If you look this game up on the X-Box Live marketplace, it’s actually spelled FromPulse (one word). I’ll be writing it out as two words because I think it looks ridiculous otherwise. That’s a petty gripe, but I’m sure we’ll all get over it.
From Pulse is, at its core, a rhythm game – and if I was going to judge it based purely on that I’d say Pixel Molotov has released a good demo. I hope their game comes out eventually. Of course, they don’t bill it as just a rhythm game – it’s a rhythm game with a story! Well, presumably. I get the feeling the entire experience is supposed to be less of an actual tale and more of an extended metaphor for…human suffering? The universal nature of sound? The constantly vibrating nature of all atomic matter? It could be a metaphor for the exquisite flavor of Hungarian goulash for all I can parse out of it.
The tale is conveyed to the player via absolutely gorgeous sequences of digital and hand-drawn art that really serves to draw you into the world they’ve created here. You are a
Chozo Morph Ball Ollapas from the planet Sheilak and apparently “they breathe music.” Like I said: I’m assuming metaphors here. The peaceful, obo-sucking Ollapas are attacked by something called Discordia. I’m assuming this must be dubstep, because what could be more discordant than that? Well, other than math rock or IDM. Apparently dubsteppers manifest as giant black smoke creatures and that doesn’t bode well for anyone, especially the crew from Lost (in memorium, Hurley). You are then introduced to the game’s hero – Vegah.
I didn’t know he was made of music either.
Vegah’s grandfather tells him that they’re all made of music and gives him a ring to travel through time to go find some magic artifact because for unexplained reasons, he can’t do it. Arthritis, maybe. Rolling into a ball to get around has to be hell on your back. And where would an artifact of unimaginable cosmic power be? Earth, of course! Just like the Zohar, Forerunner technology, Stargates, and every other weird alien thing that just has to show up here. It’s the cool place to be in the galaxy.
As much as I tease, the intro is actually pretty good and adequately sets the tone for the game. Unfortunately, the rest of the story sequences don’t hold up quite as well. The first stage isn’t bad, as you’re confronted by a bewildering, incoherent drunkard spewing quotations and waxing philosophical. That doesn’t stretch my disbelief too far, because when I hit the bottle hard enough, I assume that’s pretty much what I sound like too. It’s a fine, if vaguely prophetic sequence.
It rapidly goes downhill as every encounter Vegah has is roughly as nonsensical and reference-filled as the first. The problem I have here is (mostly) not with the material they’re choosing to pay homage to (The Little Prince is a major theme, among several others). It’s that many of the references are shoehorned in with as much subtlety and grace as a racial epithet chanted by a twelve-year old playing Halo. The second stage ends with a soldier’s death and includes the iconic “I am become Death” line from the Bhagavad Gita, in reference to Oppenheimer. This one is particularly egregious, standing out to me as one of the sloppiest and least necessary quotations of all. The scene itself would have lost none of its impact without those borrowed words and is the less for it overall.
Style, check. Substance…well…
The narrative apart from these things isn’t great, though largely inoffensive. It could stand on its own, minus a few bits of awkward phrasing, if the writer(s) were brave enough to take that step. Unfortunately, what we’re left with is a jumbled mess that lacks both meaning and appeal. It takes a deft hand to attempt such heavy-handed observation and philosophy told through child-like eyes, and while I applaud the devs of From Pulse for their reach, their grasp is wanting.
What about the rest of the game, though? Really, isn’t this all just an excuse to go rolling around through various places in history and bounce in time to the music?
From Pulse is four stages long, and by the time you’ve used all the face buttons at least once (though never all in one stage), the whole thing is over. It’s incredibly easy to get through, none of the stages are more than a minute or two and the whole experience might last you a half-hour. There are no difficulty options, no variability in the button commands or the stage layouts. To make the rhythm game comparison…let’s say Rock Band: this is a game with four songs and they’re all Easy.
Story+, offers nothing new in the gameplay department except the songs are sped up – which just makes them sound worse, particularly in the parts with voice samples. No new stages, except now you get something after stage 4 that can only very generously be referred to as an “ending.” That’s right – in order to get an ending, you have to play through it twice. There are also QR codes you can scan after the stages to tell you what the references are, which is great if you have a smartphone, I guess.
There are hooks in the game for more stages, but they aren’t implemented as of this release. I honestly have no idea why, given the brevity of the game. Two more stages might have spread it out into passable length for a dollar, but only barely. There’s just nothing else to do with the game once you’ve finished it.
Ultimately, it makes me a bit sad to rail From Pulse so hard for its shortcomings, but they’re deserved. The game’s presentation is solid, the visuals are bright, clear and attractive. The menus, text and artwork are all fantastic – and the stages (while annoyingly short) make for very nice spectacle while you’re bouncing on through. I’m sure the team at Pixel Molotov worked hard to bring these elements together. If the whole thing didn’t feel so…unfinished, I’d feel a lot better about recommending it, warts and all. Tragically, I just can’t. It feels like they just said “Eh, not done but good enough” and out the door it went.
There’s groundwork here for a good game; Pixel Molotov got the ball rolling, unfortunately they nudged it right off a cliff.