Music makes the world go round, or so we’re told. It certainly seems to be an adage for many ‘casual’ games released on Steam lately, as we’ve seen with titles like Audiosurf and Beat Hazard using your music to create new gameplay experiences. Now Turba gets in on the act by combining music with the old mainstay of the puzzle genre – block matching. But how well do Turba’s blocks rock your beats?
In Turba the aim is to get a high a score as possible, by selecting groups of four or more connected blocks of the same colour, and then remove them by right clicking. You get bonus points for clearing on the beat of the music, if you can get a group of each colour at the same time and through multipliers which can be cleared with any colour block, while being wary of bomb blocks which must be cleared within the number of beats displayed, lest they turn themselves and surrounding blocks into unmatchable black blocks. Free Play presents you with a board full of random blocks that you must clear, with the bottom row being replaced on every fifth or so beat. Ascend, as the name suggests starts with an empty board, and new blocks being added from the bottom, while descend is as expected, similar but in reverse. However, while there is no punishment for the board filling up in descend, on higher difficulty levels, allowing the board to fill up in Ascend will incur a game over. In these modes, the blocks that appear are apparently decided by the song, and thus are – in theory – the same for every player.
The major problem with Turba is that it’s really hard to actually feel any connection between the music and the game. Most of the time it never really feels like your music is more than a backdrop to a very average puzzle or block matching game. Suposedly matching combos ‘on the beat’ heightens the score, but the difference between what your ears pick up as the beat and what the game decides can be vast. Admittedly, it was improved slightly in a recent patch, but when such an integral part of your game mechanic is resting on the technology, it’s a deep flaw that feels very hard to shake off.
There are, of course, special powers, of which Turba lets you pick one of five at the same time you pick your gamemode and one of these abilities is unique to each game mode. For example, Auto Combo helps you out by clearing some of the already made block formations for you, while Laser shoots a laser to clear blocks, breakout style from the board. However, the actual helpfulness of some of these powers can vary. Whereas some are activated automatically, many require you to actually stop concentrating on clearing blocks while you use the power, which can be almost impossible to do on the higher difficulty levels as frantic as they are already. It can sometimes be difficult remembering how to use certain special powers as well, especially as once you’ve picked them you’re not given any reminder in game which one you’re using for the most part. A major bone of contention on the higher difficulty levels is the need to select every block manually in a sequence to clear them – when the blocks themselves are moving and with the middle mouse button often moving columns or blocks to other locations, it can lead to some very frustrating situations.
One nice touch of the game is that the powerups and indeed yourself can be ‘upgraded’ by playing and using the abilities more, such as increasing the time your powers last, and slowing down the amount of time before a level is failed. This does encourage you to play more, although to say that the longevity of the game rests more on how long it takes you to max out these powers than your music collection does make these additions feel like they’re artificially extending the game’s lifespan. Achievements, leaderboards and last.fm support are also included, but again they feel like very token additions – they certainly don’t add very much to the experience.
Which is the main flaw with Turba. The experience is essentially, very shallow – and no amount of dressing, game modes or powerups can truly hide that. And unlike other rhythm action games, it feels oddly disjointed and disconnected from the music. There’s no real connection, and the basic game isn’t really much more than you’d expect from a free browser game. If anything, Turba feels like a bit a cash in on a fad. It’s not out and out awful, but you’ll soon find you’d rather go back to Bejewelled and stick on your own music in the background.