Release Date: 20/07/2016
Played On: PC
Available On: PC
Time Played: 10h 54m
Progress: Played every track multiple times in various modes.
Developer: Ste Curran & Twistplay
Publisher: Chilled Mouse

Once upon a time I was house-sitting for someone, so I took my trusty PS3 with me and prepared myself for a week of pooning out on the couch where I wouldn't be disturbed… for days…

To cut a long story short; I started playing the 2011 music/puzzle game Chime Deluxe and barely stopped until I had to give the original owners their house (and tv) back. From then on, my love of the game was guaranteed and it became one of those titles I switch on every so often to remind myself how much fun a simple puzzle game can be.

Fast forward to 2015 when I'm browsing Steam and fall upon an early access version of Chime Sharp. Apparently it had been kick started and development was now underway with promises of an updated and improved version of the original puzzling music based gameplay. I hit that purchase button, downloaded the game, and fired it up… for a few minutes anyway.

I put it down pretty quickly as it was clear that the game was half-finished and obviously in early access. I wasn't mad because I knew that going in, but the bite I had left a bad taste in my gaming palette.

The pull of Chime was being able to play a Tetris-like puzzle game that played remixed music tracks based on where you placed pieces on the board. When sectors filled, they remained filled until you covered the entire board and built up to a roaring mix featuring the full breadth of the song. Imagine if every block you placed in a game of Tetris added another note to the theme tune, but your goal was to fill the screen to hear the full rendition.

So the half-baked Chime Sharp with only a few songs, minimal gamepad support, and a new three dimensional board, needed some more time in the oven.

Skip a few tracks ahead to 2016 when Chime Sharp reaches the early access holy land of a full release day when the game would officially be completed. I noticed Steam update the game and cleared my schedule, it was time to lose myself in Chime once again, only this time it was Sharp (make up your own 'getting cut' pun here).

First order of business: check out the track list. Part of my love for music-based games is hearing something from artists I know nothing about, or may have otherwise overlooked.  Chime Sharp has fifteen tracks to choose from (a big improvement on the original five tracks available in Chime Deluxe) and like the original game, there are only one or two I've heard of.

Enthusiastically I select the first level, choose Standard mode (there are a few modes that vary the difficulty) and dive right in. Thankfully, time is lost and before long I've ploughed through half the tracks with a diverse range of successes and failures. 

The levels have a time limit within which you're tasked with filling the board by piecing together the set of puzzle pieces you're given. Each set of puzzle pieces adds to the difficulty as some are harder to fit neatly together than others, so the pressure slowly builds as I work my way through the playlist. Half the time I can't get 100% coverage before the timer runs out, but I manage a few full clears here and there. Before I know it, I've played all fifteen levels and I can't even tell you how much time has passed.

So I exit out and have a poke around the menus. There's mention of extras to unlock and of course there are the other modes for each level/song. Curiously though, I find that I've managed to unlock every track, even without completing every previous track to 100% - a requirement mentioned in the menus. I've also barely scratched the surface of a high score throughout the entire playlist, so I dive back in to take on the loop once more; armed with experience and a bit of practice under my belt.

My scores got worse, and about two thirds of the way through, I closed the game and headed to the Steam forums. Therein were a few posts asking about something I hoped I wouldn't be asking: was the game actually finished?

I didn't mind that my scores weren't the best; I'm not the kind of gamer who needs to be good at something in order to enjoy it. The broken unlock system didn't bother me either, even though it was bothering a whole lot of people on the forums. The devs did a good job of patching those things after release anyway, so I find it hard to complain.

For a while I wondered what the game was missing that caused me to run out of steam, but I'm going to be contradictory and say that it isn't missing anything. In fact, on paper it's a vast improvement over the original in every way and there is nothing to dispute that fact. Nothing except my own lack of motivation to pick it up and plug away for hours on end like I had done years before.

I let it rest for a few months before having another go and seeing if anything had changed since release day. Fortunately there had been a few updates and patches, which made some of the 'quality of life' issues (like the unlock system) work properly. This time around it felt like it has slightly improved, but despite running the playlist a few more times, I still found myself checking the clock every now and then to see if I'd given it a fair go already.

Now as I sit and think about Chime Sharp, I feel like it has suffered from the same pros and cons as many early access or Kickstarter projects. Ultimately, Chime Sharp suffers from preaching to the choir - something that's been sticking in my teeth about early access games for a while.

I'm not going to begrudge anyone the opportunity to crowd fund and develop a niche game for a niche audience, but Chime Sharp went too niche for me. 

It feels like the difficulty is balanced based on feedback from dedicated players who have spent hours with the game prior to release, leaving little room to move for entry-level players. This can be seen in the unlock system that requires certain skill based goals to be met… there are still large sections of the main menu that just say "Locked" for me. Knowing that I probably won't ever be good enough to unlock these parts or attempt the harder game modes, leaves me feeling like I'm missing out on something. It's like I'm playing the shareware version of the game, but all I have to do to get at the rest is get better at the game.

Then there are a bunch of tiny irritations that show a lack of overall polish or short-sighted design. The new three dimensional board and puzzle pieces look nice, but due to the offset view that gets worse toward the edges, it's all too easy to place a piece in the wrong position. There have been countless occasions where I've lined up the final piece to complete a section, only to have it land a column too far to the side because it wasn't as lined up as it appeared to be. I don't know how they missed it in play testing, but maybe It was never mentioned anyway as it seems like such a basic function for game where the pieces snap to a grid.

I don't want to nit-pick, or debate the pros and cons of early access game development (let's save that for its own article), so I'll try and wrap this up evenly.

As a big fan of the first Chime game, I have to say that Chime Sharp is a disappointment for me, but perhaps only me. On one hand it's an improvement over the first with more songs, more modes, basically more game. On the other, it's tarnished with the bruises of early access development, feeling a bit disjointed and incomplete.

Perhaps Chime Sharp would not have been made at all if it weren't for crowd funding and early access, which is why I won't ever be mad about it being made. Thankfully though, the original still exists for those nights when I want to plug in my PS3 and lose track of time, but Chime Sharp is there for those that want it.

Sometimes we just have to accept that what we want, isn't always what we'll get.

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