Groove Coaster is a music game rendered in the style of Rez. The inspiration is there in the endless black backgrounds, the wheeling camera and the neon line art, abstract assets that pulse and explode in showers of space petals.
But it’s also there in the soundtrack, 2 minute dollops of Japanese house and trance and, most tellingly, in the snare thwuck that sounds out every time you miss a shot, identical to the one used in Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Dreamcast classic.
Taito, perhaps more than any other traditional video game publisher, has successfully married its arcade heritage and sensibilities with smart phone technology and, more importantly, the way in which we play idly play games when out and about today. Part of the Infinity Gene series of iOS titles (which was kicked off with the wonderful Space Invaders Infinity Gene), Groove Coaster is split into short, sharp stages, none longer then 3 minutes long.
You play as a tiny vessel traveling along a twisting, turning track: like a runaway rollercoaster cart viewed top-down from the stratosphere at night. Your task is simple: tap the screen in time with the music, beat notation indicated by targets that sit on the rollcercoaster’s path, waiting to be struck by a finger. You’re graded according to your timing (Great, Cool, Good or Miss) and, the better your timing, the more ‘Groove’ you earn for that sample-firing beat.
If by the end of the song the Groove meter is filled then the track is completed successfully and you’re awarded a grade for your performance. Strike enough consecutive targets without missing and you’ll earn a chain, which multiplies your score.
The systems are orthodox rhythm action, but the presentation is otherwordly, entrancing and idiosyncratic, in the line of the best Japanese score attack games. For a game with such spartan assets, Groove Coaster nevertheless offers a thrill ride, full of Tron zips left and right, Mario Galaxy loop-de-loops and Space Invaders particle effect showers.
The stage select screen is laid out like a rollercoaster track itself, new tracks added as previous ones are completed, and as you earn experience points for completing songs at different difficulty levels, so you unlock new avatars, graphical changes that offer different bonuses and effects.
It’s a mesmerizing game, understated and chic, a miniature theme park ride for a trance gnat, one that burrows its way into your heart with each arm-raising tap.
Buy Groove Coaster here.