STAFF REVIEW of Chime Sharp (Xbox One)

Monday, March 13, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Chime Sharp Box art I absolutely love puzzle games, and rhythm based ones as well, so when there’s one that combines both I’m eager to give it a go. Truth be told, I somehow missed the first Chime game, released on the Xbox 360 Indie store, but now we have its direct sequel, Chime Sharp. At first glance you’re most likely to compare it to Tetris because of it requires blocks that need to be stacked and interlocked, but it’s a mix of that and Lumines if anything. Chime Sharp adds some new and incredibly challenging game modes with a great soundtrack. That being said, it will take some dedication to learn all of its intricacies.

Chime Sharp at its heart is a puzzle game where you need to stack blocks in traditional Tetris fashion, but many of the blocks aren’t your traditional squares and lines, but instead oddly shaped pieces that make creating combined blocks a more difficult task. What makes Chime Sharp different than Tetris though is that instead of creating a single line, you need to make a ‘Quad’, comprising of at least a 3x3 block without any missing spaces between.

Creating these quads will clear the board underneath said quad, so the larger quad you create the more of the board you ‘clear’, with your goal to try and clear each block for 100%. You’re only given 2 minutes to do this, but with good play you’ll net time bonuses, allowing for more time to clear the board. I’ve still yet to 100% a stage even with a lot of hours played, as Chime Sharp is quite difficult for a number of reasons.

Chime Sharp is also a rhythm game, as a glowing line sweeps across the screen, clearing your quads as it passes over them if the quad timer has ended. Any blocks not part of the quad will be left over, and after a number of passes by the sweeping line, they will disappear. If this all sounds confusing, it's because it is, and it’s not helped by the fact that the game only teaches you what a quad is, but nothing about gameplay or strategy. So prepare to fail a lot in the beginning until you learn the mechanics on your own.

While this is the core gameplay, the new modes add even more challenge, but no matter what mode you’re playing, the music contained within is fantastic. As stages begin you’ll only hear a basic beat, but as you clear more of the stages with your quads you’ll add new sections to the song’s beat, making for some unique music, as it’s based on how you play. The tempo and instruments can change and be added based on where and how you place your blocks on the screen, so that’s how Chime Sharp belongs in the rhythm genre as well as puzzle.

The biggest thing about Chime Sharp is that you’ll eventually just ‘get it’. There are no tutorials in the game, which I feel is a big miss, as you’re not sure on what strategies to use or why you sometimes fail quickly and other times not. Eventually you will simply understand how it all works though, and once it ‘clicks’, Chime Sharp becomes MUCH more enjoyable, as you’re now the one dictating the music and trying to 100% the stage purposely.

Each level is a single song, and I suggest starting with Practice Mode. This allows for no time limit when playing and it will not be as chaotic as the other challenging modes. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the mechanics of placing blocks and creating quads, you then need to strategize where and how to place blocks as well.

My problem starting out was trying to create quads in the same area, but once a quad is cleared by the scrolling pulse, you don’t need to place any more blocks in that area, as that part of the stage has already been cleared. So, you want to focus on sections at a time, progressively working outwards, aiming your quads to cover each block of the stage. Easier said than done though, and practice makes perfect.

You don’t need to clear a level 100% to progress, only 60% completion is needed to unlock new tracks and modes, though your progress is a basis for your overall score, as well for the leaderboards. The music is varied, some better than others, but the difficulty doesn’t seem to go in a natural curve. Each level has some areas where blocks can’t be placed, adding some unique challenges to each stage, but the faster the song tempo the slightly harder it is. So for example, the first level isn’t necessarily the easiest, as I was passing the middle levels in one go, whereas other stages I had to play multiple times to get the minimum 60% to unlock the next.

Difficulty is also based on the shapes you’re given. Each stage has a handful of preset shapes and blocks, and some are naturally easier to interlock than others, so even though you may love the song that’s playing, trying to fit “Z” blocks together may prove difficult for you to progress. The more obscure the shape, the harder it is to fit pieces together without any gaps to make your quad.

While you’ll begin on the normal mode, doing well will eventually unlock new songs and more modes. Be aware though that these new modes are incredibly more challenging, so be sure you’ve got a few hours under your belt and fully understand all of the mechanics.

Once you’ve completed a level with a minimum of 60% the Sharp mode of that song will unlock. There are 2 other modes to unlock, Strike and Challenge, but I’ll be completely honest with you, it’s going to take some serious skill to even get to these modes, but this allows for a lot of replayability for those that are truly determined.

Sharp mode is very challenging and the objective is slightly different than normal mode. Any blocks that stay on the playing field for too long will eventually disappear, and each block you lose will take one of your 10 lives. So not only do you have to focus on quad creation, and aiming for 100%, you can’t leave unused blocks on the stage for too many passes of the sweeping bar or you’ll lose lives quite quickly. You need to use your shapes in the most logical way that allows you to use the left overs to create new quads as well.

Strike Mode is even more challenging with a much more aggressive timer, and to be honest, I’ve yet to be unable to unlock the final Challenge Mode. The regular gameplay of Chime Sharp will take some getting used to and it’s unfortunate that there’s no real tutorial of how to play properly. It actually took me a few hours to learn how to play properly, as you don’t know why you’re sometimes scoring high or completing with a certain percent completed.

Visually Chime Sharp is basic, and many of the levels color schemes do it a disservice, as they clash making it difficult to determine what sections are completed or not. As I said, eventually things will just make sense and click, and once it does, Chime Sharp becomes a completely different game; one with great music and interesting gameplay that will constantly challenge you. In the beginning you’ll gravitate towards playing it like Tetris, but that strategy won’t get you very far, as you need to play completely different to be successful, eventually learning the precise timing needed to craft beautiful music as well.

If you love puzzles games with some great music you’ll enjoy Chime Sharp as long as you do have the time and patience to learn how to play properly, as it doesn’t hold your hand in any way, or even to teach you the proper mechanics. It’s rewarding and quite fun once everything ‘clicks’, but I do think that the difficulty level will most likely be a little too demanding for the average player to master the music, the gameplay, and the need to learn on their own.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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