A City Sleeps Review

Developer: Harmonix

Release Date: October 16th, 2014

Available On: PC

It’s interesting seeing Harmonix, the studio most famous for Rock Band, have this weird lull where they’re between Rock Band games and need to find something else to do. In steps A City Sleeps, a music-based SHMUP that tries something a little different. Is it worth going into this dream, or should this city be awoken?

The story in A City Sleeps is basically nothing. You play as Poe, a woman who is part of a group called The Silk. Poe goes into the dreams of people to exorcise demons known as Kami. That’s really all there is to it, and there’s no story, cutscenes, or much else to further the plot. A bit of flavor text on various objects is the most I got, but this is not a game to go into when it comes to story.

This is Banksy, right? This is what Banksy does? I think it is.

This is Banksy, right? This is what Banksy does? I think it is.

A City Sleeps is a music-based SHMUP where Poe fires in time with the rhythm. She can fire in any direction with the right stick, and can also do a dash to avoid enemy attacks. If she is next to an enemy she will instead use her sword to attack, and with each melee attack Poe fills up a bar that allows her to summon a super large sword to wipe out her enemies. Each enemy also attacks along with the beat, so true to Harmonix’s style paying attention to the music is extremely important. Despite taking up a good chunk of the screen, the only part of Poe that can be hurt is the little green core in her center, something that helps give some leeway and a very clear indicator as to where to not get hit. The game’s basic mechanics work very well, and each stage is a delight to witness. This is especially true with the game’s boss fights, each of which can be a real challenge on the harder difficulties.

To assist Poe with this are the souls she can collect. Able to bring three into each stage, souls had special moves that change depending on if they are put in slow or fast objects. For example, at the start of the game I had a soul named Mercy. By putting Mercy into a ‘slow’ object she would release a small shock-wave of healing energy, yet putting her into a ‘fast’ object instead caused her to shoot healing “bullets” at random. Each of the game’s six souls has different effects, though I had to pick and choose which three I thought would be the most effective to bring into each stage. It’s a smart mechanic that offers a lot of value and choice into the genre.

Pew to the beat

Pew to the beat

Yet all of this requires ignoring A City Sleeps’ major shortcoming: the fact that the game feels like it got to the proof of concept stage, then Harmonix went “eh, good enough” and threw it on Steam. In less than an hour I was already finished with the game. A City Sleeps only contains three levels, and after I conquered those my only option was to replay them on higher difficulties. Each level has five difficulties ranging from “pretty easy” to “hardcore SHMUP fans only”. Unlockable curses also let me change levels around by making it so that Poe dies in one hit, or that bullets move slower, sort of similar to Halo’s skulls. Yet all the stage changing and redone enemy placement doesn’t change the feeling that I was still just replaying the same three stages over and over again.

A City Sleep’s concept and initial gameplay is fantastic, and I’d love to see it used in a better way. But with the sever lack of content in the game I have trouble recommending A City Sleeps. If you can find it cheap, and are a fan of SHMUPS, then I say go for it. Otherwise, be ready to be putting it down in an hour.

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