Waveform is a game in which you control nothing more than the oscillations of a sine wave. You use the left mouse button to control the height and length of the wave as a little nucleus travels along its path, either collecting or colliding with objects along its course. I can attest to the fact that it doesn’t take a large amount of concentration to get to grips controlling the game’s wave. This is because I played the game after having a wisdom tooth wrenched from my fragile mouth. Thus playing the game in a state of either searing pain or a doped out, pain-killer induced cloud of happiness. Along with showing that Waveform is a game capable of being played by both drug addicts and the mortally injured, its undulations reflected the waves of pain and pleasure I was experiencing as I played it. This in turn could be extrapolated to say that Waveform is an exploration of the highs and lows human beings experience throughout their lives and how by changing our spiritual “wave” we can mute or exaggerate our personal roller coaster of emotions.
Sorry, I think that last sentence may have been the pain-killers talking. Waveform does not in fact make any comments on the human condition, instead being a very simple game that feels like a mixture of a shoot em up and a side scrolling platformer. The way the nucleus floats from left to right through space is very shoot em up, but the lack of any direct control or weaponry means playing Waveform is much more like a particularly pacifist bent platforming game. Although it is simple to control the oscillations of the wave, grasping the concept of indirect control takes a little getting used to. I also found that this lack of direct control, while applaudingly different, created a lot of frustration.
Controlling the wave is at times not as intuitive as it should be. In particular lengthening and decreasing the depth of a wave at the same time is very tricky. I also don’t think that there is enough control of the wave to manoeuvre through some of the more finicky areas in the game. Another issue is that you can quickly become out of sync with the level’s layout, meaning you have to wait as your nucleus fling’s itself along a path completely unrelated to the level’s powerups until the wave corrects itself. These frustrations are inherent to the wave control mechanic that the game is based on. I suppose some might enjoy mastering the art of wave control but I personally found it too clumsy and, at times, random a mechanic to want to invest much time perfecting it.
The above criticisms may give the impressions that controlling Waveform’s wave is a chore, don’t get me wrong most of the time’s it’s a pretty enjoyable and natural exercise. I honestly think most people will get the hang of it very quickly.
I think it’s not intuitive enough though. Past the basic waves, nitty-gritty manoeuvres get irritating due to the delay of the wave and the game requiring you to look not only at where your nucleus is, but where the wave is heading at the other side of the screen. Focusing on two places at once, while not having a concise way to control the nucleus while you aren’t directly looking at it is an annoying procedure.
Amazingly there is a story of sorts hobbling together your little nuclei’s journey across the solar system. A guiding narrator provides cryptic texts at the end of levels. These vary from reflections on how newly introduced elements of the level affect your wave, to downright bizarre paragraphs detailing the narrator’s life. They are bizarre because the narrator is an atom of light whose world was destroyed by a black hole type calamity. The atom has since escaped and is helping you get to the sun. I can honestly say I didn’t comprehend the story one iota. What’s funny is that it’s totally unnecessary in a game like this to even have a story, but Waveform puts on a brave face and attempts to give you a motivation of sorts for travelling onwards to the Sun.
Throughout your journey lots of new power ups and obstacles will be introduced. The game starts simple enough, make sure your nucleus gets the good things and avoids the bad. But then suddenly there are teleports, boosting pathways, mirrors to bounce off, fireworks, and asteroids. The screen may get busy, but with every new thing introduced the basic game play stays exactly the same. You will always just be oscillating your wave to get the good things and avoid the bad ones.
That’s probably my biggest gripe with Waveform: you do the exact same thing start to finish. Move the wave and collect the things. On top of that is the fact the control isn’t as tight as it should be, nor the wave mechanic as exhilarating a concept to base a whole game around. You do the same thing the whole game, and that one thing isn’t all that exciting.
Ironically, much like the game’s wave ever undulates, I can’t quite make up my mind about Waveform. On one hand it’s different and relatively fun to play. On the other it can be frustrating and rather lacklustre, nor overly challenging or exciting. I went back to playing it, but I never felt the need to play it for much longer than a half an hour. It really is a casual affair that some one lacking time or attention span might find entertaining. I’m sure certain gamers will appreciate learning to perfect wave control to get perfect scores on the games levels, but that person isn’t me. Waveform gets a 2 out of 5 stars.