In recent times, Harmonix seems to have been branching out from their regular formula of making traditional “play the music” accessory based rhythm games. Their latest offering, A City Sleeps, is an example of this, being a PC only side scrolling shmup.
You are Poe, a dream exorcist whose job it is to free people of their perpetual slumber by ridding their dreams of demons. Alongside Poe are a host of ghost familiars that can aid her in battle with different abilities that correspond to their colour coding.
The first thing you notice about A City Sleeps is how gorgeously everything is presented. The artwork is uniquely detailed and stylistic while still allowing for the player to distinguish between bullets, enemies and the backgrounds. The music is also fantastic and memorable, with enemy movements, bullet trajectories, player shots, and ghost abilities being the cause of different track layers. Stylistically its fantastic, but sadly, the linking of the soundtrack and the gameplay while being visually and aurally appealing, detracts from the actual gameplay.
The gameplay setup is that of your usual twin-stick shmup. Left stick moves Poe, right stick shoots, and you can augment your ghost familiars one at a time to object that appear in the background. Background objects are clearly marked with a square or a triangle, and depending on how you assign your ghosts to each, they will behave differently; assigning Mercy to a square, for example, produces a short area of effect heal, whilst assigning it to a triangle will periodically shoot healing bullets. This produces some nice opportunities for strategising which is absolutely necessary when playing on the hardest difficulties, because the game gets hard, and it gets hard fast. The difficulty isn’t helped by the emphasis of replaying the only three levels and the idea that your character shoots with the music, and on the latter two levels the beat that that controls your firing pattern isn’t as fast or as consistent as you would like it to be, especially given that your bullets seem to be a bit too weak.
It’s a shame too, given that unlocks are locked away behind the harder versions of levels and the difficulty means you can either concentrate on playing the game and winning, or enjoying the aesthetics, because if you try to do both at the same time, you’re going to get far too distracted, and you will die very fast. This will most definitely cause more casual shmup players a great deal of frustration.
Review 4 (Out of 7): A City Sleeps is a game that hasnt been done before, and its clear. The unusual mixing of soundtrack and gameplay, coupled with steep difficulty curve mean only the most hardcore of shmup fans will enjoy it, and even they will find the game is light on content despite how great the audio/visual experience is.