May 8, 2014 10:10 AM | Lena LeRay
Them Games' inSynch is all about music, designed to be neither toy nor instrument, and if I had to choose a genre for it, I would call it an arcade game. It's not really a rhythm game, though you do have to press the right buttons at the right times to succeed. A failure, rather than causing a wrenching sound that detracts from the music, simply causes the music to revert to a simpler form. And rather than relying on measures and rhythm to guide the gameplay, inSynch uses painstakingly animated stop-motion polyhedrons.
The gameplay of inSynch is mechanically simple. There is a hole in the center, with four lanes headed toward it from each of the four corners of the screen. There are four kinds of polyhedrons (cube, pyramid, dodecahedron, wedge) that come dancing down the lanes from the corners toward the center. When they get to the end of the lane, the shapes pause on top of a peg, and if the player hits the appropriate button, the peg pops up and the shape is launched into the hole in the center and the music swells; if the player's timing is off, the shape drops into a pool of liquid between the end of the lane and the center hole.
When playing Explore mode, the game is impossible to fail, which is good because it takes some time to get used to how the shapes move and what the timing is for keeping them out of the pools. In Exploit mode, however, failing to launch a shape into the middle actually reduces the complexity of the associated part of the music. Fail to get a shape into the center hole when that shape's lane is already silent and it's game over. To unlock Exploit mode for a given track, you have to finish its Explore mode first and there are four tracks.
Everything about inSynch's aesthetics is a treat to the eye and ear. The animation, which was done with paper shapes and took months to complete (three months just to make the paper shapes once the design was finished and before filming began), is just outstanding. The music composed for the game by artist qnp is catchy and fits the dancing paper polyhedrons perfectly no matter how many of each shape has been succesfully tossed into the center hole. You'd never know, listening to it, that it took Them Games months and months to find the right musician for the job, only to have him finish his part in just a few weeks.
More than that, though, the way the music ebbs and flows with how well the player is doing in the game makes it a signifier of how well (or badly) they're doing without detracting from the overall experience the way missing a note in a game like Guitar Hero does. It's part of the atmosphere, though it reacts to the player's actions. There's also a minor, interactive element that could easily be missed: if a peg is popped up when there isn't a paper shape on top of it, the peg makes a sound. Each peg's sound is different, and it allows the player to jam with the music a bit if they so choose.
inSynch started as an interactive music piece for La Gaîté Lyrique, a digital arts and modern music center in Paris. It was well-received by members of the public of all ages and skill levels, which inspired the developers to release a revamped version of it. It took them longer than they anticipated to get this improved version out, but I'm really glad they got it done. The two gameplay modes make this a game that will challenge fans of games like Hexagon, but allow them to hand the game off to their kids, grandparents, or anyone else and let them enjoy it as well.
The game is currently available at a price of $4.99 for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Humble Widget. There's a mobile version in the works for both Android and iOS.
One word of caution is that to change the key bindings you'll have to modify a text file. In the Windows and Linux versions, it's in the game directory, but Mac users will have to check the readme for instructions on finding it. The default key bindings are designed to be intuitive relative to the visuals, but won't be comfortable for all players. Them Games plans to incorporate the ability to rebind keys into the options menu in future versions of the game, but for now they are focusing on getting the mobile versions finished.