Viva la revolution
iOS, PC, PSVR, Switch, Vive
Super Entertainment is really leaning into the DJ fantasy. For one, we’re playing Spin Rhythm on real DJ equipment – our left hand thumping a Roland SPD One kick synthesiser, our right twirling a Casio XW DJ1 wheel. For another, we’ve just somehow pulled off a move too flashy to be true, following up a wild spin of the wheel by stopping it expertly on the correct colour note to continue the song. It’s a brilliant bit of fakery, the game detecting our on-beat tap on the wheel and autocorrecting the landing. All we’ve done is hit a note in time, as in any other rhythm game – but it feels so thoroughly cool.
Part of it may be because Super Entertainment co-directors Stephen Last and Shath Maguire helped develop hit mobile game Fruit Ninja. While the immediate comparison to draw is DJ Hero, Spin Rhythm has a much more analogue feel to its controls, with Fruit Ninja a key influence. “You’re not just tapping, you’re swiping and slicing, and doing a lot of complicated movements,” Maguire says. He knew the same variety of movement would perfectly suit Spin Rhythm. “Because there’s so much to do on a touchscreen, it almost feels like you’re dancing with your hands. It’s so much more than tapping – it feels way better to go with the music, and actually move.”
If there was a slight stiffness to DJ Hero’s stunts, there’s none whatsoever here. We pound the drum pad with our left hand, moving the two-colour wheel back and forth with our right hand to tap and glide along notes. A flick of the wrist sends it into endless rotations, before we tap it on the beat to continue a streak. Whether we’re playing on a touchscreen, on PC with a mouse, or spinning actual decks, Spin Rhythm nails the sensation of flow with flair. “Fruit Ninja is a very juicy game, and these guys understand how to make something feel great,” sound and music lead Dave Curro says.
It feels more like playing an instrument than other rhythm games, our mind split across two halves of the beat, each hand movement precise. Naturally, it’s tricky. Difficulty levels are currently split into Easy (right-hand wheel only), Normal (left-hand drum only) and Hard (both together). But we’re reluctant to move down to lower difficulties when we fail, because playing Spin Rhythm with both hands feels so great when it’s going smoothly. But the team is open to change. “Steve might have a heart attack if I mention this,” Maguire laughs, “but I’d love to have a dynamic difficulty between Easy and Normal. So if you’re failing a lot on Normal, then it’ll bring you down dynamically.” Indeed, much of Spin Rhythm is a work in progress. The team is still figuring out how to approach scoring, for instance. But this has the makings of a stellar rhythm game already – perhaps because, despite its appearance, it was always more about making a rhythm game than a DJ sim. It’s a little ironic, then, that Spin Rhythm ends up fulfilling the fantasy so well. “It’s funny – the gameplay of Spin Rhythm makes DJ Hero almost look like a simulation,” Curro says. “There’s scratching and crossfading and stuff, and we haven’t really gone for that. It’s more of a crystallised idea with the motions.”
As we spin the wheel into the drop and thrill for the umpteenth time, we wonder what it is about performing these abstract movements, and the DJ fantasy that is so magnetic. “Electronic music is like magic: not many people really know what goes into making it,” Curro says. “Some people are like, ‘Oh it’s easy, it’s not real music.’ But then you see people on stage somehow creating these sounds and mixing stuff together and creating these amazing parties – like, how can you not want to be a part of that mystery?”
“Electronic music is like magic: not many people really know what goes into making it”
From top: Developer Dave Curro, co-directors Shath Maguire and Stephen Last