Does the return of Chime – in its shiny new Chime Sharp format – strike a chord?
The original Chime was, in some respects, overshadowed by the circumstances of its arrival. Originally released on Xbox 360 in 2010, it drew headlines for being published by OneBigGame, a non-profit company that donated its profits to charitable organisations such as Save the Children.
With so many headlines focussing on the admirable cause, it obscured the fact that Chime was a remarkably fresh take on the block puzzle genre that combined gameplay with a host of music from artists such as Moby, Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll, and Markus Schulz.
Chime was followed by a Super Deluxe variant on PlayStation 3, which added a divisive three-dimensional graphical treatment plus a few new tracks, and that was that. Despite its evident quality, the series didn’t quite breakthrough and Chime disappeared until 2015 when Ste Curran – one of the original game’s developers – revived the series by way of a successful Kickstarter.
Released on PC late last year, Chime Sharp is now available on PlayStation 4 and brings with it new modes, improved visuals, and a brand new roster of tracks from artists including Chvrches, Kavinsky, and Magic Sword.
Combining puzzle gameplay and electronic music was not a new idea in 2010, and is even less so today, but the use of music in the Chime series is fundamental to the experience.
Essentially a block dropping game, the aim of Chime Sharp is to jigsaw together a variety of different shapes onto a grid to form solid 3×3 blocks, or quads. At the same time, a beat line runs from left to right across the screen. When the beat line hits a completed quad, more time is added to the clock and a new layer is added to the accompanying music track. The aim is to cover as much of the grid as possible before the time runs out, all the while adding layers to build the components of the music.
Chime Sharp doesn’t do much to mess with the seven year old formula, but it does attempt to polish the experience in all the right places. In addition to its core Time Mode, Chime Sharp includes the new Sharp mode – which ditches the time limit and replaces it with lives – and the tricky Challenge mode, which adds complexity to the grid, as well as reducing the number of shape varieties at your disposal.
Visually the game has received a subtle but effective upgrade. It’s often garish – lurid neon pinks and bold primaries are the order of the day – but it just about stays on the right side of tasteful. Some levels, however, do use colours that are a too similar in tone, making it hard to determine which parts of the grid have already been covered. It’s nothing that a small increase in contrast couldn’t fix. Chime Sharp also retains the slightly angled view-point of Super Deluxe, but refines that game’s overly-chunky shapes in favour of a simpler treatment that improves clarity.
As for the music, it’s another strong line up, and the best tracks – Kavinsky’s Roadgame, and Noveller’s In February, for example – work beautifully. That said, it’s all music of a similar type, and it would be interesting to see the game venture out of its electronica comfort zone and feature works from other genres.
And that’s probably the biggest problem with Chime Sharp. For all of its visual flourishes and new modes, it feels a little safe. I easily played over fifty hours of the original game, and it’s likely I’ll do the same again, but as a long time player there’s nothing here that feels particularly new.
Despite that slight misgiving, Chime Sharp deserves to be a successful revival and I hope it finds a new audience on the crowded PlayStation Store. The core block dropping mechanic remains as enjoyable as ever, and its visuals and audio gives the game a fizz of energy that many other puzzle titles lack.
Chime Sharp is at its best when it puts the player ‘in the zone’. There’s a real satisfaction – and sense of achievement – in those moments when the countdown approaches zero, the music reaches a crescendo, and you clear a grid by the skin of your teeth. And whether a round ends in success or failure, the base appeal of the game means that one more go is always necessary.