Tripping on microdoses of Dyad


— 9:50 PM on May 9, 2013

I thought I'd be writing about Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon this week. The awesome-looking homage to 80s cheese is out, and there's a download code in my inbox. I've heard good things from people who have played, too. There's just one problem: Blood Dragon is apparently about eight hours long. That's great for a game that costs only $15, but it also means I'll have to do some juggling to find enough time to really sink my teeth into it.

As a gamer, the sad fact is I'm past my prime. A decade ago, I would play Battlefield 1942 with friends for eight-hour stretches in a single evening. I had fewer responsibilities and other hobbies back then, and I could get by on a lot less sleep. These days, I'm lucky if I can steal a few minutes here and an hour or two there. Staying up late to play just one more level can leave me zombified the next day. And, tragically, I'm somehow losing my ability to sleep in on the weekends.

I'm rambling more, too. So, moving on...

Gaming in shorter bursts has driven me to spend more time with simpler, arcade-style games. This largely indie-fueled genre has exploded recently, and it continues to produce polished gems at reasonable prices. The latest one on the PC is Dyad, a PlayStation 3 import that's finally made its way to Steam. Like Blood Dragon, Dyad is a visual feast peppered with the neon hues of the 80s. But that's where the similarities end.

Dyad plays like a cross between Audiosurf, Space Giraffe, and Rez HD—on acid. You pilot a glowing, squid-like avatar down a trippy, Technicolor tunnel tuned to the music. The faster you go, the more intense the music and visuals become. It feels like the dosage ramps up as you're sucked deeper into each psychedelic pipe.

The levels last only a few minutes, so you won't be in a trance for long. That's probably a good thing, because I'm not sure how much I actually blink while playing. Despite the bright visuals, it feels like my pupils are dilated to better gobble up all the eye candy.

Each level offers a different challenge based on a few key gameplay elements. You can hook onto enemies to increase your speed and create accelerating bridges between baddies of the same color. Grazing the perimeter of enemies builds up energy for lancing, which turns you into an invincible missile moving at warp speed. While there are slight variations on those themes, the game remains rooted in those basic mechanics.

Unless you're lancing, hitting enemies will slow you down abruptly, harshing the buzz until you can get back into the flow. And Dyad flows. The interplay between the graphics, the music, and the action makes the game incredibly engaging when you're on a roll. Playing isn't just a matter of mashing buttons to the beat, either. It pays to plan your moves carefully, injecting subtle strategy into an otherwise action-oriented experience.

In fits and spurts over the past couple weeks, I've managed to careen through a good chunk of Dyad's levels at least once. Getting a high enough score to move onto the next level hasn't been too difficult. There are plenty of additional challenges on tap, too. A trophy mode brings more goals to each level, and integrated leaderboards will tickle your competitive side. Achievements abound, of course.

If you'd rather just chill, a remix mode offers various toggles that affect how the game looks and behaves. Collisions can be disabled to eliminate speed bumps, and you can load yourself up with infinite energy for lancing—god mode and give all, basically. Combine those tweaks with a continuous play mode that extends the levels indefinitely, and you can sit back and enjoy an epic ride without being any good.

The music in Dyad nicely suits the feel of the game, but none of the background tracks have really stuck with me. You can't use your own songs, either. That's probably my biggest complaint, but perhaps I've been spoiled by Audiosurf's ability to turn any song into a new level. The visuals in Dyad are light years ahead of those in Audiosurf, though, and they play such a big role in pulling me in that I can live with the default soundtrack. I've yet to play a rhythm-infused game—indeed, any game—that's this hypnotic.

Something special happens when I get into a groove playing Dyad. The rest of the world melts away, my heart quickens, and my interactions with the game feel perfectly in sync. In those moments, Dyad is truly transcendent. I become one with it; the immersion is complete. And it's even more intense in a mind-altered state. Except, you know, stay away from drugs, kids.

Even if you're on the straight and narrow, Dyad is a treat. It's a great game to play from the couch, and it's well-integrated into Steam's Big Picture UI. You can also buy it on GOG if you prefer to be free from the shackles of DRM.

Perhaps best of all, Dyad doesn't seem to be terribly addictive. Playing one more level only takes a few minutes, and the rush is usually sufficient for me to walk away satisfied. I'll be back, of course, but I can stop anytime I want. I swear.

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