Ride Waves of Light Through Space in Waveform

Games don’t often show players the future implications of their decisions or the systems behind their interactions, but for Eden Industries’ Waveform this is a core feature. It tasks you with guiding a wave of light safely through levels, layering ever greater complexity on a simple idea.

Colorful visuals, great music, and slick presentation combine to make Waveform a compelling, atmospheric experience well worth your attention, although the game falters and frustrates at times.

Wave-Time Manipulation

Waveform has just one control mechanism — move the mouse cursor up/down and left/right to adjust the amplitude and frequency of the on-screen sine waveform. By reshaping the wave on the fly, you guide your ball-shaped avatar clear of obstacles and into the path of light orbs. It’s a simple and intuitive concept to build a game around, and the developers managed to get a lot of mileage out of it.

You get points for collecting light orbs, travelling along colored waves, and grabbing score multipliers (along with a few other things introduced later on). Your movement speeds up when you do well, and it slows when you take damage. Your health is also tied in to orb collection, and your round ship grows or shrinks as it gets stronger and weaker.

Move the mouse to resize the wave, guiding it clear of obstacles and onto light orbs or colored waves.

I ran into frequent issues with performance and stability when first testing the app, but recent patches have mostly resolved this. Waveform does still crash occasionally without warning, however. Thankfully it saves automatically after each level.

Save the Universe

You start near Pluto, with hints about some sort of “singularity” affecting the stability of the universe. A nonsensical plot develops as you progress, but it’s nothing more than an excuse for the level designs. You’d be well advised to pay attention, though, because the loading screens and sparse story elements give hints and tips about mastering the gameplay.

Each world is a part of our solar system. There are 11 in total — one for each planet, plus Pluto, the Asteroid Belt, and the Sun. You can also buy DLC for a 12th world, Eris. Worlds are broken into levels, of which there are more than 100. You unlock levels by collecting stars, which you earn by collecting light orbs and maximizing your score. You get a rating out of 100 for each level, with stars awarded at multiples of ten.

Every world has a set path and at least one optional level, along with an Endless Mode that unlocks when you beat the boss.

You’re unlikely to have any issues with this for the first several worlds, even if you barely scrape through the majority of levels, then you may hit a roadblock. I reached a point close to the end where I had to re-play four or five levels — increasing my ranking to eek out a few extra stars — before I could unlock a new one, and then repeat the process over again. Waveform’s difficulty curve is not one for the feint of heart; casual players may never reach the end.

The final level of each world is a cute twist on the traditional boss fight. You don’t fight the boss — the mysterious entity referred to as the singularity, which functions rather like a black hole. You run from the boss. It’s heart-racing, head-pumping action, as you struggle to collect enough orbs and rockets and powerups to increase your speed, or to reach the portal that puts fresh ground space behind you — staying just ahead of your unstoppable foe.

Run for your life.

Frustratingly Brilliant or Brilliantly Frustrating?

At its best, Waveform is stunning. You get drawn into a world of music and color, lights and sound, where you become painter, conductor, and musician all at once. Your wave of colored light dips and arcs across the screen, gracefully reshaping itself to your mouse movements as you guide it into the path of oncoming orbs and prisms. You feel as though a part of this organism, which is beautifully abstracted from our own infinite universe.

When it works, Waveform is brilliant.

But Waveform is seldom at its best, or even near it. The game seems determined to show you how clever it is, luring you into nasty traps and breaking this immersive flow. Challenge is important in a game like this — without it we’d get bored and stop playing. But Waveform takes the challenge too far; it adds challenge at the expense of experience, and at its core Waveform is an experiential game.

Take the space squids, for example. I’m convinced that their only purpose in the game is to piss me off, such is the manner in which they’ve been distributed through the later levels. They stick to objects — and each other — and are attracted to your waveform. Avoiding them gets tricky, especially when there are asteroids and the like floating nearby. I’d come out of a tough spot, expecting a brief respite before the next challenging maneuver, only to find space squids waiting for me — watching me, with their glowing freakiness that manages to trip me up time and again.

Space squids are tricky to avoid, and they have a real knack of hitting me when I’ve got some sweet powerups.

Caught Between a Rock and a Hot Place

Waveform offers staggering depth; besides the sizeable campaign and DLC discussed above, there’s a New Game+ mode that remixes the levels for a second playthrough, loads of achievements, and a randomized survival-tinged Deep Space Mission on each world — which suffers in the absence of hand-crafted design but is otherwise great. It’s a beautiful game, too, considering the small team and low price.

But I can’t help feeling that the developers overextended themselves. Waveform would be stronger if it were shorter and more focused. Its concept reaches the stars, but the execution gets stuck in orbit.


Summary

An action-puzzle game about riding a mouse-controlled wave of light through the solar system, Waveform blends beauty, challenge, frustration, and joy into a package that's often brilliant but sometimes disappointing.

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