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Hands down, Solace has got to be one of the most staggeringly beautiful titles I have ever seen. Call me biased towards 'bullet hell' shoot 'em ups, I don't care; I stand by what I say. While plenty of games are pretty enough, few have been able to so skillfully combine graphics, music and meaning. There are no 8-bit character models to behold here; the inhabitants of Solace look like abstract renditions of some Flash Designer's dream of angels.†
Delicate and wispy-looking, you and your opponents are essentially incandescent orbs of light framed by a combination of glyphs and translucent tendrils. However, where your enemies are usually vividly-colored, you are not. Unlike them, you exist in monochrome: a splash of bleakness amidst the irridiscence around you.†
But all that visual goodness would not matter if the soundtrack couldn't keep up. As long-term readers might already know, I've always been one to ignore the aural accompaniment, seeing it as an optional component of the experience. However, that's definitely not the case here. In Solace, music is integral. Music is everything. With every stroke of a piano key or roar of the electric guitar, it writes a story far more compelling than anything I've seen or read in recent months. What makes this even more appealing is the subtle role that players take in this digital orchestra. With every projectile you fire or point of damage you take, you incite another bar of music, adding to the haunting medley that saturates the game.†
So, I hear the cynics going, what about the meaning? Surely, it has to be deeper than a pleasant tune and surreal artwork. My answer would be both a yes and a no. Solace neither regales players with a grand plot nor does it seek to impress a storyline into your memories. According to One Man Down, Solace is an†'interactive aesthetic experience utilizing dynamic audio and bullet hell overtones to provide a unique perspective on the five stages of grief'
'. To put matters succinctly, it's pretty much the living, breathing visualization of the Kubler-Ross model.
It isn't a story, it's science; a mind-warping amalgamation art and technical detail. Now, how cool is that?†
Gameplay-wise, it is what most people would expect from something with 'bullet hell' overtures. There are also no real power-ups to speak of; you pretty much take what you're given. Your health is determined by the number of ornate-looking wings that encircle your ship. †Is it challenging? Yes. Is it as bad as rRootage? No. Will it make the casual SHMUP player want to break his nasal cavities on his keyboard in frustration?†
All said and done, that's not really the best thing about Solace. In spite of how much I'm shamelessly gushed over its sublime nature, the developers have, for reasons unknown, decided not to charge a cent for their exquisite little masterpiece. Nope, not one cent. It's completely, delightfully†FREE
. In fact if you're as stoked about trying the game as I am about playing it, you might want to go to One Man Down's†website and pick up your copy
†before they change their minds.
I'm going to go back to figuring out how to stuff the soundtrack in my phone.