You might remember that back when I was still doing comics for The Escapist, I was really, REALLY into Chime, a music / puzzle game from 2010. It’s perhaps the only game where I’ve ever posted top scores on a worldwide leaderboard. I’m not saying this to peacock about being good at the game, I’m saying this so you can understand just how obsessed I was with this thing. I usually played it until I was forced to take a break due to carpal aching.
It’s been six years, but we finally have a sequel. It was a long wait, but the sequel vastly improves on what was already an exquisite game.
The Original Chime
(To be clear, while I’m going to describe Chime here, all the screenshots in this review are for the sequel.)
If you missed the original, it works something like this: You’re given pentominoesBasically “Tetris pieces”, except made out of five blocks instead of four. to place on a grid. You fit them together as best you can. As you form rectangles, they will vanish and you’ll be awarded points based on surface area. Since you’re building rectangles out of irregular shapes, you’ll frequently have some leftover fragments scattered around once the rectangle is removed. There’s a beatline passing over the grid in time to the music. Every time the beatline hits one of these fragments, the fragment decays. If it decays completely, then it vanishes and you lose your current score multiplier. The only way to prevent this is to clean up the fragments by incorporating them into more rectangles, which will leave behind more fragments to clean up, etc.
Building a rectangle would “claim” that area of the grid and give you extra time. To avoid running out, you needed to constantly build new rectangles over virgin territory.
The original game had six songs. Each song had a unique board shape, a slightly different pace, and a different collection of pentominoes to work with. As you filled in the board, the music would progress to a new bit. The pieces and rectangles all make sounds in tune with the music to keep the whole thing groovy and holistic. The only reason I lost interest in the game is that there were only so many dozen hours I could listen to the same few songs.
Chime was a game that was split between two opposing goals. You needed to push into new areas in order to feed the clock, but if you wanted to keep your score multiplier up, then you needed to clean up all the bits you left behind. Which way do you go? Do you fill the board as fast as possible, or keep the board as clean as possible?
I loved the game, but I loved one half of it a lot more than the other half.
Chime Sharp resolves this conflict by spinning the two goals out into two distinct game modes. In a Standard timed game you’re working to cover the board, and in the new Sharp Mode you’re working to build perfect rectangles from imperfect shapes. One is a game of speed and the other a game of strategy and planning ahead.
Sharp Mode is the Chime I always wanted. It’s the puzzle half of the original game, stripped of the annoying “Game Over” timer so that the player can focus on perfection over speed. You’re still under time pressure (the fragments still decay as the music plays) but now the pressure comes from avoiding mistakes rather than moving quickly. It’s delicious fun and I love it.
Chime Sharp has fifteen total tracks. As of this writing I’ve unlocked two-thirds of them, and they’re all solid. Personally I haven’t found any of them as intoxicating as For Silence by Paul Hartnoll (my favorite track from the original game) but then none of them are as irritating as Brazil by Philip Glass. Obviously tastes will vary, but since Chime Sharp has more than double the number of tracks of the original, you’re bound to find something that tickles your particular fancy.
My one gripe with the game is that with the new Chime Sharp mode, I really don’t care about timed mode anymore. But you need to play timed mode to unlock a new track, and then play timed mode on the new track to unlock Sharp mode for that track. Timed mode isn’t the pushover it used to be, either. I’m sort of handicapped by the fact that I keep getting distracted and fall back into OCD “cleanup” mode instead of grabbing territory like you’re supposed to. It’s like a version of Tetris where you’re not supposed to complete lines. Old habits die hard, particularly when you’re half-hypnotized and running on muscle memory. I imagine this won’t be a problem for normal players that have better control over their higher brain functions.
That minor complaint aside, this thing is a joy to play. So it has more than double the content of the original, more game modes, and a bunch of new visual flourishes. If that’s not enough to sell you on the game, it also supports user-generated songs. I’m seriously considering adapting one of my own tracks and releasing it as a custom level.
If you liked the original Chime, then get it. Just get it. The only reason not to get it is that it costs money and we live in a world of finite resources and time.
If you didn’t like or play the original, then let me temper my recommendation by saying this game is best enjoyed by people with an appetite for electronic music. If you’re more of a fan of (say) bluegrass or (I dunno) Gregorian Chants, then this might not be your thing. Watch the trailer and see if you’ll enjoy listening to that while fitting shapes together.
Chime Sharp releases on July 19 (tomorrow, as of this writing) on Steam.
 Basically “Tetris pieces”, except made out of five blocks instead of four.
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