Within a black void there are colors, neon in status, dancing together in synchronicity. Stars and fire, letters and numbers, arrows and cubes. Collections of language, math, and shapes cascade across a vividly sparkling universe to the beat of electric music. This is hell.
Slash It Ultimate is a music/rhythm game from Just1337 Studio. Like all games of its genre, the method of play is to match your button presses with that of the beat of a song selected from a library. What this game does differently is offer up seven different methods of play. What this game does poorly is nearly all of those methods are flawed, some to the point of being unplayable.
You can purchase Slash it Ultimate on Steam for $4.99.
Since there's no story to speak of, for this review I'll instead talk about the presentation. Looking through Just1337's games on Steam showed me that the studio has a love of neon-colored stages set against a space backdrop. In each of Slash It Ultimate's modes, the background is black, and decorating the screen are neon designs that either are there for gameplay or for flavor.
The color scheme and presentation fit with the game's music selection, at the very least. Setting the game within the far reaches of techno-space also means there's little the designers have to build. There is no audience or stage, just the vast void and the colors in front of you. Considering all the stages feature rising and falling bars, matching the music, the designers had even less to design since those can be created through an algorithm.
The UI is as complex as it needs to be, in that it's very simple. It's a good idea to give the player little else than the necessities to focus on in a rhythm game. As songs get faster and more complex, the motions in the peripheral can become distracting, so it's good that Slash It Ultimate is unobtrusive within the game stage. However, I think this is more of a result of the game designers not wanting to design a lot rather than the forethought to keep things simple for the sake of the player.
Something of note is the achievements the game boasts. 500+ achievements can be "earned" within the game. I say "earned" because getting these unlocks is as easy as pressing a button once. There's an achievement for unlocking every song, one for each mode, one for getting a certain number of green arrows, red arrows, etc. There are so many that the achievement icons themselves are just shapes and letters, having no correlation to the achievement themselves. If Steam achievements had any value, like points toward a gamerscore, there could be something here for achievement hunters itching for an easy boost. As it is, Steam achievements hold no value unless you unlock them all within a game, and even that is minimal at best.
As stated, there are seven game modes to choose from for each song, and each song has two difficulty modes. Those modes are not unlocked automatically, nor are the songs, but I wouldn't have expected the songs to all be available at once (except in this case where the library is so small that they may as well have been all available from the start). When you start, you have one mode available for one song. Completing a song earns you coins, based on your performance, which are in turn used to purchase songs and modes. Each mode you unlock for a song makes the next one more expensive.
Since the game's value is in the different game modes it has, I felt it best to cover each of them individually, so that you can decide which ones may appeal to you. Some may be attracted to the rhythm game standard of falling arrows, while others may only be interested in using the game as a typing tutor.
This mode will be the most familiar to players, and yet one of the most frustrating. Arrows pointing in the four cardinal directions will fall down a vertical track of four lanes. It's up to the player to hit the corresponding direction with the arrow keys at the right moment. You are awarded for accuracy, so hitting it too early may only net you 100 points, but getting it perfect with the beat earns you 300.
Though some games may do it differently, the standard I, and I'm sure most people, am used to seeing the arrows arranged in is: left, up, down, right. This order is intuitive, which is why it's so common in other rhythm games. Note I said "other" rhythm games. Slash It Ultimate wanted to be unique, so rather than having the left arrow always fall in the left most lane, it can fall in any of the four, as can the other arrows. The only constant is each arrow is associated with a specific color.
This is not a matter of learning a new skill but unlearning one. It took many attempts to fight the urge to always hit the left arrow key when a square was falling on the left most lane. It is something that can be learned, at least, but you'll always be fighting against that better instinct. When the notes come faster, players start to rely on instinct and muscle memory more than planning, and this is when Slash It Ultimate's unique take on the old system fails it horribly.
There's also no means of practicing and learning a song, either. The designers didn't bother to map out the song to specific directions, tinkering with it until it felt natural yet appropriately challenging. Instead the arrows are chosen at random, their only constant being that they fall with the beat of the song. Arrows Mode is going to be the first mode any player tries, and is the most familiar to most, yet it will prove one of the most frustrating because it forces you to go against your better instincts.
