REVIEW: Tone Sphere
Title: Tone Sphere
Platform: iOS (reviewed on iPhone)
Developer: Bit192 Labs / Sta Kousin
Publisher: Bit192 Labs
TL;DR: Addictive 360′ iOS rhythm action game w/ great original music
Family Friendly?: Click here to skip the detail and see if this game is right for your family!
I love a good rhythm action game. Lest you think this bias is going to taint my review of Tone Sphere, know this too: I detest a bad rhythm game. There’s nothing worse than a dull, uninspired, derivative, hackjob rhythm game. Is there? No, of course not. They’re worse than Hitler.
Tone Sphere sends the familiar array of Dots You Have to Poke at the Correct Time™ at you, only they fly in from all directions and depths, pop in all over the screen, and demand different types of interaction (tap, hold, swipe your finger through in a certain direction) – all with very little warning.
But it’s NOT random. Placement and movement have been carefully planned out. You’ll need a keen eye and quick reflexes to succeed in this test of digital dexterity.
This approach imparts a nice complexity; when the dots are simply streaming down from the top of the screen in a straight line, you don’t have that extra concern of not knowing what’s coming next before it’s already moments away from that tappin’ time. (Think Tetris with the upcoming blocks hidden.) As such, Tone Sphere is more similar to games like Elite Beat Agents than Rock Band. I personally find Tap Tap Revenge to be a bit of a crapfest…so this game is an extra-refreshing iOS experience.
Somehow, despite the familiarity of the classic rhythm genre conventions, Tone Sphere manages to avoid feeling unoriginal. You must poke each dot when a black circle around the outside closes in on it.
I guarantee, most people don’t typically tap their phones with nearly the frequency or vigor that Tone Sphere demands. I’m sure I look like a goof playing on the train, but…so what? Fools wish they knew what I was playing, because it sure as hell beats another game of Words with Friends (which I also enjoy, but c’mon).
As you play, you’ll be informed of how many “combo” taps you’ve successfully made without missing. After each track, you’ll learn the familiar “number of Perfect/Good/Way Off/Miss,” as well as your “Peak Combo.” When you complete a song, you receive a score and a rating out of 5 stars (for a perfect round, you’ll receive 6 gold stars instead, hot stuff). You also see your star meter going up as you play (“U tappin’ COOL!”). As this is a Game Center-friendly title, you’ll also see how you compare to other players around the world.
Tone Sphere’s a game that challenges you to feel good about what you’ve accomplished, but also to keep plugging away and improving. It’s rather addictive.
Now, about the music. Of utmost importance in any rhythm action game is the soundtrack. If you’re expecting to tap along to “Macho Man” or “Moves Like Jagger,” you’ve come to the wrong app. Game developer Sta Kousin explains:
All tracks used in the game is either made by myself or my friends – though the game is made just by myself, as this game is a hobby project (+some hope to spread our music to new people)
In Tone Sphere, you choose from an assortment of original, beat-heavy tracks…and it’s not lame! The game’s website describes it as “modern dance music genres, such as Progressive House, Dubstep, Post Rock and so on, from fellow Japanese musicians.”
At its best, the music in Tone Sphere reminds me of the Katamari Damacy soundtrack…a pretty high compliment, indeed. Katamari isn’t something I throw around lightly. But I legitimately smiled with surprise at the twists and turns some tracks took, and the sheer variety of flavors is very, very nice. Just saying, I’d happily buy The Music of Tone Sphere, Vol. 1…and I’m not even big on dance music. Try not to grin like a dope while trying to decipher what’s going on in “Le Petit Prince.”
The first track I tried was the J-Pop infused “Otome.” Dots moved quickly. I realized right away that each song would likely require several tries, because being better able to anticipate the super-quick tap sequences and odd drag-your-finger/tap-two-buttons-at-once bits will lead to better scores. An immediate replay confirmed this – I gained a star level and upped my score.
The complexity of my first experience with Tone Sphere is my fault – I had skipped through the selections in favor of one I dug “song-wise.” (You’ll unlock new tracks as you play, too!) Going back to the first song on the list, “Already Seen,” I found a suitable and welcoming primer for things to come.
