Soundodger+ – Review (PC)

Soundodger+ is a Rhythm-Bullethell-Dodger for PC. The game is developed by Studio Bean who previously developed Basketbelle and The End of Us, the game is published by Adult Swim Games.

In Soundodger+, you are assaulted with music. You play a circle contained within a larger circle which has more circles on the outside. The larger circle is the play area and the circles on the outside launch projectiles at you. Your goal is to dodge them for the duration of the song. Akin to Bullethell Shooters, projectiles will come at you in patterns which often need to be dodged in specific ways. If you do happen to be hit with a projectile, the song will fast-forward a little bit and give you a short period of invulnerability – this is one of the nicest touches in the game as it’s seamless and quick.

While other Rhythm games have you hit every note – perhaps even perfectly – to score 100%, Soundodger+ will have you dodge every projectile without being hit. Each projectile and the player circle have a hitbox. For the most part, these hitboxes are tiny – but this doesn’t mean it’s easy to dodge. There is a slow-motion mode which can be used indefinitely and will make projectiles easier to dodge, but can also cause the screen to be cluttered with too many projectiles – You also don’t score when in slow-motion.

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Aside from normal mode, there is also Zen Mode, Advanced Difficulty, Heart Difficulty and Auto-Gen Mode.

Zen Mode is a non-competitive mode in which you have no goal. You don’t need to dodge bullets or even move the mouse. In Zen Mode, all you’re required to do is enjoy the music. This is particularly good as sometimes the game got so difficult that I managed to completely zone some of the songs out.

Speaking of difficult, Advanced Difficulty comes with more projectiles and an added goal – Collecting the heart and not being hit with it in your possession. At some point during each advanced song, a heart will be launched from one of the outer circles and after collecting it, the next time you are hit, you will lose it. It’s not required to 100% complete a song from the start, only the point at which you pick up the heart. Completing the level without losing the heart will unlock Heart difficulty.

Heart Mode is a lot more akin to a traditional bullethell game. Projectiles only come from one side of the circle and splay out in wonderful patterns which usually require very precise dodging. I really enjoyed playing Heart Mode songs in Zen Mode – but that’s just because they were too difficult for me.

Auto-gen mode allows you to load in an mp3 file and Soundodger+ will automatically generate a songmap based on that. These song maps aren’t random and should be duplicates of each other if run in different systems. What this means is you can tell your friend – for example – you played an incredibly difficult song and scored 80% on it, proceeding to challenge them to beat it.

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The editor also allows you to load in an mp3 file, but this time you create the songmap! In the editor you will see a preview of your songmap and tools you can use to create your map. You are able to create your own colour scheme – which can open some windows to extremely devious memory maps – insert multiple projectile types, change the direction and speed the outer circle spins and time warp. You will also be able to test the map on the previously mentioned editor preview – It will play in Zen Mode.

You begin with seven songs unlocked and will unlock more by completing songs or collecting hearts. Each time you complete a song, you are given a rating out of 100% and unlocking songs will require you to reach certain cumulative percentages across all songs.

As a purely audio-visual experience, Soundodger+ doesn’t have the benefit of a story or characters to keep users drawn in, what it does have is an incredibly addictive pattern in which you will continue to repeat levels you couldn’t beat 100% endlessly. The clean, simplistic art-style and diverse electronic soundtrack help a lot in keeping your attention without overwhelming your senses.

Soundodger+ supports keyboard, mouse and controller. Keyboard works, but it can become difficult to dodge projectiles on later tracks. Mouse is obviously the ideal analogous solution and the best way to play this game, but surprisingly, controller is also a very good way to play. Especially if you pop on zen mode and just lean back in a chair to enjoy the music and patterns.

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The only issue I have with Soundodger+ is the way in which it doesn’t really support competitive play. Usually rhythm games – and even bullethell shooters – will have a score which can be compared with other users and allows an element of competition, but Soundodger+ uses only the percentage of completion which means there’s a hard cap on how “good” you can be at the game.

Soundodger+ is an excellent example of both a Rhythm and Bullethell game. The mixture of simplicity, skill-based game-play and rewarding feeling when you complete a difficult song-map culminate in what is a very pleasant experience. While it can be frustrating to ‘lose’, you never truly ‘fail’ in Soundodger+, merely score less. Thanks to this design, being hit never feels cheap – It was most likely your own fault.