By KC Smithsen
Before I did The SwitchCast, I worked on a humble portable gaming podcast called The Pocket Players. In those dark days before the Nintendo Switch was born, I kept a select few games as permanent fixtures on my iPhone, and VOEZ was one of them. Now that VOEZ has come to Nintendo Switch, I have my first opportunity to see how the joy of a free-to-play mobile game can make the transformation into a paid console title, and the results have been promising to say the least.
VOEZ is a rhythm game by Rayark, purveyors of several great free-to-play rhythm titles on iOS and Android. This one’s claim to fame is its approachable touch-screen controls and spectacular on-screen effects. Notes descend from the top of the screen that you must tap (in time with the music) as they cross over a line on the bottom of the screen. Some notes just need a quick tap, while others must be held or slid in a certain direction.
But unlike most rhythm games where you can expect the notes to come at you from a pre-defined set of columns, the structure in VOEZ is fluid. One moment, you’ll have 4 columns spouting notes at you in a rhythmic pattern. Then, just as you slide your finger along with the last note in a chain, the columns shift along with your finger in a glorious display of changing colors and graphical effects to match the tonal shift. They may then reform as 3 columns in a unique arrangement. Or perhaps the columns will keep sliding for a minute, forcing you to anticipate where the notes will land as they now trail down at an angle. What this results in is both a visually and mentally stimulating experience that promises to keep you on your toes as you constantly encounter new tricks, challenges and pretty pictures.
Despite the tricks – no matter how unfair some of them might seem – and no matter what level of difficulty you play it on, the songs never require you to have more than two fingers on the screen at a time. And that’s key to what makes VOEZ such a great portable title: It allows you to play it in tablet mode (preferably with the Joy-Cons removed) just about anywhere. I often play it standing on the train without a problem, using my thumbs to strike the note, but it’s just as enjoyable placed atop a table where I can poke the notes with my pointers. The game is also very forgiving, with no Game Over state no matter how you perform, easing away any frustration as you learn a song, especially when the aforementioned “tricks” ruin your perfect combo.
VOEZ is so well adapted to life on the road, you actually can’t play this title while docked. Due to its completely touch-based interface, this is the first game for the Switch that can only be played in tablet mode. But I’m impressed to see that it succeeded in the transition from mobile to Switch almost flawlessly, except for one reservation…
When VOEZ was a free mobile game, players had access to a handful of songs out of the game’s vast library, with new songs cycling in and out of the free list every week. But if you earned some in-game currency (or were willing to pay real cash for it), you could permanently unlock any song you wished. This gave the game a decent structure, as I spent each week mastering the four or five free tracks, and debated whether to spend a dollar to keep one I liked (i.e., anything by Gumi) for good.
But on the Switch, VOEZ has gone for a more conventional pay model. For a flat $25, you have the game’s entire 130+ songs, each with an Easy, Hard and Special difficulty, at your disposal. No level progression, no unlocking secret songs, no structure to your play. And while that feels somewhat liberating, it also feels overwhelming. I’m never sure what to play next, and I might have actually preferred it if the game started me out with 10 or so songs, and I had to hit a certain ranking on five of them to unlock more. On the upside, you never have to mindlessly breeze your way through the Easy mode just for the privileged of playing the meatier Hard and Special challenges. The only progression you might care for is that you earn Keys – formerly the game’s premium currency – that you can use to unlock new avatars in a little gacha mechanic.
Considering how all these songs would cost you $130 to unlock on mobile, this game is a pretty great deal. It even compares favorably to console rhythm games that typically give you about 45 songs for $60. Though, that comparison only holds water if you’re into VOEZ’s electronic sounds, trance music and Japanese pop singers, because that’s what you’ll be hearing most of the time here. As someone who’s never gotten into mainstream music, this is absolutely perfect for me. But if you’re looking to jam with Imagine Dragons or some classic Gun N’ Roses, you may want to give this game’s songs a listen before picking it up.
As you rack up good ratings on the songs you also unlock chapters in the game’s story. Yes, there actually is a story to the game, and it’s kind of heartwarming. It’s nothing heavy, just a slice-of-life tale of teens who discover and share their musical talents. Each unlocked chapter comes in the form of a beautiful piece of watercolor anime art, with a journal entry or dialogue box to read. It’s not a primary draw of the game, but I’ll take any motivation I can find to drive me to best more songs. And the anime intro is pretty breathtaking as well, which makes me wish they turned this story into an actual anime.
KC’s Take: I like VOEZ, and I think it’s great to have on my Switch for short bursts of no-strings-attached fun. I love the music, and there’s still more being added to the game as free DLC in the future, including some Switch exclusive tracks. If this genre of music appeals to you, I doubt you’ll find a better rhythm game on any system out today, and the Switch makes everything I loved about the mobile version pop beautifully.
JV’s Take: Despite already owning the game on standard mobile devices, I was cautiously excited to hear that VOEZ would make it to the Switch during its launch month. My biggest curiosity was how Rayark was going to handle gameplay during the docked mode, which they ultimately subverted by being the first tabletop-exclusive game for the console. I was initially skeptical about playing the game exclusively on tabletop mode, but I found myself enjoying the experience on the bigger screen of the Switch, compared to the smaller size of standard mobile phones. While this “large screen” experience can be replicated by any tablet, the inherent forward tilt that the Joy-Con provides a more optimal viewing/playing angle for tabletop gameplay. As the first rhythm game on Nintendo’s new console, VOEZ sets the bar quite high for future rhythm (and tabletop-exclusive) games to come.