Part 1 – Arcade Rhythm Gaming and Sound Voltex Intro:
I find it hard to come to terms with my love of rhythm games from time to time. On one hand, I am drawn to the flashy lights and giant LCD screens with loud music booming from the uniquely shaped machines in the arcade. On the other hand, showing a level of play that is far below those who have been drawing the attentive eyes of the general public hinders my willingness to try something I am not as familiar with. Nonetheless, I can now say with certainty that I can truly enjoy this elusive genre with its seemingly high barrier to entry, thanks to my most recent addiction: Sound Voltex.
Before I continue, I want to give some more background to skeptics of the rhythm game genre that might label me as already part of the target demographic and therefore disregard some of my analysis as not applicable to those that are not familiar with the arcade rhythm gaming scene at all. It is true that before Voltex, I have decent experience with rhythm games in arcades such as Jubeat and Dance Dance Revolution.
However, my first impressions of Sound Voltex were just like anyone else with an aversion to the genre. “This game looks too hard for me,” “There are too many things going on; this is confusing,” “I think I’ll stick to the easy stuff I am used to:” these are the thoughts that raced through my mind while I stood awestruck as one of the spectators of the pros playing before me. Though the main reason I picked up the game was that none of my regular rhythm game fixes existed in the new arcade that opened in my area, a strong grasp of the fundamentals of rhythm games as well as a control scheme that only seems hard on the surface helped to ease me into the intricacies of Voltex, a game that has a lot more depth than what I initially made it out to have.
Part 2 – Sound Voltex Walkthrough and “Wub Wub:”
When my friends tell me the first reason why a rhythm game seems too hard for them, the controls usually are suspect number one. I don’t blame them, because a lot of these games have cool-looking controllers that sacrifice ease of use sometimes (looking at you Jubeat with your 4×4 Rubik’s Cube design). This was also my impression of Voltex on the outset, due to its defining feature: what I like to call the “wub wub knobs.”
When I had my friend try the game for the first time, he compared learning the controls to learning how to type for the first time. In addition to the knobs, there are two sets of keys. The first is a row of four squares evenly spaced and big enough so that you don’t press two with one finger. I like to call the second set the “spacebar keys” as they sit right below the first row and function similarly in my opinion.
The confusing part when you watch gameplay for the first time is the fusion of switching back and forth between the knobs and the two rows of buttons. However, the design of the controller is actually very ergonomic, especially when you treat it like a keyboard and mouse set up (which should be familiar with all you pc gamers). Placing my thumbs on the “spacebars” and my index and ring fingers on the square keys, I found that the game did not feel as fast anymore because my fingers are used to the fast movements that the game loads primarily on the square keys as well as the “breaks” that the hold notes on the “spacebar keys” served.
As far as the wub wub knobs go, Voltex allows for the cursor you guide along the track to stick a little if you are turning too slow or fast (although I learned the system works better with slower movement correction). You are always alerted before you enter a section with knobs as well (indicated with a large warning sign on the side that the first knob will start from). Yes, it might take some time to master both keys and knobs at the same time, but I would say that I had the same experience playing an FPS with mouse and keyboard for the first time.
Another problem that pops up while trying to learn a rhythm game is being able to read the mess of notes that appears on the screen. Sound Voltex approaches the note display through integration with the previously mentioned button layout. Notes you need to hit approach the player from the top to the bottom of the screen in a fashion similar to Guitar Hero with an effect that stretches the “play track” so that the player is aware of notes earlier.
There are four lanes with white notes to reflect the four square buttons against a black play track. Spacebar notes are yellow and use the left two or right two white key spaces, signaling a difference between pressing two white keys versus the singular space bar. The main gimmick and where the control scheme tries to give the player an easy-to-read note are the long snake-like tracks of the wub wub knobs. The right knob will always be the bright pink one that starts on the right side; the left knob will always be the bright blue one starting on the left side (unless you wanna be special and switch up your colors in the menu to other color combos). Having these buttons as differential icons on the screen enables the player to easily sort out the corresponding buttons and master actually pressing these buttons instead of looking for which is which.
Related to reading notes, changing the rate at which the notes actually approach the player is a common strategy for rhythm game veterans (to a degree which makes it pretty much necessary to change your speed multiplier). For beginners or other players unfamiliar with how the bpm (beats per minute) is visualized in the notes scrolling down the screen, it may be discouraging to see too many notes coming at you or the notes zooming too fast when you set up your scrolling speed incorrectly.
Sound Voltex, like all music games, does not teach the player how to calibrate the reading speed, but it has many tools for getting to that point that I have not seen in other games. First of all, the options menu for setting up your speed is on its own menu screen that does not have a timer. I cannot even begin to tell those unfamiliar with the stress of rhythm game menus how relieving it is to not have the game rush you while trying to deal with settings (though since it is a screen where you match up with other players, I cannot guarantee that precious time for selecting your speed would not be cut short if someone does actually play the same song as you do). In other scenarios, I have often failed a song due to setting the notes too fast because I forgot to change the settings through hard-to-access menu screens or run out of time because the menu shares the song selection timers.
Accessing the menu itself reveals speed controls that I wish made their way to all rhythm games eventually: locking the speed mod and bpm tuning. Voltex allows for the player to fine-tune the bpm that players want instead of using the standard speed multiplier system. After that is done, players can also lock that speed for the rest of the play session or for the rest of their Sound Voltex career if they have a player card. Therefore, those that are more familiar with tempo or just want to avoid calculating how much they should adjust each track can just set it and forget it, taking away the stress of being rushed every time and allowing new players to slowly ease into the most comfortable reading speed.
Part 3 – Closing Sentiments:
I realize that I might have just been rambling about my newfound love for the game and trying to put that into words for the audience, but if that is the case, then the game has achieved its goal of retaining a player base. The fact that my initial reservations for trying something new have been thwarted by innovative controls that actually try to work with my hands as I train to be a master of the “wub wubs” and an interface that encourages me to improve at my pace speaks to a desire to appeal to a wider audience.
Like all arcade rhythm games, getting good at Sound Voltex requires quite a bit of time, as well as monetary funds. However, with my positive outlook on gaming, I find that all games have their charms as long as you give them a chance. Seeing the crowd of people already giving up on a game like Voltex that actually tries harder to give back to beginners saddens me. There is a lot more depth to this game than I can fit in this crash course to the genre. I invite the reader to start their own adventure into the rhythm game genre with Sound Voltex and discover a newfound love for wub wub knobs and spacebars just like I have.
I do realize that this game might be hard to come by since it is a Japanese export, so I encourage giving whatever rhythm games are available a chance as well if Sound Voltex is not available. You might have a similar experience with that game. After all, Sound Voltex is not my favorite rhythm game of all time, but it is my newest obsession >o<!!!
Blasting into Arcade Rhythm Games: