Simplicity is a quality that is often lost on the developers of today’s console games, mainly because the hardware limitations (or what were know back then as simply “capabilities”) of times past that resulted in some of the best games ever created – Super Mario, Sonic, and Metroid to name just a few – simply aren’t limitations any more.
While graphics processors and the improvement of chipsets, software, and technology in general have allowed some developers to be more creative with their video games, it can also lead to unimaginative storylines, weak gameplay, and even a general lack of substance, all sacrificed as a result of too much focus on making the game look good. Music Catch, a distinctly beautiful and achingly simply musical game from Reflexive, shows that games need not have smash-you-face graphics or complicated mechanics to entertain; a stirring piano piece and some careful movement of your mouse is all that is needed to have a better time than you will have with 95% of flash games and even some console games these days.
When I say the concept is simple, I may actually be overstating it here: it is very basic. Wonderfully so, however, since all that the game requires you to do is to observe the screen and move your mouse around as a range of different shapes of multifarious colour emerge from an ever-moving line on the screen to be collected, and all in time to one of the most beautiful piano pieces that you are likely to hear this year. Reflexive definitely know that simplicity is the key to flash game success, and this is evident in the impressively simple mechanic of Music Catch.
The actual game part of the whole experience where you win points and feel good about yourself is based around collecting the right kind of shape with the correct colour. As you are told at the beginning of the experience, yellow shapes are good and red shapes are bad. To elaborate, yellow shapes actually increase your points multiplier and cause the collection orb that you control with your mouse to grow slightly every time you collect one; red shapes halve your multiplier and make your orb shrink in size. There are green shapes that are greatest in number, but are simply worth points with no special bonuses, bells, or whistles. Purple shapes are the least frequent of all but are the most desirable, since they cause they temporarily attract other useful shapes to your orb whilst leaving the red ones where they are. And there you have the makeup of the game: simply collect the good shapes and avoid the bad as they emerge in time with the beautiful music from the line that sneaks slowly around the edge of the screen. It is simple, it’s beautiful, with the former properly only making the game possess more of the latter. Beauty in simplicity, and a damn fine piece of music underpinning it all.
Though it doesn’t sound like much of an experience filled with entertainment potential, the combination of the stunningly beautiful piano piece, the gentle movement of the shapes in wave-like formations and the diverse colours dancing around the screen makes Music Catch such a haunting and entertaining experience that hooks you in before you even know it. As your orb grows, it gets increasingly difficult to avoid the red shapes, which also become more persistent in their pursuit of your orb as the song progresses, making it more challenging as the music builds to a crescendo and shapes begin to prance around the screen with abundance similar to that of stars in the night sky. This is much like an all-year-round version of the snow-based music game Snowfall, only much more beautiful, challenging, and haunting in equal measures.