Many people have pointed out that the independent game developer scene is the easier place to find unorthodox and unique titles nowadays, due in part to AAA developers being cautious to take an expensive risk since there’s no guarantee the final result will sell. Developer Choice Provisions already took a successful risk with their Bit.Trip series, but Laserlife sees the developer taking a very different approach with both presentation and gameplay. The question on most gamer’s minds is likely how well this gamble pays of, and the result is something of a disappointment.
The threadbare story involves an alien spaceship coming upon the skeletal corpse of an astronaut from Earth somewhere in the depths of space. This ship is advanced enough to recover memories from the astronaut’s body, done so through several methods the player controls that mix rhythm game elements with a rail shooting approach similar to titles like Rez or Star Fox. Other than the end of each stage causing an item from each memory to physically manifest, along with single lines of text saying things like, “I remember the beauty of nature,” that tie into each item, story in Laserlife is non-existent. The player’s focus is clearly meant to be on the gameplay.
Levels are divided into three sections, all of which have the camera moving continually forward on a set path through various surreal landscapes. All three involve the use of both joysticks on the DualShock to freely move two beams of light around. The first section involves navigating both beams to intercept a series of approaching orbs, also requiring players to press the corresponding trigger buttons for each side to successfully obtain each one. Later stages add variations to the orbs, such as requiring triggers to be held for a moment or immediately throwing an orb in a specified direction after picking it up.
The second portion replaces the orbs with flat circles, and the only requirement is to pass the beams successfully through each circle’s interior, with no button presses required. Finally, the very brief closing sections involve the beams rushing through a tunnel of light and needing to be successfully maneuvered to not crash into various shaped obstructions.
In terms of control, the beams move in a satisfying manner, but I had many moments where orbs that needed to have the triggers held wouldn’t work despite pressing down on the required button. The fact that movement is much more free form than standard rhythm games and requires precision aiming for each orb means that there are inevitably going to be some moments where players screw up an orb’s approaching position. Later stages that throw a larger amount of orbs at you will definitely take some practice to master.
The second portion with the circles actually ended up being my favorite, due to the circles being bigger than the orbs, onscreen indications to let me know if I wasn’t in the right position to catch each one, and no need for timed button presses. The last segment involving the obstructions is serviceable, but each instance lasts far too briefly to make any sort of impression.
One of Laserlife‘s selling points that had me initially excited was the promise of rhythm elements, and while those are technically there, I couldn’t help but feel that the majority of audio elements felt completely half-baked. Most of the background tracks are completely bland and forgettable, and the orbs and circles just make a barely audible clicking sound once obtained, rather than adding anything to the soundtrack.
The result of these problems is a title that just isn’t compelling or fun to play. The mixture of boring audio and repetitive gameplay grows tiring fast, and while the game does its best to offer some eye candy for the backgrounds of each memory, there’s still no getting around the fact that the way everything works in this game makes for a dull experience, which is surprising given the clear amount of effort put into the environments and overall polish.
People generally dislike certain games for reasons such as serious glitches and bugs or bad controls. There’s another possible reason, though, and that is when a game is simply boring. Given Choice Provision’s previous successes, I still hold out hope that they can make more enjoyable titles in the future. As it stands, Laserlife is a game with some interesting ideas that falters due to one of its core elements being badly handled, and its brief length doesn’t justify its $15 price tag either. There are many indie titles that are worth seeking out, but this isn’t one of them.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which was provided to us.
Laserlife may initially seem interesting, but a boring soundtrack and un-engaging gameplay result in a disappointing effort at combining rail shooters with rhythm games.