This Stereo Does Not Rock
HIGH The music’s pretty good.
LOW The visuals make it tough to tell what’s going on.
WTF Did the game just cut off midway through, or is it me?
It’s a little-known fact that I generally adore a good rhythm action game. Osu! Tattake! Ouendan! and Elite Beat Agents are both underappreciated classics in my opinion, and I spent a lot of time on the original Guitar Hero trilogy before Activision ran it into the ground. When Stereo Aereo appeared on my radar, I was understandably intrigued.
The story mode tells the tale of Stereo Aereo, a small-time spacefaring band tasked with getting to a rock concert light years away so they can be the opening act. Alas, they forget to pay their bar tab before leaving, so the space police immediately decide that blowing them out of the sky is a reasonable and proportionate reaction to this momentary lapse in concentration.
In order to get to the show, Stereo Aereo have to travel through eight stages of rhythm action where obstacles and enemies are thrown down a conveyor belt with five lanes. Players must swoop back and forth between them or blow enemies up as the situation demands. Of course, since it’s a music game, players are encouraged to perform these actions in sync with the beat in order to achieve a higher score.
We’ll start off with the positives first — Stereo Aereo has a fairly excellent soundtrack, especially during the first couple of levels. While there are no vocals, the instrumentals are surprisingly accomplished tributes to 80’s synth rock, and entirely listenable to in their own right.
Furthermore, taken on their own merits, the graphics are pretty appealing in a chunky, low detail, retro-styled manner. The first stage is all neon lights and bright colors while players coast over a futuristic city at night, and the second is akin to a scenic Miami beach trip during sunset. It genuinely looks pretty good — drop the HUD elements, and it would probably make for an excellent PC screensaver.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where my praise ends. Stereo Aereo has some serious issues tagging along for this interstellar musical ride.
The biggest problem occurs when the cops and civilian traffic start to mix with one another — it can be pretty tough to tell the two apart. The first time they intertwined, I was annihilated in mere seconds despite an otherwise perfect run up until that point. The next time, the exact same thing happened because I couldn’t make out which of the upcoming obstacles were enemies before I was blasted apart by missile salvos. The third time, I had dropped the difficulty level down to Easy without a moment’s hesitation.
The inability to discern between enemies and objects is a huge issue in a genre that demands the ability to adapt to audiovisual information with split-second timing, and it only gets worse as the game progresses — I almost quit after reaching the final stage set inside the confines of a space prison. The security doors would close in and overlap each lane in an confusing manner, and I often couldn’t tell which lane was supposed to be the safe one. I repeatedly died wondering where the hell my ship should have been in order to avoid smashing.
My reward for sticking it out until the end? The storyline prematurely cuts out on an unrelated and unexpected note as soon as it’s finished, adding an additional kick in the teeth for anyone who manages to play the whole thing.
Sometimes it can risky to judge games on their difficulty alone, especially given that some difficult titles can offer the most rewarding experiences when handled correctly. That said, Stereo Aereo isn’t one of those games — its “challenge” comes as a result of being unable to parse the information being thrown at the player before it’s too late to do anything about it.
Dying due to confusing design rarely makes for good times, and this soured me on Stereo Aereo pretty damned hard. It’s unfortunate because I genuinely dig the overall aesthetic, and I definitely enjoyed the soundtrack. Even the relatively meager storyline has its high points. However, when the difficulty kicks into high gear, it all bubbles down into an overly busy, confusing and imprecise mess that I can’t wrap my head around.
Disclosures: This game is developed by The Stonebot Studio and published by Indietopia Games. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 2 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes, though there is an online high score table.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is not yet rated. It should be pretty safe for kids, I can’t remember any swear words and the general vibe is cartoony and colorful.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: It’s a rhythm action game, so without playing along to the music there’s a lot less going for it. There are enough visual indicators that it’s possible to do so, however.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable
Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available in the options.
The chance discovery of a muddy, burnt out copy of '50 Shades of Grey' in a hunting pit gave him an appreciation for complex plots, characters and overarching narrative, and the unexpected gift of a Spectrum 48k allowed him to indulge in these newfound sensibilities with intelligent, highbrow games such as 'flee from the badly animated spinning turquoise dolphins' or 'avoid the deadly glowing bricks of doom'.
The fusion of both these interests finally culminated with Darren teaching himself how to write by basically guessing at what words might look like when jotted down on paper as opposed to being howled inarticulately at the skies.
Now others occasionally get to read his scribblings. Lucky them.