Music games are slowly starting to infiltrate the casual game space. Some, like Music Catch, find an audience and grow into cult hits. But others, like Raycatcher, don’t seem destined to make the same kind of impact.
Raycatcher is, like the name says, all about catching colored rays of light. You start out as a symmetrical blob made up of colored spheres – red, blue and yellow – and spin yourself by moving the mouse up and down to ensure the incoming rays collide with you. Miss too many impacts, and your Awesomeness meter at the top of the screen falls to zero, and the game is over. Catch enough rays, though, and you grow to a larger size. Grow enough times, and you evolve into a higher life form.
There are 30 evolutions in Raycatcher, with three difficulty levels to play with: Mellow, Funky and Hardcore. Mellow is very much like it sounds, and Hardcore will truly make you pull your hair out, with rays flying every which way.
To help you succeed in your Darwinian quest are two powers: one which clears all the rays from the screen if it becomes too hectic (left click) and another which makes all incoming rays be nice and easy, symmetrical like-colored pairs of rays (right click). These powers become available as you catch more rays to build up the ray meter at the bottom of the screen. These powers come in handy when the rays start to behave differently, such as becoming waving shooting stars, multi-colored clouds that commit to a single color when they get very close to you, or splitting into two shooting stars that change direction on you.
The graphics in Raycatcher are very funky. Neon colors, oscillating backgrounds and a general “cool” help give the game a nice stylized look. However, if you ever played the PlayStation 2 game FreQuency, you may notice a few similarities to that title, including aesthetics and even font choices.
You may notice that no mention has been made as to how music fits into all this, despite calling this a “music game.” The problem is, it doesn’t. Raycatcher has its own playlist of MP3s to try out, but you are invited to make your own playlist with which to play the game. In spite of making an eclectic list of different genres, speeds and volumes, Raycatcher went along nicely, responding exactly the same for every song that played. In fact, the rays don’t seem to collide at all in time with the tempo of the music.
Speaking of music, the included soundtrack is… well, it’s definitely not for all tastes. There are some nice trance beats in there, but be warned if you go exploring the other playlists. (Creepy-sounding screamer death metal isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea.) Should you choose to make your own, make sure that your music is in the MP3 format. Any other format – say, those nice AAC files you may have downloaded from iTunes – won’t be recognized.
Where Raycatcher really tanks, though, is in its attempts at humor. It’s quite apparent that the developers spent a lot of time trying to write witty words in the Evolution Gallery – a listing of all the evolutions you’ve unlocked – as inspiration for you to want to continue through the game. For each step, scientific information is presented in a colloquial manner. However, in doing so, they probably offend more than a few players. For example, when discussing hydrogen, it will “supposedly makes a good fuel if the oil companies weren’t repressing it.” Or how about man-made molecules, like Nutrisweet “which may or may not cause cancer. That’s right kids; eat organic.” These kinds of political messages have no place in this kind of game. Other times, the messages are too macho, and not in a good way. When mentioning liquid nitrogen, the developers reference the famous scene in the film Terminator 2 when the villain is frozen and shattered. Their commentary? “He totally shot him in the friggin face!” There are also the requisite typos (i.e. “it’s” instead of “its”).
Other annoyances abound, like having to quit to the main menu to continue playing, or the lack of a windowed mode, or lack of a pause button. But most of all, Raycatcher is just not a very interesting game to play. There are so many other turn-offs that the gameplay simply isn’t strong enough to counterbalance this. Raycatcher isn’t a music game. It’s a game that lets you play your own songs while playing the same game over and over again. Let this ray pass you by.