If someone had told me that A City Sleeps was a tech demo or an alpha with placeholder graphics from Harmonix, that would have made sense. If they had told me that it was an indie game that had been ported over from a flash web-based game, that also would have made sense. What doesn’t make sense is that this an actual release from a developer that is responsible for the Rock Band games and Dance Central series.
In A City Sleeps, you play the role of Poe, who is a dream exorcist. When the city of SanLo fall into a never ending sleep, her job is to enter their dreams and free them from an unending nightmare. She fights using her Heartstrings and with the help of ghosts she has captured in other dreams that give her special powers.
The game itself is a side-scrolling, rhythm based, bullet hell shooter. You guide Poe through waves of enemy attackers, dodging enemies and bullets and either shooting them or slashing them with your sword. Slash enemies enough times and you’ll get a power-up that lets you kill everything on the screen. Random giant objects like clocks and broken statues occasionally pop onto the screen, allowing you to insert your ghosts inside of them. Depending on the ghost you add, the object will either become an offensive weapon that helps you attack, or a healing object that restores your health.
They rhythm component of the game is interesting but very inconsequential. Each level has a base melody that gets added to over time. When you shoot your sword you add to the music. Enemies popping into the level and shooting add to it also. Your ghosts add another element to it. In the heat of battle, it builds into a pretty busy cacophony. If you like dubstep/electronic music, this is probably pretty great. If you don’t, it’s just distracting and it’s strange that if you stop shooting part of the music drops out. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t really help you in the game, unlike the rhythm component in games like 140.
Where the game really falls apart though are graphics and control. Your characters is barely animated, with the exception of her sword that awkwardly swings around like a Graham Chapman animation. The enemies are worse, some of them are completely static and the ones that do move just have a vague rag doll wiggle. The backgrounds are unremarkable. The objects your ghosts inhabit look like badly cut out photos with an outer glow added in Photoshop.
I could probably deal with the awful graphics if the controls were solid, but they are just as bad. Your character can dash, but there is rarely room to do so, and her normal movements just feel sluggish and slow. I got hit by enemies an innumerable amount of times just because I couldn’t get where I wanted to go fast enough. This is a problem on the easier levels but makes the harder levels seemingly impossible.
Which brings me to my final issue. The game is short. Really short. In thirty minutes I was able to play stages 1-1 through 1-3 twice in addition to stages 2-1 and 2-2. That only leaves states 2-3 and 3-1 through 3-2 before you beat every level. What the developer expects is that you’ll go back and beat each level on four other levels of difficulty, but considering how poor the controls are, I’m not even sure that is possible.
A City Sleeps is an interesting concept with a story that has some real possibility. Unfortunately, it’s stuffed into a rhythm game where the rhythm doesn’t really matter, with boring, barely animated graphics and poor controls. In a “the food is awful and the portions are so small” kinda way, it’s also way too short unless you are a masochist.
Our Recommendation: Don’t Buy
Reviewed On: Steam
Time Played: 30 minutes
Review Copy: No
Our “30 Minutes of” Reviews are essentially us going one step further than judging a game by its cover. They aren’t comprehensive, but they should give you a pretty good idea if a game is good or not. Games are rated on a “Buy, Don’t Buy or Buy on Sale” scale that hopefully will give you some insight and 30 minutes of video gameplay to help you in your buying decisions.