I 5-starred it on the first try. I have since 6-starred it, and I now adore that song. But, word to the wise…start at the beginning and work your way up. (The developer promises more tracks for free in future updates!)
I was playing on “Normal.” The title screen promised that this was “Episode #1.”
Another selection instructed me to “Play more to unlock” it.
Play I did.
And unlock I did.
“Episode #2 – Solarsphere” is…all your favorite tracks from Episode #1, only much, much harder! Like, psycho-tough.
Oy. Seriously…after about 4 or 5 songs in, it’s beyond my capabilities. Though I love some of the gameplay/camera movement twists thrown at you in Solarsphere mode, later levels almost seem to mock you with the frequency, speed and placement of the constantly-moving dots. Maybe you’re good enough to figure it out, but I’m not – I mean, I was having trouble with the latter songs in Episode #1. I’ve given the tougher songs quite a few tries…I just can’t keep up. It almost doesn’t make sense to me how or why things are suddenly popping up when they are. I know there’s thought behind it all, but that doesn’t make the super-hard levels feel any less like the rhythm game version of a “bullet hell” shooter.
My eyes and brain have trouble telling my fingers what to hit, sometimes. I don’t mind a challenge, and high-speed play is to be expected in later levels; however, there’s a point at which it just becomes mean. I supposed it’s possible that I could, after days upon days of endless replay, get to the point where I’m skilled and nimble enough to keep up with those levels requiring machine-like precision and split-second reflexes in triple-time. It’s just very extremely unlikely. I’m very proud of the one star that I managed to eke out on “Tales of Spoof” in Hard mode, though! My jaw literally dropped several times when the action got especially wild.
But I don’t care how mean you are to me, Tone Sphere. I still love you.
And I still have fun trying.
It’s a stylish little game, too. Each level sports a background comprised of colorful, abstract shapes over stark white. It’s just enough, considering how much focus those zooming dots require.
Did I notice some occasional slowdown? Kinda’, yeah. At times, the game would hit a hiccup and take a bit too long to throw the dots on the screen at the correct time, making them impossible to hit. That’s annoying, especially when playing a fast-paced, perfection-oriented game. It wasn’t frequent, but it did happen to me. Was it due to my phone thinking about something else at the time? Maybe a notification was about to push through? I don’t know. But I’ve experienced slowdown on my iPhone before, and lesser games were deleted without mercy. That Tone Sphere did not meet the same fate is a testament to how much I enjoyed it. It’s still very playable, and this is by no means a frequent issue.
Options include the ability to customize your experience in a a few different ways. You can change the “tapping” sound effect, try out some playful camera options and inflict a few other gameplay tweaks upon yourself (Shaky Cam, I’m looking at you.) Just shows the great attention to detail and passion that went into the creation of this game.
I won’t go on any longer. Bottom line: it’s a blast. The music is excellent, and the gameplay is fun and challenging. I’m still plugging away, trying to collect more perfect ratings and improve my game in Solarsphere mode. Tone Sphere just refuses to let you stay away for very long.
My hat’s off to anyone who can get through “Video Game” or “Tales of Spoof” without going just a tad insane, in either mode. I know I did…but in a good way!
Oh, and kudos to Sta! For a one-man band, Tone Sphere is unbelievable. You’ve made a helluva fun mobile rhythm action experience, and you and your buddies have produced some very engaging original songs. It’s a soundtrack that sticks with you – I’m humming along long after I’ve stopped playing.
For a complete track list and more, check out tonesphere.com.
- Excellent, original music (and the promise of more free tracks in future updates)
- Addictive, unique, challenging “360-degree” rhythm gaming goodness
- Plenty of tracks, modes and customization options to keep you playing long after you’ve got your dollar’s worth
- Some levels are punishingly difficult, which could put off less hardcore players
- Fingers occasionally obscured spheres during particularly busy sequences due to iPhone screen size
- I did experience the occasional slowdown “hiccup,” though that may be my iPhone’s fault
Tone Sphere is absolutely safe for anyone to play. Problem is, it may be a tad difficult for younger players. My 4 year-old tried it and liked it, though he could only handle the first song or two in “Normal” mode, and only got the odd star or two. I could just easily see it becoming frustrating.