Release date: April 25, 2019
Publisher: Flyhigh Works
Music has always been essential in games since the beginning of time, spanning from chiptune to various forms of electronic based music with MIDIs, synths, and beyond, to the more contemporary live orchestrations. It’s no shock then that rhythm games – where the core focus is music itself – would gain popularity and only continue to grow thanks to the likes of Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. Recent hits help remind us about what makes the rhythm genre so great, not only giving us tons of great songs to play through, but introducing clever and inventive ways to play. That trend continues on Switch with Cytus Alpha – a re-imagining of one of mobile’s most enjoyable and highest grossing games.
While Cytus Alpha does in fact have a story, as is with most music titles it doesn’t prioritize it or impede in any way to the progression of the game, instead requiring you to reach certain achievements and tasks to move on and unlock other tracks and segments. For those that are interested in the story, however, there’s a spot dedicated to conveying the plot through the Story [DEBRIS] in the main menu. True to Cytus Alpha’s entire aesthetic, it has a lot to do with science fiction and cyberpunk, touching on topics of artificial intelligence, the future (or lack thereof) of humanity, emotions, memory, and sentient beings. All of this is shown through documents that are nicely presented and formatted through data segments and layers you’ll unlock as you naturally play through, with a few paragraphs for each, some following characters, others being messages, other news pieces. It’s an abstract way to tell a story, giving multiple point of views and takes on the future and world of Cytus and the cybernetic beings that inhabit it.
Cytus Alpha, much like the Cytus games to precede it, has a stunning user interface and presentation that has a wonderful minimalist design with clear cyberpunk inspiration. Nothing ever feels overwhelming as everything is nice and organized separately by chapters and atmospheres that help tell a story within itself.
One of my favorite things about the rhythm genre is seeing how each game attempts to reinvent the approach of how it’s played. You want to be able to feel the music as you’re playing it in addition to hearing every note that’s interacted with in a variety of ways, and Cytus Alpha does a great job at keeping things minimal but effective while still giving a range of difficulty through a combination of the notes and how each will function. A scan line pings between the opposite sides of the screen at a tempo to indicate when the next note should be hit. For the faster songs it may seem like a lot is going on, but you naturally grow accustomed to it as you get in tune with each track you play. The line blends into the interface as notes pop into the screen at different locations speeds similar to the Hatsune Miku games, keeping you on your toes as to where to focus on next, and not every note that pops up may be necessary to immediately hit. Audio cues and clever design help players get a better grasp of how and when to hit notes, with small lines appearing in the middle of each circular shape where you should try to best line up with the scan line that perpetually glides with you.
Since Cytus started out on mobile, touchscreen support was inevitable, and it has converted onto the Switch near flawlessly with rapid responses and manual calibration for anyone who may feel there is somewhat of user delay. Buttons are also supported and are just as easy to pick up, with directional buttons and face buttons interacting with standard and sustained notes, while the shoulder buttons are dedicated to chained rapid fire note progressions. Playing both ways feels great, and going through a multitude of songs aiming for the Million Master rank – a perfect run for each respective song and difficulty – I noticed that some songs benefited more from one way over the other, and it’s really interesting to see those on the leaderboards that played a particular way as it labels it alongside your ranking and accuracy. The accuracy interests me most since you could technically achieve a Million Master rank but have a 93% accuracy, meaning timing could be better but was still within a certain threshold to trigger a perfect note. Due to Cytus Alpha all having tracks with a maximum of 1,000,000 points to achieve Million Master status, each note has a set amount of points that are given and are then decided upon via your perfect, good, bad, or missed attempts. Scores are then graded based on certain thresholds from Million Masters all the way down to C ratings. Anything under a C or 700,000 points is considered a failure, much like a pretentious private school.
With a plethora of chapters to go through and tons of songs for each (not to mention over 200 songs overall), somehow Cytus Alpha has this fantastic way of having every track be complementary not only to each other, but to the overall aesthetic and design of the game itself. Each song has a perfect length to it and while there are undoubtedly some that will prove to be difficult to even the most seasoned of rhythm players, there’s this insatiable hunger for success as you try to master each track to the best of your ability thanks to its simple yet addicting design, and the best part is that you’re rewarded for all your efforts. There isn’t necessarily any currency or the like, but the data you acquire and future songs you unlock make it worth it as they, almost unbelievably, get better and better. Matchmaking is also available for those that want to go head to head with others around the globe to put their timing and hand-eye coordination to the test. Cytus is a nonstop flow of good vibes that keeps you coming back for that next big track akin to a musical boss fight.
The Switch has been on a roll with great rhythm games thanks to titles like Superbeat XONiC, VOEZ, Thumper, and Deemo, and now Cytus Alpha comfortably sits among the greats. I can’t get over how its contemporary minimalism so beautifully transports you into this visually stunning world aided by tracks that don’t leave your head, and the simple yet challenging method to rhythmic gameplay is as addicting as it is aesthetically pleasing. With how fantastic the conversion over to Switch was for Cytus Alpha, I’m hoping Rayark continues to bring games to the Switch, as it’s never felt better in my opinion. Handheld and docked modes both prove to be a great time and perform at top quality with the music shining from both speakers and headphones with no compromise to audio or visual fidelity. Those with an eclectic taste in compositions and artistry should absolutely add this to their library and see for themselves what’s made Cytus so great. I’ve had Cytus and Cytus II on my phone for a while now and play them regularly, but now having it on the Switch is a new experience that’s both familiar yet refreshing, and another welcome addition to the class acts and pioneers of the evolving rhythm genre.
One of mobile’s most popular rhythm games and highest grossing apps, Cytus, finally makes its way over to the Switch in the form of Cytus Alpha – an original Cytus game blending all original content with the presentation of what’s made the series so great and the go-to rhythm game for so long. There’s both a clean minimal aesthetic and a futuristic flair, and choosing a plethora of songs throughout tons of chapters gives content among content for music lovers and those looking for plenty of replay value. With Easy and Hard modes available for all songs that span a variety of genres, tracks should be played plenty of times over especially for those looking to increase their skills and get that sought after Million Master rating for bragging rights at the top of every song’s respective leaderboard. If going against some of the toughest tracks aren’t enough, Cytus Alpha also gives players a chance for matchmaking to take their rhythmic prowess and show it off against players around the world.
Cytus Alpha review copy provided by Flyhigh Works for the purposes of this review.