Life Is Strange: Shredding All Night
When I first heard about LOUD, aside from thinking about how I was going to finesse the SEO with its title, I was instantly hooked on the idea of a narrative rhythm game. There have been hybrid genre games involving rhythm games in the past, like Crypt of the NecroDancer's rogue and rhythm gameplay. There haven't been many story-based rhythm games, however, save for the elephant in the room that I will get to when I discuss gameplay. I'd like to give thanks and courtesy to the people at Hyperstrange and QubicGames for giving me an early chance to review a unique game.
LOUD tells the coming-of-age story of Astrid, a teenager who goes through the trials and tribulations of growing up as a fan of rock music. Naming real-life bands and artists including MGMT, Snail Mail, and Soccer Mommy, Astrid has dreams of one day performing in front of a live audience. As with most things, she's armed with big dreams and a bigger broom used as an air guitar. Gotta start somewhere, right?
Each Set List Marks A Moment In Astrid's Life
LOUD's story spans across roughly four years of Astrid's life, beginning with her "broom guitar" sessions and playing her first gig at a local pub. With the exception of the first set, which includes four songs if the first tutorial song counts, each set follows the same formula. There's an introduction to a moment in Astrid's life followed by three songs and finally an epilogue that segues into the new set. Each set also introduces a new stage with a new outfit and a new guitar. This makes a total of four possible outfits & guitars, and thirteen tracks in total. There is a bonus song for beating the final song in story mode but there's more on that later.
Fans of the Persona rhythm games, including Persona 4 Dancing, Persona 3 Dancing, and Persona 5 Dancing, will immediately catch on to the controls. There are six buttons in total, three on each side, in which the player must hit the notes to the beat. There are charge notes to be held and mash notes to spam as fast as the player can. It's possible to gain more points by using the left and right analog sticks as a "whammy bar" when holding a charged note, much like Guitar Hero. At times the aesthetic, songs, and pacing of LOUD reminded me of Sayonara Wild Hearts, playing more like an interactive soundtrack at times.
LOUD's Best Moments Are Its Song Variety
Occasionally, there are "skill windows" much like Fever time in P4D/P5D/P3D, where if the player hits all the notes they gain a bonus. All of these combined determine the player's score at the end of each song. Getting an S rank on the ' Skillin' ' difficulty will unlock the "hard" difficulty titled ' Grindin' ' for each song. In the beginning, as Astrid rocks out in her bedroom, the songs are poppy indie rock tracks. When she gets her guitar and begins to busk it at the train station, she plays more advanced songs. By the time she joins a band, the range of songs intensifies, including a rather hardcore thrash metal number at the end of the set.
The final set, where she performs at the bar, is the most dynamic. Every outfit she has worn up to this point is a unique spin on Astrid's point in her life. From pajamas with multi-colored hair to a short black haircut tied in buns and a gothic outfit, the costumes are enough to convey each time period. I mentioned Life Is Strange in passing and for the most part, aesthetically, it captures that "coming-of-age indie vibe" you'd expect from something like True Colors. None of the narratives in LOUD leads to dire conflict. In the end, it's a heartwarming story about a girl who discovers music and bonds with her dad. There is, however, one issue I had with LOUD that prevents it from being perfect.
The Calibration Will Be Your Best Friend Or Your Undoing
I played LOUD in its entirety on a Switch OLED, the same one I covered a few months back. Docked, there are no differences between the two consoles performance-wise. My headset is currently connected to the laptop as a sound source while I record from an Elgato HD60S Capture Card. Why am I saying all of this? Because I felt the timing for LOUD wasn't entirely consistent and I didn't know if it was a set-up issue or the game itself. In the beginning, the game encourages you to calibrate your timing settings. This is already a huge plus as every single rhythm game needs a calibration setting. No two set-ups will ever be the same nor will all problems be remedied with this setting, but I noticed that my timing would always be in the triple digits.
It was never consistent. Sometimes it would go as low as the low-.20s to as high as the mid-.110s which meant that my accuracy in-game was all over the place. At times I felt I had to press the buttons earlier than usual for it to be considered "Perfect" even if I tapped to the rhythm. On intensive charts with several notes bunched together, it became a nightmare as I was missing more notes than I felt I should. Eventually, I went from getting S and A ranks to B's and C's.
I tested several setups, including plugging my headset directly into the Switch itself and that improved my playstyle by a lot. I even went home and tried it on my Switch Lite. Same general issue. I feel for a future patch, the timing window should be increased just a little bit to reconcile the problem, but I may just suck at timing itself. Another thing I had with LOUD is that it was an enjoyable ride, but I felt like the ride was too short. Minus the calibration commotion and having to retry several songs to find that sweet spot, the average player will beat the game in less than an hour, if not 30 minutes. The songs are full length but there are only 13 in total. That's about the sizable amount of an album, which is fair, but the only bonus content unlocked is the bonus song.
LOUD Is A 'Liberating' Experience From Beginning To End
After clearing Story mode, players will access a "Bonus Song" with a unique solo difficulty titled "Liberator." This is actually "Janus The Liberator" from Elderborn, a first-person hack-and-slash game that the composer, Kacper Kajzderski, and LOUD's developers, Hyperstrange, had worked on. I've not played Elderborn but I have seen gameplay footage of it. Seeing the same devs work on brutally violent games in the past with bass-thumping tunes gives us a wholesome narrative like LOUD shows the range of Hyperstrange and the love put into LOUD.
That's why I'd have to say that I recommend LOUD not just as a "Persona 4 Dancing 'clone' on the Switch" but because you can feel it as a passion project for everyone involved. It's not perfect and it's over way too short as it's getting fun and engaging, but there's a lot of potential with this formula. Maybe the story of Astrid can be fleshed out a bit more, where the player can actually control her in a "semi-open world." Maybe the player can do side-quests where they play snippets of a future song for a quest giver and they gain a beneficial item for their next song in the future? Maybe the player can start their own band and have actual meaningful choices just like Life is Strange.
The sky is the limit for LOUD and its overall premise. I hope that Hyperstrange and Qubic Games continue with similar projects because they have a great thing going. Fans of rhythm games who enjoy their games with a bit of fluff will enjoy LOUD. The impressive rocking song list helps seal the deal. While the game is a bit finicky with calibrating, here's hoping a future patch and the future versions can fix things.
LOUD is available on the Nintendo Switch, with a Sony PlayStation, PC, and Xbox port later in the future.