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Review: Raycatcher (Thinking Studios)

MARCH 3, 2009

[UPDATE: Since this review was written, the price of Raycatcher has been dropped by $5 putting it at $14.95. As discussed below, one of our main problems with the game was the steep price, so the drop is very welcome. It just needs some online features now for a definitive recommendation!]

Raycatcher is a unique offering from Thinking Studios which demands quick reactions and a sturdy music collection. Utilizing the ability to import all your musical purchases into the game, each song is transformed into an array of rays which must be caught appropriately.

Let me explain a little better. A ball of colours sits in the centre of the playing field. The rays created from your music are fired at the ball as the piece plays and it's your job to spin the ball via the mouse so that each coloured beam meets up with the same tinted side on the ball. It's a simple premise and, for the most part, is pulled off fashionably.

Before the Audiosurf comparisons come marching, there's more! As each correct ray/ball colour combination is matched, the ball lights up. Light up the entire thing and watch it grow a new layer with more colours to be matched. Light all these and yep, you've guessed it, another layer. However, grow the ball to a certain size and it will explode in a shower of light, leaving behind a slightly different-looking ball in its place for which you must repeat the process all over again.

And this is where any comments about Raycatcher being an Audiosurf knock-off are boldly asked to cease. Like Audiosurf, Raycatcher wants to be an action-packed (or mellow, depending on the song) time-waster which allows you to listen to your music while you're trying to think of something better to do. However, Raycatcher also wants to be a fully-fledged, unlockable experience. Before beginning a song, you're told which type of ball you could potentially unlock if you play well and all those unlocked are kept. And there are LOTS to unlock, with later ones much harder to obtain.

And yet it feels rather gimmicky. Sure, I can unlock some strange-looking stuff if I keep plodding on, but inevitably I get bored of just winning the same thing over and over and stop trying.

Another way Raycatcher tries to stand out is through the making of playlists. Single songs can be implemented, but creating a set list of tunes you want to listen to makes for a more fulfilling experience. This feature works really well but for one minor niggle - even between songs i.e. during the silence, rays are still fired even though they are apparently following the music.

This little problem brings up the subject of the actual method used by the program to 'read' the music and output it in ray-form. Apparently its full name is 'Beat Detection Technology' and when it comes to the success of the algorithm doing the thinking, it's varied. Much like with the afore-many-times-mentioned Audiosurf, some songs with stand-out beats work well and make the game a joy to play - to name a couple I noticed working spectacularly, Franz Ferdinand's Ulysses had a beat which Raycatcher approved of, as did To Lose My Life by White Lies. Other more thrashy guitar-driven ensembles, however, didn't gel well with the game and random rays were just being thrown about.

The penultimate thing to consider about Raycatcher is that it is really quite difficult. There are 3 difficulty settings to choose from and they are exactly how the Raycatcher site describes them - "easy-yet-challenging to insanely difficult". Too right - I literally could not go even half a minute on the hardest setting, while the easiest still caused problems with certain songs.

Which brings me to my last hurrah. Raycatcher is not a game to casually sit and chill out to. It can be extremely difficult and you have to be well on the ball (excuse the pun) at all times. Also, when you begin to lose it, it's pretty hard to pull it back and after failing several times, the song will come to a halt and it's Game Over. Again, this is not one to relax to.

Raycatcher is a nice little time-waster which, in certain areas, tries to pretend it is something much bigger than it actually is. Everything is offers works well and if you're looking for a game to play your music along to, this could well be it. Unfortunately at the time of writing, the asking price was $19.95 which seems a little on the steep side for what you're getting, especially considering that the game features no online options or score-saving whatsoever.

If the price dropped a little and at least a bit of online functionality was added, this could be a music-lover's essential. As it is now, it's hard to recommend. Check out the demo and decide for yourself if it's worth the price.

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