Numbers & Alphabet Modes
I'll cover both of these modes together as they play exactly the same, just requiring different buttons on the keyboard. In either mode, letters or numbers will appear on screen, linked together in a line with a diminishing circle to let you know when they'll vanish if you take too long. There's no need to hit them with the beat of the song, just hit them in order and in a timely fashion.
There's not much to say about this mode other than it works. It's not fun, mind you, it just accomplishes its intended purpose. The only time it fails is in Alphabet Mode, when the letters start to spin. As you increase your streak, the letters come faster and will start to spin, to trip you up and up the difficulty. Normally this isn't a problem, in so much as it doesn't create difficulty it wasn't supposed to. However, when the letters M or W appear on screen and start to spin, you can imagine there is some confusion and a flip of the coin is needed.
Certainly the most unique mode of the game, while also being the most poorly designed and frustrating. In cube mode, you control a constantly moving cube. Your goal is to collect smaller cubes laid out along the track. In theory, this is a lot of fun, and gives a soundtrack to a rather traditional platforming experience. In practice, however, there are a couple issues that cause the mode to fail utterly.
For one, missing one cube erases the next 10 or so cubes ahead of you. In other modes, missing a "note" simply deletes that note, you don't get credit for it. Yet, the rest of the notes still remain, allowing you to make up for your mistake. In Cube Mode, missing one cube is equal to missing 10, so expect your ending accuracy to be far lower in this mode than in any of the others.
Now, that problem is simply fixed by getting gud. If you don't miss the cubes, then there's no problems, and not missing "notes" is key to success in any of the modes. Where this mode really fails is with the jumping. Jumping itself isn't a problem, though it's nothing special either. In fact, it can be a little tricky to time your jump if you're using the other cubes as reference points, as they move along the track like you do. Rather, the problem comes when you jump.
Whenever the player hits the Space bar to jump, the camera shifts 90 degrees left or right. So while you may start by moving up the track, after a jump you will be moving left to right along the stage. This is incredibly disorienting and is going to be the one and only reason you'll be missing cubes. Aside from the disorienting shift, the camera change also changes the controls. For example, if you're moving up the track, and you see there is a cube in the lane to your left, you know you're going to need to hit left to grab it. However, there's also a jump, and after you make that jump, the cube ahead is now above you rather to the left of you. So now you have to hit the up key, not the left key. This kind of thing can be planned for, but cubes don't stay in straight lines, sometimes shifting between lanes, thus requiring your brain to compensate for the shift in direction under a second. For a mode you'll be making the most mistakes, it punishes you the hardest for making them.
By far the simplest mode available. All you need to do is hit the Space bar as soon as the square lines up with the center of the screen. The squares fall with the beat of the song, increasing in point value, speed, and numbers as your streak increases. There's considerable forgiveness for accuracy in this mode, and you'll earn the same amount of points for hitting the cube half way into the square as you would if it was dead center.
There's not much else to say about this mode. It simply works. It's not terribly fun, though. It seems Slash It Ultimate only works when it gets as simple as possible. Add anything beyond a single button press, and the game designers manage to make the mode frustrating for all the wrong reasons.
Acting like a typing tutor, Words Mode sends words along tracks from the right to the left. It's up to the player to type out the words, with perfect accuracy, before they cross the screen. Hit the wrong letter, and your streak resets. As you type more words correctly, more words along more tracks are added. You'll start with just one track, but can generate up to five.
If you were expecting this mode to somehow have a fatal flaw, thank you for paying attention. Hitting one letter for a word also erases that letter for another, assuming it was also the next one in line. For example, you see the words "Apple" and "Pinecone" coming along. "Apple" is furthest along, so you type that word out first. Now, your plan was to type out "pinecone" next. If you do that, you'll break your streak and lose a track. When you typed out "apple," once you hit that first P, you erased the P in "pinecone." So now, instead of "pinecone" you have "inecone." This is a situation you can learn to adapt to, but it really shouldn't have to be. This is another case of the game deciding it knows better than decades of video games and figured it would rewrite the script.
