The “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” phase is long gone — painfully so. The commercial failures of both “Guitar Hero Live” and “Rock Band 4” in 2015 made it pretty obvious that, while there is a rogue sect of gamers who pine for the glory days of rhythm games to return, the general populace made their peace with their plastic instruments.
I get it; they’re expensive and fill up space. As much fun as I used to have with these games, they’re a relic of their time. Rhythm games are a hard sell at $60 when games like “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” exist for the same price. Obviously, “Rock Band 4” isn’t going to sell full price these days — I just checked, it costs five bucks at GameStop — but the instruments are still pricey.
“Amplitude” is everything it needs to be. It’s cheap, $20. No plastic guitars or pricey drum kits either, just the controller.
It’s developed by Harmonix, the creators of “Rock Band.” Rhythm games are in this team’s DNA, and it has shone through in the most unexpected of places — a Kickstarter-backed remake to a PS2 cult classic, which was also a sequel to a game called “Frequency.” $844,127 on Kickstarter later, and we have one of the most accessible and fun rhythm games I’ve ever played.
Booting up a song in “Amplitude,” rows of notes appear. Each row represents the instrument used in the song: drums, synth, vocals, bass and sometimes guitar. “Amplitude” is electronic music-focused, but there are some rock and big band tracks included. Three notes appear in each row, assigned, from left to right, to L1, R1 and R2. The X button is reserved for power-ups achieved by perfectly performing certain sections of notes; such as slo-mo, a score multiplier and a power-up that wipes out the current instrument’s notes, allowing the player to move to the next one.
High scores in “Amplitude” aren’t just achieved by playing notes perfectly. To maximize success, the player must become skilled at transferring from row to row. This takes a lot of practice, because the game is essentially asking the player to keep an eye on the instruments adjacent to the one they’re playing. Each instrument needs to be played perfectly for at least two sections. This destroys the row temporarily, adding the instrument to the song without needing the player to stick with it.
The effect this creates felt magical to me — I was the conductor of a huge, electric orchestra. The player can start the song with whatever instrument they choose; open with drums and bass, or synth and vocals. Despite the relatively small tracklist, it makes up for its size with its incredible replayability.
“Amplitude” could almost be considered a nonlinear rhythm game, which is mind-blowing to me.
Plus, it can be played with up to four players, each tackling their own instrument. It can get pretty chaotic, but creating music with friends is an absolute joy.
As I said, the tracklist is somewhat small, but the songs included are almost all brilliant. I’ve listened to a large portion of them outside the game. It mostly features Harmonix-created tunes, but “Amplitude” also includes some Kickstarter backer-submitted songs as well as songs from other games, such as “Skullgirls” and “Crypt of the NecroDancer.” Quality over quantity is the core of the tracklist in “Amplitude,” and its nonlinear approach to gameplay complements its size perfectly.
“Amplitude” is easy to jump into. Its use of only four buttons on the controller makes it easy to learn but difficult to master. There are traditional difficulty settings, but the real marker of a song’s difficulty is its beats per minute, which is displayed with each song on the menu. My eyes could hardly keep up with some of the late-game songs on higher difficulties. “Amplitude” is accessible, but it’s absolutely punishing as well.
“Amplitude” went live in January 2016, and I’ve been singing its praises ever since. It’s perfect for the person who wants a fill of rhythm game action without breaking the bank on something like “Guitar Hero.” It’s simple; it’s fun. It has wonderful music — please, check it out.
“Amplitude” is available now on PlayStation 4.