Rhythm games have evolved to a point that cannot be comprehended easily by people who thought things hit their peak in the Guitar Hero era. There’s been this undercurrent of gamers, especially in Asia, who live and breathe the concept of moving in time to the music in order to maximize scoring and accuracy. I’ve seen people bring special gloves in to play games like Pop N’ Music, Beatmania, and the newer generation of dance/touch games that were surviving in Japanese arcades the last time I visited. But the games continue on mobile devices, acting as equal parts musical immersion and addictive microtransactions, resulting in games that were free to get and gleefully pull in hundreds of dollars as more and more songs become released. Once all is said and done, a player has a game on their phones with a staggering library of songs and a burning desire to get those robotic hand replacements from Ghost in the Shell. At the forefront of it all is Rayark Games, who has already made a massive splash with the release of DEEMO and VOEZ on the Switch, bringing definitive editions of their titles to eager Switch musicians. But now their first love, the biggest juggernaut of them all, lumbers onto the Switch, and brings with it the largest catalog so far. This is Cytus α (or Cytus Alpha) and it’s here to dominate your console.
The story of Cytus, believe it or not, is an incredibly complex, multilayered endeavor that requires playing all the way through to understand. The jist of it (without spoiling anything) revolves around a group of beings called the Operators, and there’s been a technological breakthrough that allows emotions and memories to be permanently saved through song. However, you’re clearly in the role of some kind of robot, and you’re unwrapping a whole history of what became of the Operators, who you are (or what you are) and what this could mean for the future. It’s a fascinating tale, and the medium of telling it through a rhythm game is fascinating to say the least. If you’re a fan of dramatic science fiction with a touch of post apocalyptic flair, then you should be paying attention. However, if you’re more vested in the gameplay and the music itself, Cytus still has you covered in a big way.
As mentioned previously, Cytus α is the cumulative song catalog of a game that was released in 2012, when Nintendo was gearing up to release the WiiU and had no idea how badly the market was going to blindside them. In that time since it’s initial release, the original Cytus got update after update, with more songs being added, sequels being made, and DLC chapters crafted to invent more lore and more vistas to view the world of Cytus. The end result, here, with Cytus α, is more than 200 songs, including some exclusive tracks that I *think* are available from the very beginning. Besides the episodic chapters, there’s this whole DJMAX area that opens right from the beginning and is filled with some live, insane mixes to keep your fingers busy no matter what your play style. While I understand that players might balk at the AAA price tag on this game, keep in mind this is no quick and dirty port from a mobile company looking to cash a quick Nintendo buck. There has been a lot that’s went into Cytus over the years, and this alpha edition is no exception.
First and foremost, the game has been overhauled from the ground up to look good, feel good and be appropriate for the Nintendo Switch. There’s your primary play mode, but you also unlock different lore chapters that can be read, separately, on an ever growing and expanding story tree that takes things quite differently than DEEMO did in exposition. Rather than letting you just guess based on pictures and minimalist words, Cytus α has a ton of story fragments and full paragraphs of reading to inform you about the rise and fall of the Operators and the future of humanity. The interface is great and segues seamlessly between touch and button controls, allowing for input however you’d like it. You can play this game up on the big screen, with one or two JoyCons if you want, or you can cradle it in your lap and tap away at the screen, and, as I tested myself, you can do both in a single song. It made for a very exciting approach to everything.
Additionally, the game mechanics have ported exceedingly well to the Switch. There’s a bouncing black tempo line that scrolls up and down the screen, and the idea is to hide, hold and drag colorful circles as they appear in time with the music and the line. Like most contemporary rhythm games, you cannot fail out of Cytus α, but you can definitely feel ashamed that you chose the hard difficulty when you weren’t ready. The button controls are great and allow for a lot of freeform in how you play, with literally any button supporting the tap and hold functions, and the shoulder buttons supporting the drag moments. If you’re super cocky, you can play many songs with a single JoyCon, tapping out the beats as fast as possible with the four buttons and just grabbing onto the shoulder bumpers for dear life when need be. I do recommend, though, at least using two JoyCons so that, should you be in the higher echelon of songs, you can do double drag moments without getting a hand cramp.
Players new and old should really, sincerely give the touchscreen choice of Cytus α at least one good go, if only to see what the game is really about. The way that your fingers have to fly over the screen teaches you a whole new appreciation for the musical genre, and it’s startlingly intuitive and easy to understand. Once you get into the habit of making your hands scarce so that you don’t obscure upcoming notes, you really feel it, you get into a manic sort of motion that grips you tightly by the collar and pulls you in for a fierce, hungry kiss. You recognize that easy songs are meant to add levity and relaxation to the chapters, whereas anything that’s a 7 or higher wants to push your reflexes. Entrance, by Ice, is one of the few songs that I simply CANNOT do without buttons because I’m concerned about spraining my fingers. The game is tight as a drum, so, buttons or touch, there’s no latency or missed notes because of communication. If you missed, it’s because you’re the fool, so don’t blame the game.
Often times, I play a game till I’ve had my fill, put it down, and write things from memory, occasionally glancing at a screenshot to remind me of a setting or an idea. That’s not the case with Cytus α. At least four times during this review, I’ve picked it up again to play one more song, to take another swing at something I feel more confident about. It feels less like I’m reviewing a piece of software and more like a fine meal, some gorgeous steak that I keep going back and sneaking another bite of to keep the taste fresh on my tongue. I cannot believe how many songs I’ve already played, and how many more must still be here to unlock. Doing fast math, for people concerned about pinching pennies, it’s something hilarious like twenty five cents a song for everything you get on Cytus α, and I haven’t even begun to see what online matching is like. I tried to find someone to versus and ended up getting the Million Master mark playing against myself. You can’t even take apart the soundtrack and properly critique it simply due to the sheer variety and complexity. If you like the concept of music, you’re going to enjoy something here.
Cytus α is a hard drug of a game that can easily and joyfully destroy your free time as hours slip away in the blink of an eye and dinner time passes without you feeling hungry. There’s an engagement level that rivals most free to play games, and does so without the need for a catch or hooks. You can simply do as much music as you possibly can, with unlocks for additional songs being reasonable and attainable in a very short amount of time. There’s the promise of online leaderboards and playing against other musicians, which seem to already be in place, though my fellow reviewers are nowhere to be found. If you know this game, you already love it, and should get it on the Switch. Though it can be hard on the joints, Cytus α is a singular entity of strength and a symbol of perseverance in the gaming world. Never give up on a game that has fans, and fans will reward you in turn with loyalty.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Cytus α Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
User Review( votes)
Cytus α is a madcap, unrelenting force of music imbued with a gargantuan soundtrack, and only slows down because the player’s hands are starting to hurt.