If you're into your puzzle games, then you may have heard of Chime, an addictive, musical little title that originally hit the Xbox 360 (and later Playstation 3) way back in 2010. A game that saw you building up both your high score, and the tune itself as you played, it was a game that blended Tetris-style pieces with the music-based gameplay of Lumines to great effect. Fast-forward over half a decade, and the game's been granted a sequel, Chime Sharp, which bring the blocks and minimalist background music back once more, to create a bigger, and hopefully better, sequel.
Essentially, Chime is all about arranging variously shaped pieces - think Tetris' Tetrominos, but made of five blocks rather than four - on a grid to create square 'quads'. Once your quad has been made, all you need to do is wait for the time bar to pass over it, and it'll disappear, earning you points. Whether tall and thin, short and fat, or perfectly square, whatever the dimensions of your completed quad, they'll colour in a piece of the background once removed, which in turn will build up the background music, transforming itá from a barely there incidental hum to a more chaotic electronic tune, gradually building up to a full, remixed rendition of the song in question. The aim of the game is to cover as much of each level's grid as possible, scoring as many points as you can in the process, across Chime Sharp's fifteen song playlist, which includes the likes of Chvrches, Kavinsky andů several others we've never heard of.
At its most basic, Chime can party with the best of the Tetris-style tessellating puzzle games - it's simple to get your head round, but challenging enough to play well that it'll likely have you coming back for 'one more go' as you try to cover a greater percentage of the grid each time. Standard mode, as well as the unlockable Challenge mode, are pretty similar takes on the Chime formula, challenging you to put down as many pieces as you can before time runs out, extending both your time and score by covering more and more of the grid. Challenge mode simply gives you more complex pieces and a bit of a more complicated-shaped grid to fit them onto, and makes a nice 'advanced' mode once you've mastered standard.
However, try and spread your wings out past the Standard mode, and you'll find Chime Sharp is about as forgiving as a brick wall to the face. Beginning with the titular Sharp mode, which is an exercise in plate spinning if ever there was one, here the aim is to keep clearing quads without letting any of the overhanging 'fragments' - bits that stick out past your perfect square - time out and disappear.
Unless you have a heck of a lot of luck, each time you place a quad, you'll end up with little bits left over when the quad gets removed - tiny squares that you couldn't quite figure out how to work into a perfect square. With each pass off the beat line, these fragments get closer and closer to timing out, unless you can manage to rescue them by incorporating them into another quad - something that's often easier said than done. Each one you miss costs you a life, and with just ten lives you can lose before you're staring down a game over, you really don't have that much breathing room. Getting the requisite 60% coverage or more to unlock the next mode - Strike - is borderline impossible - and if you finally do luck out, you'll find it's basically the same mode but twice as fast, and twice as hard.
To add insult to injury, some of the colour schemes Chime Sharp uses can make modes like Sharp even more difficult - in the case of Science and Visions by Chvrches, the yellow blocks decay into various shades of blue on an already blue background, which makes spotting vulnerable fragments before they disappear pretty tricky. Given that in both Sharp and Strike modes, you need to keep the leftover fragments to a minimum, being able to spot them easily is imperative - and also nigh on impossible when they're essentially the same colour as the background.
On a more personal note, we also can't help thinking that Chime Sharp's song selection is a tad lacking compared to it's predecessor, despite having three times as many tracks. The original Chime had a scant five songs, yet all worked perfectly with the game, and were mixed incredibly well, from Philip Glass to Moby. Chime Sharp, by comparison, has way too many that sit somewhere between 'cat walking across a keyboard' and 'my first Dance eJay composition', with not much of a catchy tune in sight. A few alright ones, like the aforementioned Chvrches and Kavinsky tracks steal the show, but the vast majority blend together into a vague minimalisty mish mash of random notes, which puts a bit of a downer on a game that's meant to be all about the music.
All in all, Chime Sharp is a bit of a mixed bag - the basic game is another return to form, a fun block-building puzzler set to music that's as addictive as ever. But if you look a little deeper, either into the choice of songs or the extra modes on offer, it doesn't seem to quite live up to its predecessor. Sharp, and the Strike mode that succeeds it, are both too hard, relying more on luck than skill, and put a downer on what would have otherwise been a pretty nice wallet-friendly puzzler.