Circuits – PC Game Review

In a change to the planned article (due to some impressive tech-fail) this week in part 4 of the Music Games Series I will be looking at music puzzler Circuits!

I picked Circuits up not too long after its release and it promptly sat in a dark corner of my Steam library, alone and unloved. However, when I eventually remembered it existed I realized that I had actually been missing out on a surprisingly fun little puzzler so more fool me! The premise of Circuits is simple – you are presented with a short piece of music and have to reconstruct it by placing the correct musical circles in the right order. When you have arranged the circuit press play and  “energy” will travel along the path of the circuit activating the circles before neatly grounding itself at the Earth. This is actually harder than it seems and the game gradually layers on complexity as you work through its 25 levels.

Circuits Screenshot 2
Play mode in action

To help you, to the bottom of the screen there is a ‘play’ button that allows you to listen to the piece as many times as you need in “Play Mode”  to get the sequence right and by combining this with the layers at the top right of the screen you can listen to individual tracks that make up the piece. I actually missed this instruction the first time I played and for this reason level 5 (pictured below) almost made me cry in frustration and I came close to breaking my keyboard over a wall. When I restarted after installing the game on Windows (no Steam cloud here) I read more carefully and this made things much easier.

Circuits Screenshot 3
Level 5 – Almost keyboard vs wall

After a few levels Circuits is kind enough to supply hint buttons, one which places a circle correctly and one which marks all incorrect circles. There is also the facility to skip levels (there is even an achievement for doing this) so if things get hairy you don’t need to stare at the same level forever. These will become very useful later on as some of the complexity added includes having to set a circle to repeat the correct number of times which can be very challenging to get right (and lead to more potential keyboard-wall combinations).

Circuits Screenshot 4
One of the simpler levels in circuits

Circuits does involve a fair bit of trial and error, so for this reason it may not appeal to everyone. At times it is beautiful, rewarding and curiously Zen while at others it is maddening, infuriating and makes my blood boil with rage, Yet, in spite of all this, I still enjoy it. The minimalistic styling perfectly complements the ambient, sometimes haunting, electronic music and whilst there is a lot of complexity, especially in the later levels it is still simple enough that I’ll fire it up when I’m tired and just want to relax. Until I get frustrated. Even then, though, I find it hard to stay mad at Circuits and will keep coming back for more awesome/punishment depending on how the game feels today. Despite there being only 25 levels the game becomes so challenging in the later stages that I still haven’t finished them all and yet I still feel compelled to keep trying.

Circuits  Screenshot 5
Getting more complex!

Circuits has another trick up it’s sleeve – earlier this year the developer added Circuits Composer. This is a fun way to create your own music by selecting from a (surprisingly large) library of samples and combining them together. Up to 8 tracks can be layered and the interface is simple, intuitive and does a great job of stepping aside to just let you create. It reminds me a bit of the version of Magix Music Maker that came bundled with a PC my family bought in 1997*, although the library of Composer is bigger than the one I remember from way back when. I have a bit of a weakness for music creation software – right now I’m messing with Liquid Rhythm and Anvil Studio – so I whilst I was excited to give it a go, I had low expectations of Composer. Fortunately, those expectations were more than exceeded, mainly due to how simple it all was to use, and how well it actually works. No thousand page manuals here, just pick up and make some noise! The only thing I feel is lacking is the ability to import your own samples, but the developer appears to be working on this and there is a fan made solution available (more info about this is in this Steam Community discussion). If you’re curious about the sort of music you can make with Composer then I have thrown together a little something to give you a taste:

 

Circuits Composer Screenshot 1
Circuits Composer in action

So, to conclude, is Circuits worth buying? I think that if you are a fan of minimalistic puzzle games then it’s a definite yes especially for the low asking price. I grabbed my copy on sale and I think it only cost around £0.49 so I am more than satisfied with my purchase! The developer is great at interacting with their community and with planned new levels I think Circuits can only get better. However, the trial and error and sometimes frustrating nature of the game may not appeal to everyone. What really sets Circuits apart for me is Circuits Composer which, I think, is worth the asking price by itself. Even if you don’t really fancy the main game, if you like messing around with music software or are even curious about it then it’s definitely worth a look.

*Pentium 1 for the win! Well, actually, it kind of sucked – especially for gaming – but it was a huge step up from the 286!

Circuits was released on Steam in April 2014 by indie studio Digital Tentacle and is available for PC, Mac and Linux. It is currently priced at £3.99

You can buy Circuits on Steam here

Developer’s Website

Izzy

Izzy Tinsley is a gamer, geek and crafter. She writes for vox-tower.com on Linux, retro and gaming. She also runs www.izzytinsley.com with her musings on life, the universe and everything. You can find her on Twitter as @izzytinsley

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