The sounds of dying
Sound Ride is a level-based runner that draws inspiration from the BIT.TRIP Runner series. Its abstract and colorful world, quirky characters, and catchy, upbeat music combine to create an environment that’s a pleasure to traverse. Unfortunately, inconsistent physics and a limited amount of gameplay cause many of those trips to be repetitive, frustrating, and less enjoyable as a whole than its individual, charming parts.
Those trips will be made as Kiwi, a bizarre bird-man scientist in hot pink track shorts. Kiwi accidentally altered the time-space continuum and can now run faster than light—which he must do to avoid dying. Each of Sound Ride‘s current 20 stages sees Kiwi running against a throbbing, colorful backdrop that changes hues as he progresses. Strange contraptions, like electrical towers and flashing, stilted robots, dot the otherwise sparse, but appealingly geometric landscape.
Most of Kiwi’s time in this world is spent jumping over obstacles and one-hit dangers, like spiked hurdles and hungry alligators. Players have only two moves at their disposal: jump and double-jump (performed by jumping mid-air). Timing is critical as many obstacles are placed at such specific distances from each other that only one type of jump will suffice. For instance, double-jumping over an object that has another danger immediately behind it will cause you to land on that second hazard and die. While this adds another layer of challenge and required dexterity to the game, it also results in many just-misses that will repeatedly send Kiwi back to the beginning—or halfway checkpoint—of the level when he inevitably hits an unexpected snag.
The frequency of death in Sound Ride is multiplied by two other issues: a limited view of what’s ahead and an inconsistent physics engine. There are many hills and cliffs scattered throughout each stage that add depth to the run, but the camera does not lead beyond Kiwi’s current position. This means that whatever is at the crest of a hill—usually an enemy—is impossible to see until you’re right on top of it.
It also means that areas where Kiwi must jump off to a lower ledge are completely invisible when you’re making the critical jump. You may be jumping too long or too short, or about to land on a spiked trap: there’s no way to tell unless you’ve played the section already. This, along with the need for precision jump choices for precisely-placed enemies, results in a Mega Man-like need for level memorization, and thus often many deaths and replays before you can complete a stage.
This difficulty isn’t necessarily a strict negative. The often luck-based challenge of Sound Ride can be exhilarating, especially when you do manage to jump over an unseen-but-anticipated obstacle the first time. However, the second issue—the inconsistent physics engine—turns this potential fun into frustration. Would-be-clever additions to the level structures, like rotating platforms and bouncy floors, are unpredictable and produce different results to the same stimuli. Running over a bouncy floor one time may not cause it to move; running over it again may result in tiny vibrations that throw off your rhythm and make jumping more difficult. Manually rotated platforms reminiscent of those found in Super Mario Bros. sky stages may act as sturdy bridges one run and turn into side-heavy death traps in another. Perfectly timed jumps and obstacle knowledge cannot predict what these types of items will do, and their prevalence in every stage guarantees frequent deaths outside your control.
Which is a shame, because Sound Ride has a number of redeeming characteristics, some of which are borrowed from the always-enjoyable BIT.TRIP RUN! Its techno-beat music starts off slow and ambient, but grows with each jewel you collect throughout the stage. By the third or fourth jewel, a pounding, fast-paced rhythm is encouraging Kiwi ever onward. Each stage features multiple optional paths to create variety on replays, many of which are hidden and an added challenge to discover. Some clever additions, like wooden crates you can push in front of you to block enemies, expand the limited gameplay. And a daily challenge stage pits players against a new randomized, endless level with its own leaderboard to conquer.
These features are the pull to keep playing Sound Ride. They don’t completely make up for the frustrating physics and unavoidably frequent deaths, but their presence promises more good things may be yet to come when developer OutOfTheBit releases additional—and free—stages.