The PlayStation Network has established a reputation for itself as a platform which strange and unusual titles can call home. That trend continues with the release of Dyad, the first PS3 game by Right Square Bracket, Left Square Bracket Games. It’s fast and psychedelic as hell, but is it worth your time and $15?
The basic gameplay is reminiscent of an acid-washed Tempest, with players guiding a ship around and through a tube. Rather than the singular goal of blasting as many baddies as you can, objectives vary level-to-level. It usually involves getting through a stage as quickly as possible by using a variety of enemies and abilities to build momentum to get you through faster, but sometimes you have to destroy enemies a certain way or maintain a high speed.
Gaining that momentum is done is by “hooking” enemies, which involves lining them up in your sights and pressing the X button. The most basic enemies are mines, coming in two colors, and hooking like-colored pairs gives you a speed boost. Unlike Tempest, though, enemies here don’t typically kill you (unless the level stipulates it), but slow you down instead. There are other enemies as well, and each reacts differently to your engagement. Chargers are true to their name, while leaving behind a zip line for you to gain momentum. If you let the Chargers hit you before you reach them, though, they’ll kill most of your momentum. There are also etchers, which use a laser (which must also be avoided) to make their zip line. Your success in later stages can be dependent on hooking the right enemies for the right speed boost, adding a surprising amount of strategy to a seemingly twitchy game.
There’s also an ability called lancing. To use it, you have to gather energy by grazing enemies. This involves hooking mines, which creates a small aura around them. If you can pass through the aura without hitting the mine in the center, the energy is yours. Once you’ve collected enough, lancing gives you a large speed boost while allowing you to barrel through enemies. When used in conjunction with zip lines, you can get through large sections, and even entire levels, at breakneck speeds. It’s not always easy to aim — since everything’s moving so fast already, speeding up and lining up enemies can be a bit of a crap shoot. This isn’t a problem early on, but later levels require much more precision, and it can be a bit frustrating.
If it all sounds like a lot to take in, that’s because it is. Thankfully, the game does a pretty good job of introducing each of these mechanics through individual levels, rather than throwing them at you all at once. Dyad is an arcade game at heart, though, so once you get the hang of it, you start to pay attention to your scores. Getting to the end of a level is usually easy enough, but being good enough to earn three stars can be a challenge. Coupled with the global leaderboards, it’s easy to lose yourself in a level by replaying it over and over.
Playing through the base levels is barely scratching the surface, however. Each level has an unlockable Remix mode, allowing you to play through a level without the added pressure of getting a high score. You can also change several visual features as well, playing through however you like. If getting good scores and showing off your skills is more your style, then you’ll be happy to hear that getting three stars in each stage unlocks a special trophy level, and this is where your abilities are truly put to the test. All but the very best players will be lucky to meet the required goals by the skin of their teeth, and earning the platinum trophy for Dyad requires a steel resolve. Succeeding in these levels requires mastering what the game has taught you and executing those lessons with a laser focus.
The game can get extremely intense, which brings us to the game’s visuals. Looking at Dyad, you’d think that someone slipped some acid into your drink before you started playing. Every color imaginable is swirling on screen, and doing so at a silky smooth 60 frames-per-second at 1080p. It’s pretty as hell, but combined with the intensity of the gameplay I found my eyes drying out after every 3-6 minute level, and I had to take short breaks before moving to the next. If there was ever a pregame epilepsy warning to be believed, it’s Dyad’s.
While it’s an impressive game to look at, it sometimes makes the game difficult to play. During the later levels in which there are tons of ways to gain a lot of speed, the colors would blend into this crazy soup of flashing primary colors, and it was difficult to keep track of what exactly was happening. It’s a cool effect if you’re just blazing through the level, but it can make achieving high scores difficult, especially in the trophy levels.
The audio in Dyad is a consistent highlight and is something that the developers take great pride in, bragging about the game’s use of uncompressed audio. The electronic music in each level increases and decreases depending on your speed, and it’s easy to become engrossed. If you have a good surround sound setup or a quality pair of headphones, Dyad will take full advantage of it. Combined with the trippy visuals and breakneck speed, this feels like Tempest, Wipeout, and Lumines rolled into one tightly knit package.
Dyad offers one of the finest arcade gaming experiences available on the PlayStation Network, and one of the best PSN games to release all year. The trophy levels and leaderboards can easily bring out the competitive gamer in everyone, with the potential to steal hours away from the unassuming. It’s the epitome of sensory overload, and is usually better for it. Just be sure to keep some eye drops handy.