I was caught red-handed! My wife arrived home early from work one night and heard quite the commotion upstairs. She stepped slowly up and peered into the living room, and what she saw horrified her. She caught me sitting in front of the computer, vacant-eyed, my hand moving about in a crazy to-and-fro motion, while funky music boomed from the speakers. I turned and saw her, and my eyes widened. I went ghost white and tried to tell her it's not what it seems. But the damage had been done, and I will never live down the embarrassment of playing Audiosurf while using her Backstreet Boys CD.
I am indeed that addicted to Audiosurf. I've discovered new uses for music I'm apathetic to and songs I dislike. This isn't a dumping ground for bad music, though, as even music I love can be experienced in new interactive ways. For every song, there is a winding track decked out with turns, hills and loops. It's here the game will have you dancing to the song's rhythm, zooming from lane to lane to collect colored blocks and avoid any gray, white or black ones. The track moves faster as the tempo mounts, shifting from thrilling to intense. Never before did I associate "Lady Gaga" with "challenging," until she broke my jaw with Bad Romance.
I rarely describe a puzzler as 'addictive,' mainly because "the same old thing" gets tiresome after a while. The developers kept this in mind, and found the perfect alternative to burnout-inducing repetition by including various characters and difficulties--adding a greater variety of colors to the blocks as you set the game on harder modes. The differences are more than cosmetic, as playing with each character is like playing a separate game. Each one has their own advantages, abilities and rules. If you're into plain vanilla gaming, you can always stick to Mono. The cool kids can groove with Eraser, and his ability to delete and store blocks of a single color for later usage. If you're feeling lucky, you can shuffle your queue with Vegas; or shove blocks into a different lane with Pusher. It's all about experimentation, seeing which songs work best with different characters and difficulties and finding your niche.
It's intriguing that the game urges you to challenge yourself, even though there is no 'game over' screen. No matter how badly you mess up, you're never booed off the stage. Behind your character is a set of three columns--or a queue. Whenever you nab a block from one of the three lanes, it falls into the corresponding column in the queue. Making these puppies disappear is a matter of making three of a similar color connect, either vertically or horizontally. This may sound easy, but if you've loaded up your speediest metal or your fastest club tune, keeping your colors straight becomes a real nightmare. My queue, for instance, always looks like someone barfed a king size bag of Skittles on it. This is why I'm usually hit with penalties several times in a session. Let one of those columns overflow and you'll be unable to grab anymore bricks for a short time, plus you'll be hit with a score penalty. This will happen repeatedly unless you learn to boogie from lane to lane with finesse, or secure power ups as they appear. I've found no greater relief in a session than having a near-full queue, only to nab a power up that arranges my queue.
Half the fun is trying to beat your old score or top the leaderboards. Really, there's nothing more to Audiosurf than that, but there really doesn't need to be. It's the kind of game you can fire up for a short session and walk away after only fifteen minutes of playing, yet still feel great about it.
This is where Audiosurf will fail to please some. There's no plot or campaign, nor an online versus mode. There is no progress and no end. You play until you're tired of it, and then you move on. Some people require traditional game structure, levels or an actual beginning and end. These folks won't necessarily detest the game, but they won't be turned on by it either; they might just say that it's too casual for their tastes.
For those of us that don't mind a causal title now and then to occupy short bursts of time, Audiosurf is an excellent investment of $10 (or less, if you're patient enough to wait for a Steam sale). Not only does it provide you with a great mix of puzzle and rhythm, but it allows you to experience your music collection in a new and challenging way. Now you can swear at your music as well as your game collection.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.