so to speak. Sometimes, tracks are just too far out of range. This means that you need to anticipate your moves. See two tracks with score multipliers waiting ahead? One of them is going to make it easier to reach the multiplier that lies beyond, while the other will make such a stretch next to impossible. For this reason, you're not only mashing buttons to the rhythm, but also thinking.
And you do need to think in this game, more than you might imagine. As the songs grow increasingly difficult, this comes into play quite a lot. Suppose, for example, that you're coming up on two possible music note groups. One is really simple, while the other is a complex string of notes that will put your fingers to the test. Which do you choose? If your meter is high, you might go with the complicated route in hopes of a higher score. Otherwise, the simple route is going to work best or your meter will drain and the game will end.
Yes, there is a 'Game Over' screen, and you don't want to see it. The way to avoid this is to keep your meter happy. As your spaceship zips along the tracks, it burns fuel. Your meter slowly drains and will eventually empty unless you refill it. You do this in one of two ways. First, you can pass checkpoints, which recharge your waning meter. These are spaced far enough apart, though, that you simply can't rely on them. Instead, you'll need to tackle those groups of musical notes. Each successfully bombed series will give your meter a slight boost that allows you to take more risks for those musical sets that will gain you the highest score.
Speaking of score, it's the main reason I found myself playing so many games of Amplitude. As you might suppose, each stage begins with 0 points on your score. Complete music notes and the score rises. Keep the multipliers going and you'll quite rapidly score hundreds upon hundreds of points. Miss just a few notes here and there and you'll instead find yourself struggling to top more than two or three hundred. Whenever I reached the end of a stage, I found myself thinking that if I had just moved a little faster on that one track, if I had just switched a bit more quickly, I could have done so much better.
Even if you're not the sort that challenges himself to reach a higher score, the game will push you toward that same end. On the higher difficulty levels, you absolutely must score quite well if you want to unlock the various songs the game features. Though you can choose from four difficulty levels, you'll only hear all of the game's 26 tracks if you ratchet things up to 'Brutal' or 'Insane.' In case you're wondering, those descriptors are accurate.
I could keep writing about Amplitude, of course. It has things going for it that I haven't even been able to experience. Like playing online? Try the game's online mode. Like being rated on your performance? Try scoring three bars on each arena. Like humiliating friends? As I've said already, there's the multi-player mode. You can even go freestyle and make some modifications of your own. What this really means is that if you can stand the music (and to be honest, some people will find that the selections here grate on their nerves), you'll likely have a great time playing Amplitude. You can get the hang of the controls and general concept in a minute or two, but it will take hours before you'll have mastered all there is to see here. To me, that's the mark of a truly great game. Give it a try sometime. You might be surprised.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 17, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
If you enjoyed this Amplitude review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!