There’s a shooter sub-genre that has a special place in my heart. While shmups like Gradius and R-Type laid the genre’s foundation, and bullet-hell games like the legendary Ikaruga and the more recent Death Smiles kept the genre alive in contemporary times, none move me like music shooters. Take REZ for instance. Mention the title around gamers close to 30, and their eyes will light up with nostalgia. And the underrated Child of Eden elicits the same kind of reaction, but from smaller crowd. The third game to join those ranks is the Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket-developed PSN title, Dyad.
Dyad is an on-rails shooter of sorts that fuses music, movement, and blasting into a what I can only describe as an “intensely calming experience.” That might sound very contradictory, I know, but hear me out.
The game has you play as…well I don’t know what it is, actually. Your avatar looks something like a headless, color-shifting squid. The tendrils flail about in random yet smooth and controlled pattern. The objectives change from stage to stage, but the main goal is to get to the end of the level with either the highest score or fastest time. Unlike REZ or Child of Eden, there is no storyline here.
This is the game to get if you either want to check yourself out for a few hours at a time (legally) or you want to get every high-score.
Dyad starts off with you “hooking” enemies and progressively adds more complexity. I found the concept of “hooking” very refreshing as it had you latch on to enemies as they lined up with you to sling-shot yourself forward at a greater speed. It was interesting because it didn’t involve killing, like so many other games. The enemies start out as static beings, but eventually fire back. Afterwards comes “grazing,” a tactic that sees you slinging your avatar through a small ring put off by a “hooked” enemy without actually coming in contact with the enemy. The final piece is “lancing.” This technique is the fastest way to move down a tube and the only way to kill enemies as it literally has you plowing through them. The more you connect with, the longer the lance lasts and the faster you go. The catch is that you can only lance twice without grazing more enemies to fill your lance bars. It takes about four grazes to fully charge a lance gauge.
There’s no story, not even the tiniest semblance of plot, so why am I killing things? It doesn’t really matter that the enemies are sunbursts and sometimes shoot square bullets–why do I have to kill them if I have no motivation to do so other than a speed boost? I’m not a pacifist. I’d shoot an actual (digital) enemy in the face without a second thought; I just would like a motivation for my killing.
Dyad is rhythm-based. The enemies come in patterns that allow you to keep a certain pace, every sound you make affects the music ala REZ, and even the colors of the menus change at a very specific pace. It’s this underlying rhythm that sets the pace for the entire game. As the entire landscape is spinning around and colors are flashing, but once you slip into the groove, the entire game becomes hypnotic and has a trance-like effect. Every stage begins to blur together into one long color-melding experience where interaction and visuals meet.
The levels look very similar at first, but when you get two stars on any given level, you unlock the remix mode for that particular level. Remix mode is just as it sounds, a set of options that change how you play the stage. Options range from washing out the colors and turning off collisions to dropping out the drum track of the stage’s song and a number of other options in between.
And speaking of levels, Dyad has a ton of them. That’s not a bad thing, of course, as it gave me plenty of time to practice certain levels and techniques. If you’re a completionist, this is a long game for you as there are upwards of 40 levels, each with increasing difficulty.
The music in Dyad takes some time to warm up to. It’s all electronic, and almost every track starts off slow-to-mildly paced. As the stage progresses, the music picks up and so does the intensity of the level. The best way I can describe it is to say that you just need to listen to it. The “Demo Launch Trailer” uses the actual game music and sounds, but it appears sped up. I don’t remember any of the tracks playing that fast.
Dyad is a solid choice as a PSN title. The gameplay is slick and refined, the visuals are impressive, and the music is great (if you like electronic music). This is the game to get if you either want to check yourself out for a few hours at a time (legally) or you want to get every high-score. It’s not the next REZ iteration, but it’s definitely worth the $15.