iPhone/iPad App Review: Cytus

Rhythm games are an enduring genre on iOS and Android, with the many variations of Tap Tap Revenge –  probably the best known of all the titles – not only spending plenty of time at the top of the charts, but also spawning four sequels too. Tapulous, the studio behind the Revenge games, has even attracted big name licenses too, from Lady Gaga to Justin Bieber.

However, the genre doesn’t begin and end with Tap Tap Revenge, and there are several alternatives that provide an equal, and sometimes better, musical gaming experience. Often, it’s those that play with the established rules that are seen as an improvement over those with well known artists attached.

Skillz, a game for wannabe DJs, on the iPad is an excellent example. Offering heart-pumping gameplay and foot-tapping tracks, it makes the most of its favoured musical style, and is surprisingly addictive. What it’s not though, is cheap, nor has it seen much love from the developers recently.

The subject of this review, Cytus, doesn’t suffer from either of those problems, as it’s priced correctly and has seen several updates since release, the last of which was mid-April. Developers who recognise that continuing to support their games after release is a good thing, deserve support back.

Unlike other rhythm games, Cytus has a backstory – something about robots, memory and music being used to store human emotions – but it’s of little consequence and isn’t important to the game itself.

There are only two truly important elements to any rhythm game: Music and controls. In Cytus, there are only three different types of note to master. The simple tap, the tap and hold, and the tap and slide. Instead of being a vertically scrolling screen as in the Tap Tap games, Cytus’ play area is static but for a scanning bar moving up and down the screen.

Notes appear as glowing circles, accompanied by arrows or runways if they need further interaction, and they must be tapped when the scanning bar passes over them. The closer to the epicenter the line is when you tap, the more points you get. You’re also rated as to your precision, ranging from perfect down to a miss. When you finish the level, you’re given a report of how many notes fell into each category, and a total score.

Score high enough and you unlock either a new song, or a harder version of the one you’ve just played. The game has nine levels of difficulty, and there are at least 15 songs with 30 different variations.

The control system is different enough to present a challenge to even seasoned Tap Tap players, and the moving line takes a while to master, as at first it feels more natural to watch for the notes as they appear, instead of watching the line as it scrolls up and down. By concentrating on the line to find your rhythm, it’s easier to match the incredible speeds of the harder levels.

With the control system getting the thumbs up, it’s on to the music, which gets a wavering thumbs up. It’s not that any of it is bad, it’s just that some of it is so good, that you’ll wish similar songs filled the playlist.

Things start off well, with the opening track, Chemical Star, sounding good and offering just the right challenge. Then, after a pair of good-but-not-great entries, you find Light Up My Love.

See, rather than stick to one genre, Cytus embraces electronic, dance, hardcore and most importantly, pop and jazz. But this isn’t chart pop, but bubblegum pop that although I’ve no idea where it originates, sounds like it comes straight from Japan. It’s absolutely brilliant, and suits the game’s futuristic style perfectly.

Light Up My Love is just a prelude to discovering the surreal vocaloid-does-backroom-jazz entry Les Parfums de L’amour, a level which should be prescribed to anyone feeling down, as it’s guaranteed to see you smiling and laughing by the time it ends. Instead of mixing it up, Cytus should have gone with more like these two.

Oddly, as you move through the game and unlock the harder levels, they can sometimes be easier than the ones that came before, due primarily to following the rhythm of the music more closely.

It also feels easier to play on the iPhone than the iPad, as your thumbs can hover over the entire screen, minimizing the movement you need to make to keep up with the faster levels. It’s by no means impossible on the iPad, but it’s better to start on the iPhone and graduate to the larger screen when you become more adept.

Cytus is priced at £1.49 and offers a huge amount of replay value, some highly unusual but ideally suited musical choices, and a unique method of play. It’s my favourite rhythm game on the iPhone by far, and is highly recommended.

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