The Devil’s Tuning Fork (game review)…

The Devil’s Tuning Fork (game review) after the break…

The Devil’s Tuning Fork (game review)…

Ever since the game “Narbacular Drop” (which has since gone on to worldwide acclaim as the spruced up game “Portal”) re-introduced the world to the “portal” game mechanic (sorry guys, but “Prey” beat you to it), a lot of games have attempted to capture that same enthusiasm with a similar game play gimmick. The game “Twin Sector,” for instance, allowed the player to pull and push objects through the air to defeat obstacles. The upcoming game, “Fez,” allows an otherwise 2D side-scroller to become a 3D one and back again whenever convenient for the player, drastically altering it’s game play. Future commercial games (should they actually be released) will rely upon darkness and light to limit the playing field (sort of like a non-violent version of the movie “Pitch Black”) as well as another game where moving light sources is necessary in order to create shadows that a player will need to walk on.

These “gimmick games,” where the entire game play is based on a single game play mechanic, are inventive but their track record has not yet been proven reliable. Now, though, there is yet another gimmick gameplay game that has emerged from the white noise of Internet hype that might also have a chance to be a “Portal killer” – “The Devil’s Tuning Fork.”

“The Devil’s Tuning Fork” was a game produced by a group of DePaul students (yes, there’s no longer a stigma of walking away from a college with a game development diploma – How times have changed…) where the gameplay gimmick is similar to the daily conundrum of bats: Specifically, the ability to “see” through bouncing sound waves off of objects. As humans, we see with our eyes and the image “refreshes” so often that our vision is perceived as one, unbreakable stream of images. With radar, though, these refreshes are far less frequent and are less colorful.

The game’s plot is secondary towards the gimmick – Why rephrase it when it can be ripped straight from the website itself? “As a mysterious epidemic causes children everywhere to fall into comas, one child wakes up in an alternate reality.  It is up to this child, the player, to determine the cause of the epidemic and save the other children trapped here.  By way of the devil’s tuning fork, a magical instrument that allows the player to perceive sound waves, the player must find all the children and successfully escape this alternate reality, thereby waking up from the coma.”

The player is allowed three “weapons,” so to speak – A high frequency sound wave, a low frequency sound wave and then a “concentrated” sound wave. Each type of wave has it’s purpose. The high frequency sound wave carries farther and illuminates more of the surrounding area. Low frequency sound waves are illuminate less but can reveal dangerous unstable floor tiles that one might fall through. A concentrated sound wave can activate bells and bounce off of mirrors to activate gongs (apparently, gongs are not allowed to be activated directly). Bells and gongs, in turn, open doors and move platforms that allows the player further access in the game. Stuffed animals, scattered throughout the game, serve as progress points throughout a particular level.

The visual design is composed of simple geometric shapes and moving stripped patterns. The moving stripped patterns take some getting used to and people who already claim headaches through normal computer activity might want to refrain from playing this game. With the player needing to “refresh” their view with a new sound wave burst a few times each minute, there’s a legitimate chance of someone with epilepsy not seeing this game in a favorable light.

As for the actual game itself, the sparse game design defeats the enjoyment of the game more then the game play gimmick itself. Refreshing your sight is a legitimately interesting game play mechanic but the stripped patterns wears on your eyes considerably. There’s no save game function so, if you leave the game, you lose your progress so if you want to play the game (albeit a fairly short one of only 3 levels) through to it’s end you might want to clear out some time. Finally, there is no level editor and so extended replayability is severely limited.

At less then 30mb in size, the commitment to at least test the game out itself is not demanding but I doubt if this will stay on anyone’s hard drive for any longer then a quick play through and an arched eyebrow after the first few minutes or so after trying out sound waves and moving through a few rooms.

“Narbacular Drop” set a rather high standard for game play gimmickry which has yet to be matched and may not ever be matched in the foreseeable future. “The Devil’s Tuning Fork” is an apt competitor with an equally innovative mechanic but it is marred by no save game function, it’s quirky visual design and the absence of a level editor for those who would like to explore it’s game play further. Until these deficiencies are alleviated, “The Devil’s Tuning Fork” will remain a curiosity rather then a competitor.

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