There are plenty of rhythm games out there that deliver snippets of story in-between bouts of tempo-matching finger tapping. The haunting Deemo is the first one I've played that lets the music tell the tale.
It's not quite like any rhythm game I've played before, and I've played more than my fair share. The genre is a passion of mine. As a music lover I've always wanted to play music, but lack the discipline to learn. Playing with music is the next-best thing.
One of my favourite mobile rhythm games is Cytus, an incredibly stylish offering from developer Rayark. It's one of the first games I install on any Android or iOS device I acquire. When I discovered the developer had released a new game earlier this month, I gladly applied my $1.99 to its procurement. It was not at all what I expected.
I imagined another set of songs set against a stylish backdrop, and a new way to play — the screenshots made it seem similar to DJ Max Ray, another of my favourites. When the music is playing and fingers are tapping, it does feel a great deal like that popular title — almost like I'm playing a piano.
But the mostly piano-driven tracts of Deemo are more than just a place to score points. Each tune reveals a small facet of the game's story. It's the story of a shadowy creature, the eponymous Deemo, who sits alone in his castle, playing the piano.
The opening songs are wispy, ethereal, and decidedly down-beat. Deemo is alone. Deemo is lonely.
Then one day a strange young girl falls from the sky into his world. Immediately the songs begin to brighten. First they speak of her adventurous spirit, leading her to this strange place. The happiness grows with the pair's blossoming relationship.
But there's a darkness at the end of the tunnel. Each time Deemo plays his piano, a tree reaching towards the heavens — and his new friend's freedom — grows taller. He doesn't want her to go. The songs grow tense, darker.
This is the rhythm game equivalent of musical theatre. It's simply brilliant.
With a story covering a wide range of emotions, Deemo's soundtrack is a glorious mix of genres, from classical instrumental to hip-hop, light and airy pop to guitar-driven metal. There are 28 songs in all, with 84 variations, with three difficulty levels capable of transforming even the simplest song into a finger-twisting nightmare.
I never imagined a rhythm game could be like Deemo. It's truly something special. Deemo is currently available on iOS. Hopefully it'll make its way to Android and beyond — everyone with the slightest interest in the genre needs to play this.
Genre: Story-drive piano rhythm game Developer: Rayark Platform: iOS Price: $1.99 (additional song packs $4.49) Get Deemo on iTunes