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Amplitude (PlayStation 2) artwork

Amplitude (PlayStation 2) review


"Saying that the rhythm genre has been barren is an understatement. It is already fall 2005 and nothing has grown from that musical tree. Just like leaves, the industry has left the genre to wither, gently plummet to the ground, dry in the heat of the sun, and deteriorate into indistinguishable grains of mulch. I pine for the days of genuine button-mashing dexterity and wind-in-my-eye concentration as I remember a game still golden after two long, agonizing years… Amplitude. "



Saying that the rhythm genre has been barren is an understatement. It is already fall 2005 and nothing has grown from that musical tree. Just like leaves, the industry has left the genre to wither, gently plummet to the ground, dry in the heat of the sun, and deteriorate into indistinguishable grains of mulch. I pine for the days of genuine button-mashing dexterity and wind-in-my-eye concentration as I remember a game still golden after two long, agonizing years… Amplitude.

While not flawless by any means, this follow-up to Freq is a welcome addition to both the world of innovation and music. It serves as a nice diversion to the steady stream of ammo-driven, sword-slinging, and point-scoring titles overflowing both shelves and bargain bins. There is a refreshing intensity in its techno-colorful aesthetic that must be experienced. Boasting artists such as David Bowie, Pink, P.O.D., Run D.M.C., and Weezer, Amplitude makes what is akin to playing DDR with the controller an actually pleasant and worthwhile experience.

Amplitude effectively transforms an aged musical concept into a living, breathing exploration. Virtually every song created in modern times consists of multiple tracks that play simultaneously - the bass, the guitars, the vocals, the drums, and so on. In the world of Amplitude, blue capsules spread along these tracks have locked their sound away. Navigating a laser-shooting spacecraft, it is your job to unlock each of these tracks and return the song back to its original form.

Despite this rather peculiar premise, Amplitude is, at its core, a rhythm-based game where timing remains the ever-essential key. Pressing the square, triangle, and circle buttons respectively blasts capsules on the left-hand side, in the middle, and on the right-hand side of a track. If within the span of a green-highlighted musical phrase, you can destroy the capsules without missing, the track is turned on for a set period of time. Any mistakes and your life bar dwindles away until it's game over. Thankfully, completing a musical phrase and passing through one of three checkpoints boosts your life meter, aiding your quest to reach the very last measure. Consequently, to the approval of beginners, passing a song is not particularly difficult, but to the appreciation of veterans, the game provides enough challenge, especially Brutal and Insane difficulty modes, for them to complete songs with flying colors.

Finishing a song prompts a screen that grades your performance from one to four bars based on your total number of points, which are earned primarily through successive phrase completions. The higher the quantity of capsules and the more difficult the capsules are distributed within a phrase, the more the phrase is worth. As an incentive, if you're able to swiftly and consecutively glide from one track to another, a combo bonus will incrementally multiply the base value of the phrase from two to eight. In effect, maintaining an x8 multiplier throughout the entire song becomes the mission for bona-fide rhythm experts. Unfortunately, the gameplay has a few issues that frustratingly prevent us from doing so. On more than enough occasions, you will find tracks that are sometimes absent (e.g. no vocal track when the song itself has an unvoiced section) or find yourself in a position where the next available track is up to five rows away. These inevitable three-to-five row gaps make it nearly impossible to seamlessly flow from track to track, thereby resetting the combo multiplier to zero. With enough practice and familiarity, you can achieve the continuous x8 multiplier, but the game could have made this more feasible and in the hands of the player.

Also helping your cause are preset power-ups that are acquired through sequentially hitting all of their labeled capsules: Autoblaster, Slo Mo, Score Doubler, and Freestyler. Autoblaster is like a get-out-of-jail free card - if you screw up, you can use it to safeguard your combo multiplier. Score Doubler does none other than double the base value of all musical phrases for a limited time. The least useful item is Slo Mo, which lowers the pace of the song to supposedly help you blast each capsule. The abrupt reduction in speed causes more turmoil than assistance, and there is nothing that indicates when the Slo Mo will wear off. The most interesting and arguably the most powerful of the four, Freestyler takes you off the track and into a mode where you gain points by pressing and holding buttons as well as the left analog stick. Despite the freedom and gameplay variety the item provides, points are too easily gained through freestyle. All it takes to gain the maximum number of points is holding down a random button and the left analog stick for the full duration of the effect. In fact, changing this technique just hurts you more than anything else. Moreover, the game does not allow the power-up function to be assigned to the less troublesome shoulder buttons in lieu of the overcrowding X button. Still, in spite of these blemishes, the power-ups infuse enough strategic and focus-inducing energy to justify their inclusion.

Character customization has gradually weaved its way into everything from Tony Hawk to Tekken, and Amplitude does not avoid jumping onto the bandwagon. Attaining triple and quadruple bar scores and simply passing songs grants you more parts to customize your FreQ. Before starting, you can choose your DJ from a number of various Prefabs, or preset characters, but players will want to create their own FreQ from the supplied heads, torsos, arms, legs, and accessories. There are a bevy of options to choose from, including the ability to change the color, saturation, and brightness for nearly each piece of clothing. Unfortunately, your FreQ's physical appearance, let alone its utter existence, has no effect. There are no stat points, no special effects, nothing that connects character customization to the gameplay. If only for not having a purpose, this self-contained yet comprehensive system makes us wish for more.

The additional modes capriciously extend the game's worth. Save for having an interest in being a DJ, Remix mode will neither excite you nor change your mind. How it has you create and edit the notes is contrived and strangely does not let you stop the song from playing or looping. Most will also be turned off by how much memory card space is required to store a remix as well as the confusing and over-sensitive controls. Concerning multiplayer action, Amplitude features three modes – Game, Duel, and Remix – and two new power-ups – Crippler and Bumper. However, you would be farfetched to find a person online or even a friend that would want to join in. Any difference in skill becomes immediately evident, and unless you both have equally explored the solo experience, the multiplayer venture will be discouraging.

As a personal adventure, Amplitude offers a kaleidoscope of musical breaths. As long as you keep an open mind toward the diversity of musical genres, you will respect a compilation that presents everything from the experimental Herbie Hancock to death-metal Slipknot. To be sure, classical, choir, country, and "world" music lacks representation here, and personal tastes will directly affect how much you care for the game. There are only a few things that a blink-182-hater hates more than blink-182.

Nonetheless, Amplitude is a vibrant yet silent creed of multicultural acceptance. Unlike the epileptic DDR backgrounds, the graphics are exuberant, colorful, and surprisingly do not distract us. In essence, Harmonix does not feel as though it has to flash us with anything. There is a somehow calm yet enthusiastic spirit that sets the game apart from the pack. Like a dormant volcano, Amplitude watches the gaming world from afar, settling under waning human interest. Buried beneath a blizzard of the recent and left to wither in a two-year drought, Amplitude stands as a forgotten peak in a forgotten land and quietly hopes for the newfound revival of the rhythm genre.

Rating: 9/10

draqq_zyxx's avatar
Community review by draqq_zyxx (September 14, 2005)

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