Games Played: Dyad

Released July 17, 2012 on the PlayStation Network
Developer: Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket Inc.
Game Designer: Shawn McGrath
Music Composer: David Kanaga

Today, Dyad was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to administer heroic doses of ultimate sensory overload. It is absorbed directly into gamers’ cerebral cortex via their eyes, ears and thumbs… Research on Dyad began in 2008 at CERN by Shawn McGrath. After CERN officials observed test subjects wholly absorbed in euphoric trances and reviewed testimonies of transcendental interactive experiences, CERN halted development of Dyad and expelled Shawn. Determined to finish his research and enlighten gamers worldwide, Shawn partnered with composer David Kanaga and continued developing Dyad in secret. The misnomer “the god particle” has been the headline of choice for journalists since CERN’s recent discovery of the Higgs Boson. This dialectic dereliction prompted Dyad’s immediate release to stimulate gamers’ sense of discovery and aid in the search for their own “god particle.”

Besides being one of the most entertaining press releases I’ve encountered, the above is a pretty good introduction to the strange and striking world of Dyad, which resembles nothing so much as a particle’s-eye-view from the Large Hadron Collider—that is, if the inside of the LHC resembled a non-stop techno/rave party with an all-night laser light show. Dyad uses the trappings of a tunnel racer along with a reactive musical score that sounds more mind-blowing the better—and faster—the player is able to sling and hook other passing particles, catapulting the whole experience into audio-visual overdrive that emphasizes the thrill of virtuosity.

If ever a game deserved its standard epilepsy disclaimer, Dyad is it; certain kinds of players will absolutely love immersing themselves in the harmonious synaesthesia of music, color, and touch, while others will likely find the game over-stimulating, even headache-inducing. When the speed is upped to warp drive, the scintillating, kaleidoscopic imagery becomes a visual expression of the music, as well as the source of musical change—almost as if we’re zooming along so quickly that it’s no longer clear whether the music is reacting to gameplay, or if the shifting game environment is influencing the music. This ability to blur the senses is one of Dyad’s most unique achievements.

Each of the game’s 27 levels introduces a completely fresh gameplay mechanic, which lends the relatively short game a plenty-challenging learning curve. Just when you’ve gotten the hang of things and are really sailing along, the game tosses in a new concept or means of locomotion that forces you to slow down and reevaluate. Dyad is not a dumb, accelerate-to-the-finish-line kind of game, but neither is it a ponderous puzzler, and this tension between the joy of speed and the need for on-the-spot decision making provides just enough resistance for mastery to provide a real sense of accomplishment.

Dyad is that rare musical game that owes nothing to the stagnant glut of Guitar Hero and Rock Band knock-offs—a new and decidedly high-octane way to interact with our senses, both high-tech and deeply expressive of the user experience.

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