A City Sleeps is a celebration of harmony
Beauty has numerous interpretations: some find it in an aesthetically pleasing body of work, others see it in several elements coming together to create a vibrant experience. During the short time I spent with A City Sleeps, a twin-stick shooter created by Harmonix, I came to appreciate the power of harmonization.
A City Sleeps meshes 2D illustrations and neon colors with silhouettes, placing female protagonist Poe at its center. Poe is a dream exorcist, a descendant of a clan known as The Silk, who specializes in ridding demons from people’s minds by entering their deepest thoughts. One day she discovers that everyone living in the city of SanLo has fallen under a sleeping spell, so it’s up to her to cleanse the demons running rampant in people’s dreams.
The left analog stick controls Poe’s movements while the right controls her attacks. She can shoot projectiles at enemies from afar, or if a demon gets too close she can swipe at them with her sword. Pressing the right trigger slows down time, an extremely helpful skill given the level of difficulty the game presents—even on normal mode A City Sleeps is quite challenging thanks to its “bullet hell shoot ‘em up” gameplay. Slowing down time is essential for possessions: enemies appear alongside large items called idols, which at first are nothing more than giant floating monuments that serve no purpose. Once time is slowed, you can call forth one of your ghosts to possess said idols to have them assist you in battle.
There are three ghosts to choose from at any time, such as the mercy ghost that appears in a shade of green and provides health. The others provide offensive support. Choosing the right ghost is essential for survival; calling forth the ghost that shoots its own bullets can be crucial when enemies are coming at you from all sides. Likewise there will often be those moments when you’re close to death, which is where the mercy ghost becomes your best ally.
Given that Harmonix is the developer for this game, it’s no surprise A City Sleeps incorporates rhythm into the gameplay. The musical element becomes integral to the action as you progress through the levels, given the soundtrack was created in parallel with the gameplay. Although A City Sleeps doesn’t incorporate rhythm in the same way as Fantasia: Music Evolved, another Harmonix title, the music is still crucial to the game’s depth. The flow of the soundtrack plays an imperative role in the A City Sleeps’ immersion, as you can see in this demo video from the Harmonix team:
The synchronization of the game goes beyond just the coordination of the gameplay and the music. Where I saw the beauty of A City Sleeps truly shine was when I was learning how to master where and when to strike, along with when to slow down time and which possessions to initiate. Based on my experience with A City Sleeps, I believe Harmonix is on the right track. The harmonization provides an underlying theme to the game and creates a balanced and fun experience—though I found I was pretty horrible at matching up my moves, so I’ll probably be playing on easy
A City Sleeps is set to release October 16th on Steam.