Of all the modes, I'd say this one was the most fun, though it's far from an enjoyable challenge. Six shapes will rotate around in the middle of the screen. As the song plays, notes will move down in a straight line toward individual spots. All you have to do is have your mouse cursor over their destination before they reach it.
What adds a bit of challenge to the mix is that even though note 1 may have appeared on screen before note 2 on another lane doesn't mean it'll reach its destination first. Notes can move at varying speeds across the lanes, so you'll have to keep your eye on all of them at all times. As your streak increases, the shapes will move away from each other, so your mouse will have further to travel in order to be in the right spot for the notes.
The graphics are simple but serve their function well. While a more entertaining setting is appreciated, it's not necessary for a game like this to work. In fact, in some cases, too much stage design can become distracting to the player. By looking at the studio's other games, clearly some assets were reused here from their other titles. They can't be deducted points for saving time and money, all studios do this, big or small. However, they can't exactly earn points for the graphical presentation either. It's bare bones, without much thought put into the design at all. It'd be nice if the lack of complexity in the UI and stages was a result of the designers being considerate of the player and wanting to eliminate unnecessary distractions, but looking at the game's other mistakes I think this was just a case of it being the easiest path.
Of course, with games in this genre, the soundtrack is vital. A robust, varied, and quality soundtrack should be priority one when designing a music/rhythm game. Even if the gameplay sucks, maybe you'll at least provide the player with some new songs to listen to while they play a working game. While the songs in Slash It Ultimate aren't bad, they aren't exactly impressing me either, and the number of songs doesn't help either.
Slash It Ultimate has only 15 unique songs; that is an abysmal amount of music to have in a game about music. I understand licensing music is expensive and, down the road, problematic (just look at Alan Wake and Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD). However, there are plenty of smaller bands that would be happy to lease out their music for a far more approachable cost. Just because a song is catchy and popular doesn't make it better than a lesser known song.
Sadly, Slash It Ultimate's soundtrack feels utterly uninspired. The genre across the board is EDM with a little dubstep sprinkled into a few. Anyone who doesn't like that genre will not like this game, simple as that. You can't expect players to play along to songs they don't like, no matter how well the game plays (and this one does not play well). You also can't account for taste nor can you get enough songs to make fans of all the various genres to be happy. However, some variety is needed, and no variety is found here.
What's even more frustrating about the songs is how they are played. Every song will fade out seemingly right in the middle. The developers couldn't even be bothered to find a reasonable place to end a song, instead having them end mid verse or, most frustratingly, when the song is just getting good. It's like having a sneeze you just can't get out or an itch you can't scratch. EDM and techno songs do tend to play on the long side, so I don't expect the developers to have players play a 15 minute song. However, better cuts were needed, and once again this feels like more evidence of the developers just having no interest in this game beyond profit.
Slash It Ultimate attempts to appeal to as many people as possible with the multiple game modes, but with its lack of variety in music it ends up alienating most players, regardless. Even if the game featured the most popular genres with the most popular songs, it would still be a failure. Too much of the game simply doesn't work well. Modes are either redesigned stupidly or under-designed, both situations leading to either dull or unplayable modes. Only one or two modes were fun to play, free of stupid problems that the others had.
At only $5, the risk you take if you decide to try out this game isn't much. Perhaps you'll find a mode among the seven that you enjoy, and if you do then I'm thrilled for you. However, with only 15 songs, a good mode will only take you so far. Leaderboards exist to fuel a competitive side in players, but being #1 at this game would be a hollow achievement. It's understandable that a small studio wouldn't be able to afford more popular songs, and they aren't being docked for that. However, only 15 songs, some of which are royalty free tracks, just feeds into the fact that this game is a lazy, uninspired, under and poorly designed mess. You're way better off playing another music/rhythm game on Steam, like The Metronomicon or Kickbeat.
|+ Some songs with good beats.||– Tragically small soundtrack.|
|+ Mouse Mode felt good.||– Most of the game just doesn't feel good to play.|
|– Stinks of lazy and uncaring design.|