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A City Sleeps: A rhythmic, heavenly twist on bullet-hell shooters

Hayden Dingman | Oct. 17, 2014
A City Sleeps is a phoenix, albeit a phoenix that looks nothing like its predecessor. If you missed the story, it goes like this: Harmonix wanted to make a rhythm-based first-person shooter, called Chroma. After running a beta earlier this year, however, Harmonix realized Chroma was maybe too ambitious, maybe too weird, maybe too whatever--regardless, it wasn't going to get made.

A City Sleeps is a phoenix, albeit a phoenix that looks nothing like its predecessor. If you missed the story, it goes like this: Harmonix wanted to make a rhythm-based first-person shooter, called Chroma. After running a beta earlier this year, however, Harmonix realized Chroma was maybe too ambitious, maybe too weird, maybe too whatever — regardless, it wasn't going to get made.

Most of the time the story would end there, but a small group of Chroma survivors got together and said "Well if not a 3D shooter...what about a 2D shooter? A shoot-em-up, maybe?" And thus mere months later we get A City Sleeps, which holds onto the rhythm aspects of Chroma but with a different aesthetic.

Orchestrated nightmares

A City Sleeps is a 2D side-scrolling, rhythm-based shoot-em-up, or SHMUP. What that means is that at any given moment there are about a billion different bullets for you to avoid to stay alive. Seriously, look at this screenshot:

And that's the first level on the lowest difficulty level.

I'm going to let Harmonix describe the game's plot because it's pretty obtuse:

"A City Sleeps follows Poe, youngest member of The Silk, an ancient clan of dream exorcists that can enter the minds of sleeping hosts to rid their dreams of demons. When the residents of SanLo fall into an endless slumber, only Poe can rescue them from a never-ending nightmare."

To be honest, the plot doesn't matter much. It seems capably written, but it's all couched in cyberpunk-heavy text notes on the level launch screen. Why did this person turn into a floating heart made out of feathers? Why is this boss an enormous mandibled beast? Who are these ninjas that keep appearing? Who are the people I'm rescuing? I don't know. I don't think I need to know.

In any case, it doesn't affect how you play the game. A City Sleeps feels distinctly old-school, like those text snippets are what you used to see on an arcade cabinet's video pre-roll while it's idling. Then you leap into the game itself and the plot sort of falls away in a haze of reflexes.

Controlling Poe has aspects of a twin-stick shooter. The left analog stick flies Poe around, while the right fires her weapon. Get in close to an enemy and that right stick attack turns into a melee move, which charges up Poe's ultimate weapon — an enormous sword made out of shadows that you control by spinning the right stick in circles. Don't even ask me about mouse and keyboard controls. I think they might exist, as you can certainly launch the game by hitting Enter when it asks you to hit A, but there's no glossary of mouse and keyboard controls and all the tutorials assume you're using a gamepad.

 

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