Hello all and welcome to the third article in my music games series – this week we have… Turba!
I recently ran across Turba by indie studio Binary Takeover (also of Lost Marbles) on Steam and was amused by the scathing bile that I encountered on the Steam reviews (I love this feature by the way!) and puzzled by the surprisingly opposite reaction from critics. The next week it happened to come around on the weeklong deals for absurdly cheap so I thought “Why not, it can’t be that bad, can it?”. Let’s just say I was mistaken.
Turba has an interesting idea when it comes to gameplay as it combines match three mechanics with a rhythm game which should result in a pleasant casual game experience. There are three game modes to choose from – Freemode, Ascend and Descend. In all three game modes the rules of engagement are the same – match groups of three or more blocks of the same colour by individually swiping over them to select then right clicking, match bombs before they explode and try to time your matches to the music. Let’s back up for a minute here. You match blocks by individually swiping over them which is inaccurate at best and if you want to deselect them you need to swipe over them again or click the middle mouse button to deselect them all. If something in the grid moves (or if a bomb goes off on you) it can result in incorrect matches that you weren’t even aware of! If you catch other blocks by mistake, or only match one or two blocks and then remove them there is not only a points penalty but the incorrect matches turn into unmatchable black blocks that take an age to disappear. You are encouraged to select groups of multiple colours as matching a group of each of red, yellow, blue and green simultaneously results in a big score boost, but if you accidentally select, say, two groups of blue blocks then one of the groups counts as a mis-match. It’s infuriating to say the least.
Moving on to the actual game modes in Turba, Freemode – which is the only mode that is available at the start of the game starts with the grid full of blocks and more will fall from the top of the screen. Every eight beats the bottom line of the screen disappears – but with the schizophrenic beat detection (see below for the gory details) it may as well be happening at random. Occasionally bombs and score multipliers will also drop in, but the bombs in particular have an annoying habit of dropping alone and unloved, surrounded by other colours, so there is not a lot you can do about them. Another irritating habit Turba has is to fill the grid in such a way that there are only one or two matches available, which means that there isn’t much of a strategy. I guess it relates to the music, but I’ve tried with several tracks, including the in built ones and it seems to happen anyway. Oh and the bottom line of the screen disappearing? Watch that carefully because it can rob you of matches if they are close to the dead line and if you are attempting to select matches whilst the bottom row vanishes the resulting movement of the game area can result in, shall we say, creative combinations. There are special powers to unlock, which are common to all modes, such as Wildcard – unlocked by default and produces blocks that can turn into any colour – and it’s always the one you don’t want – and Roulette which removes a random colour from the board. Unique special powers are also available for each mode. New special powers are unlocked by using special powers a certain number of times and there are more, but to be honest I didn’t get as far as unlocking them. Whilst we’re here let’s talk about something which I feel is lacking in this game – the beat detection.
Unfortunately what I would consider to be the key part of any rhythm game – the beat detection – doesn’t seem to be very well implemented in Turba. I fed it Angel (Fallen Mix) by Inertia, which being a fine example of the Industrial genre has a very strong beat and is a steady 160bpm (according to this anyway!). Alas, the beat detection was so shonky that in places it worked fine, in others it went abnormally fast and for around a minute the beat detection seemed to drop the ball and wander off entirely. Thinking this was due to the music being streamed directly from the CD, (there is a sad lack of support for iTunes file formats, but you can use MP3, CD, FLAC, OGG, WMA, APE or MPC) I decided to try Uprising by Muse which weighs in at 128 bpm (again, according to this) has a very strong beat and was on my computer in WMA format. Same result. Eventually, I found only two songs that sort of worked, Suddenly I See and Other Side Of The World both by KT Tunstall. I assume that this is due to the songs being a little slower paced and I would have tested more genres if only it could deal with iTunes formats – I only hit on the two tolerable ones because the CD happened to be sitting on my desk.
Next up we have Ascend mode which is unlocked by playing a game of Freemode. Here you are presented with an empty grid which slowly fills from the bottom in time with the music. If the grid fills up, you lose. Or at least, that’s the theory. Sadly in this mode the beat detection issues really raise their ugly Hydraesque heads and the board fills up seemingly at random. There are bombs and multipliers in this mode too and they are even harder to match up due not having as many blocks to play with. I even encountered an amusing glitch in this mode where two bombs spawned next to each other and when one exploded the black block that remained continued to count down as though it hadn’t been destroyed before eventually fading away without detonating… I can only assume that it’s now charging round my hard drive destroying sectors.
Finally, Turba offers us Descend mode which is unlocked after successfully clearing one song in Ascend mode. In this mode, blocks descend from the top of the screen in rows – most of the other rules are the same as before except that now you can scroll rows using your mouse wheel which at least allows for some strategy. Fortunately the blocks reaching the bottom of the screen doesn’t result in an automatic fail which I am grateful for as the beat detection once again hampered my puny mortal efforts to actually play this game. In fact, even my “sort of working” songs disobeyed in Ascend and Descend mode. I’m guessing that the CD just went on strike until I play something with more respect for it’s beats. In both Ascend and Descend mode there are leader boards to compete on but this requires signing up for a Turba account and after playing Freemode and experiencing the horror just once I couldn’t be bothered with them.
In general Turba’s graphics are adequate and get the job done, although they are a little bland in comparison to other games in the genre and there is a colour-blind mode which is a nice addition. One major irritation though was the apparent inability to choose a resolution – you can choose between fullscreen and windowed mode and that’s it. Windowed mode is pitifully small on a 1920×1080 screen but playable and fullscreen actually caused a total freak out on my dual screen setup and – under Windows 10 at least – caused the game to disappear entirely. It’s worth adding that after changing to full screen the game is now totally unplayable as it just causes the display to go snooker loopy and then sits on the task bar doing nothing. After my experience thus far this is perhaps a small mercy.
To be truthful, I hated the songs that Turba shipped with, but I know that it’s just a matter of taste, so your mileage may vary. What I would like to bring up here is the sound effects. I’m not sure whether it’s just me, but the sound effects used in the game have the same precise effect on my ears as fingernails on a blackboard. I think that they were designed to complement the built in songs so when paired with KT Tunstall the effect is, shall we say, jarring. I have no idea why I find them so irritating, perhaps because they are interfering with the music, so I must again use the caveat your mileage may vary.
Conclusion – Is Turba worth buying?
I’m fairly sure that you can guess what I’m going to say here, but I’ll say it anyway, I got this game for 87p and I am still disappointed so I can’t in good conscience recommend Turba. The beat detection makes the game a tortuous experience and because I tried to run it in full screen it is now completely unplayable. However, I think that Turba does have some potential as an idea, so here are a few things I think could be improved. First, obviously, the beat detection – it is core to any rhythm game so it is crucial that it is spot on otherwise it ruins the whole experience. Second – instead of highlighting blocks one by one how about having it so you merely click the group to select them all? This would make the game more approachable and make it easier to play faster songs. Thirdly, please, please add support for iTunes formats! Even if it’s as a small piece of DLC which is how Beat Hazard does it. Finally, perhaps an odd suggestion, how about a target score so that you have something to gauge your performance by in Freemode? I love this feature in Audiosurf and it removes the question of whether that effort was any good or not. Speaking of Audiosurf please join me next week (on my new post day of Friday) for a more in depth look! (It was supposed to be this week but then serious tech-fail happened and made me sad)
Now for the TL;DR. Interesting idea, patchy implementation. Probably best avoided.
If you really want to give Turba a try, you can find it on Steam here.