When the team behind the critically acclaimed Tap Tap Revenge series announced they were working on something totally new, it was hard to not let our imaginations run wild. A music game from a high pedigree iPhone developer that completely breaks from everything they’ve done before? How could we not be excited?
The idea behind the game is fairly simple – if we had to stick a label on it we’d probably be inclined to call it a “rhythm racer.” Rather than tapping out notes in tune to the music like so many other music games have you do, you’re going to quite literally “ride” the music.
Think of it like controlling the needle on a record. The only difference is that unlike a real record, the groove on the LP veers left and right in tune with the music. Your job is to make sure the needle stays in that groove. It’s an interesting concept, but it suffers from a so-so execution. Riddim Ribbon‘s controls just don’t feel as tight as they should.
To control the needle you’ll need to tilt the device to the left and right like you’re straightening a picture. Depending on the situation, you’ll need to make some pretty extreme tilts to stay on track. What’s worse is that these controls are the only option. Thankfully the developers were kind enough to introduce a patch after launch that let players control the tilt sensitivity, because before that the game was a complete mess. It certainly cleared away some of the frustration we had with the initial version, but that doesn’t mean things wouldn’t have been better with some completely different control options.
While sticking with one control scheme might make sense for some games, there’s simply no reason for it here. I’m no game designer but even I can dream up a few alternate control schemes that would have worked better. What about touch controls where you’re tracing the line with your finger? What about tilt that would have utilized a “rocking” motion? Sitting the iPhone in my lap and pushing downwards on the left or right side to control the needle would have felt far more natural. Why not at least include it as an option?
What’s really discouraging here is how good this game could have been with a better control scheme. There are so many neat twists to the gameplay that could have made Riddim Ribbon terrific fun under the right circumstances that it broke our hearts to see them go to waste. For instance, as you make your way through a song you’ll reach forks in the road that lead to different remixes. Depending on which branch you take the song will have a whole new sound. There are also platforms above the track that you can try and get to so you can add effects to the song that aren’t traditionally there. As someone who enjoys music, I loved the fact that each song would sound different on multiple playthroughs.
My feelings on the soundtrack fall pretty closely in line with my feelings on the gameplay. When a music-based game launches the cardinal rule is to include a wide variety of music so that there is something that can appeal to everyone. For whatever reason, Tapulous ignored that rule. Not only were there only three tracks available at launch but they were all by the Black Eyed Peas. Full disclaimer: I don’t enjoy Black Eyed Peas in the slightest.
Riddim Ribbon feels like Tapulous’ attempt to reproduce the experience of the indie PC hit Audiosurf, but it somehow manages to fail in every place that Audiosurf succeeded. Where Audiosurf had great rhythm racer controls, Riddim Ribbon felt like a broken mess. Where Audiosurf generated levels based on your entire music collection, Riddim Ribbon has three songs – all of them Black Eyed Peas. It’s not that we want to criticize Tapulous for drawing inspiration from another popular title – if anything we were excited at the prospect of a rhythm racer on the iPhone. It’s just that we were heartbroken about how ho-hum the end product turned out.