Some games just have it. Itís an intangible geeky quality that is rarely found, and although it doesnít necessarily imply a great game, it does put the game in question in the company of some pretty impressive peers. Games like Portal, Armadillo Run, Spacechem, VVVVVV, World of Goo and Dwarf Fortress come to mind. Games that make you feel smarter for playing them. It doesnít really matter if youíre actually learning anything that is useful outside of the world that the game takes place in. In fact, games that go out of their way to try and teach you anything rarely have the quality that Iím ranting about. Waveform has it.
So youíre this particle of light thatís travelling into the solar system at light speed, I guess, although it certainly doesnít feel that fast. The path that you follow is dictated by a clearly visible wave that you can directly control. Moving your mouse left and right changes the frequency and moving the mouse up and down controls the amplitude of the wave. The simple goal on each level is to make it to the end portal, but along the way, passing through, and thus collecting various coloured orbs and other bonuses will increase the players score. At the end of the level, depending on the score earned compared to a target score, an amount of stars will be awarded. These stars go towards unlocking new levels.
Learning how to control the wave past the very basic concepts is essential. By changing the frequency and amplitude as the particle is on a specific part of the wave has a huge effect on the way that the particle moves through the level. Although there is generally an optimal path that is usually quite obvious, staying on it, and getting back onto it after an error is where the real challenge lies.
Sometimes helping and sometimes hindering the particle on its way are various obstacles and entities that will block, explode or attack it, or other elements that can reflect or refract the wave. Bonus multipliers for collecting certain colours of orbs, traceable paths, vortexes and black holes to secret levels are all part of the fun, and the game introduces each concept separately to ensure that the player is not overburdened at the beginning of the game, but remains challenged throughout. The pacing and difficulty level is handled exceptionally well I feel, with one caveat which I will discuss briefly later.
The levels are organised into groups that take place around the planets of the solar system. The final level that takes place at each planet is a bit of a time challenge. Thereís an all-consuming ďsingularityĒ; something akin to a giant black hole that is chasing the player through the level. If it catches you, everything is sucked in and destroyed. Itís a great way to set up the finale on each planet and adds a bit of tension to what otherwise can be a quite relaxing and meditative gameplay experience.
Waveform presents extremely professionally. The graphics are for the most part soft and subdued, with excellent use of colour for emphasis where required. The framerate is smooth even when played on a relatively low-spec laptop, and the interface is minimalist and effective. Music and sound is mostly melodic and eclectic electronica, and of excellent quality. The effects compliment the gameplay without being overbearing at all.
In terms of control though, one suggestion that I would make is to go into the options before you start playing and disable the requirement to hold down the left mouse button when altering the shape of the wave. Youíll save yourself from aggravating that chronic gamerís carpal tunnel injury by having to mindlessly hold down the button at all stages of the game. Why on earth this ridiculous setup is enabled by default is unfathomable to me. Before checking the options in despair, I actually considered using masking tape to hold the button down during play.
My only major gripe with the game is the silly requirement to have to unlock later levels with stars. In terms of being an immersion and progression killer itís doing a great job. None but the most skilled players are going to be able to get through the base game without having to backtrack to earlier levels to improve on their scores. Granted some players (who might be more focussed on score rather than on simply clearing the levels) might enjoy replaying past levels, but for the most part, this feature is limiting the enjoyment of the rest of us that just want to progress to the end game. For me the critical point hit at Venus, where I didnít have enough stars to continue on. I did go back and replay a couple of levels, but quickly lost interest as exploration turned to grinding and fun turned into work. Each new level required me to go back and resit 3 or 4 old levels. Umm, no thanks. Perhaps keep it as a challenge on the second play thorough or as an option that can be toggled?
Where Waveform deserves most credit is on the innovation front. I have never played a game similar to it. Itís the reason we play our indies. Every now and then youíre going to come across something that is treading some new ground. Once in a while, something thatís treading new ground is actually going to be half decent, and in even fewer cases, itís going to be great. I donít think that Iíd venture to call Waveform a great game, but itís certainly good fun to play, accessible to all groups of gamers, and is a polished, original and affordable title that deserves success. And all that manipulating light waves, navigating gas clouds and escaping singularity events has left me feeling all the more intelligent for playing it. Iím 99.9% sure that it hasnít made me any smarter at all, but thatís not important in the least.
Keywords: waveform review, eden industries reviews, eden industries games, waveform scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.