Tucked away in the Nintendo Switch eShop, underneath the games that everyone is talking about such as Snipperclips, 1-2-Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (obviously), is VOEZ, a rhythm game originally released on iOS and Android devices last summer. Made by independent Taiwanese developer Rayark Games, the title has had a significant change in structure for its first console release.
At its core, VOEZ is just like any other rhythm game; a horizontal line appears at the bottom of the screen with notes matching the music's melodies falling down from the top. As these notes hit the horizontal line, your job is to tap them in time with both the visual and audible cue with the aim of completing the song. Notes can vary in style; some notes require only a single tap as it crosses the line, some need to be held for a set duration determined by a start and release point, and others need to be swiped across the screen, for example. Interestingly, with the game being controlled entirely by the touchscreen, this is the first game for Nintendo Switch which can only be played in handheld mode.
The thing that instantly sets VOEZ apart from its countless rhythm game rivals is that it is aesthetically stunning. Before you even jump into a song this is abundantly clear - the menus look great with a very sleek design and each song has a gorgeous piece of artwork complementing it on the song selection screen. During gameplay the notes travel down different lanes which can land at various points across your line, but rather than them being static lanes such as what is required for games such as Guitar Hero, these lanes dance with the music, moving all over the screen in time with beats that don't contain any notes for you to hit. In a way this can be quite distracting, especially as the lanes can sometimes switch sides even when a note is travelling down it, causing you to quickly reassess where you need to press at the last minute.
This is a welcome challenge however, not an annoyance. Accompanying a difficulty system of "Easy", "Hard" and "Special" (which includes things such as complex drum fills and both hands having to play independently) for your song choices, it helps to create a game which has a nicely balanced learning curve; starting off simple and increasing the pressure at a pleasing rate. Upon completion of a song you will be rewarded with a grade – A, B, C etc - and can also try to obtain a "Full Combo" (meaning you hit every single note), or an "All Perfect" (meaning you hit every note at exactly the right time). These can be tough to acquire and you feel a great sense of satisfaction when you finally manage it on a tough song. The main menu displays how many each of these you have achieved overall so the drive to increase those numbers is always there.
Also displayed on the menu is the number of charts you have played. Overall there are 348 charts in the game – this includes each variant of a song such as their difficulty – but even so results in a very impressive total of over 100 completely different songs to play through. The soundtrack mostly consists of J-pop, K-pop and Vocaloid style music, faster electronic music with some examples of dubstep and a few songs containing a more Western influence. The quality of these songs varies with some beautiful examples, ones that get stuck in your head for days and others that leave a lot to be desired – although of course musical preference will vary for everyone based on their tastes. The game's first and main song, 'Colorful Voice', seems to be constantly stuck in this writer's head for example, with 'Wilt' being a close second on the favourites list.
The soundtrack's implementation is where the Nintendo Switch version of the game differs from its mobile counterparts. In the mobile versions, whilst free to initially download, songs can be unlocked through collecting keys – which very occasionally appear during gameplay but mostly have to purchased. Watching adverts can also let you play some songs with others being available for free for a limited time. On Nintendo Switch you buy the full game from the Nintendo eShop and with that comes absolutely everything. After playing the first song the entire game unlocks and you are free to choose from any of those 348 aforementioned charts – there are no micro-transactions to be seen. Compared to the price of keys in the mobile version, buying the full game in this way is a hugely cost effective way to get all the songs.
The game does also have a story attached to it through the use of a diary. Each diary entry has a requirement for you to unlock ('complete two songs on hard difficulty', for example) which when completed fills in another piece of the story. You follow the story of Chelsea and her high school classmates as they embark on a journey to start a band together. Whilst this is a nice addition and once again contains some beautiful artwork, it is very easy to forget about and oddly doesn't seem like as much of a focus as it could have been. The story is never forced upon you; rather it is kept hidden away in the diary section of the main menu for you to discover on your own.
VOEZ is a beautiful rhythm game with a generous supply of songs and gorgeous artwork that makes you want to keep going back for more. The rhythm gameplay feels accurate and fits the songs nicely for the most part, particularly in harder difficulties, with a nicely designed learning curve to allow players to get into the swing of things.
The soundtrack can start to feel quite repetitive at times, with a number of songs blending together to create what feels like filler content, and the quality of sound could be a little better with some songs sounding quite compressed, but overall this doesn't dampen the enjoyment of the game too heavily. Overall, VOEZ is a very good entry to the rhythm genre and one to consider for portable, tap-along loveliness.