How about some of the loveliest 2D animation and background art you’ve seen in forever, in a platformer with a unique twist on movement, and completely for free? That would be Symphonia, a half-hour game from students at ISART Digital.

There is in fact a mighty collection of intriguing looking projects from ISART on, that I fully intend to plunder. But Symphonia is an excellent way to start, a musically themed platformer that looks like exquisite 1950s animation.

You play a violinist, for reasons unknown wearing a plague mask, who leaps balletically on her bow about a world made of instruments, concert halls, and plush velvet cushions. Into the latter she can plant her bow, and then spring off in your direction of choice, allowing her to swoosh through the air, avoiding spikes, landing on platforms, and most of all, playing her violin where needed.

This is all achieved with such, well, symphony. The music is utterly magnificent, an original score by ISART student Olivier Esman, which you can listen to here. The violin is so good I genuinely looked up which composer’s work they were using. The art, as I mentioned, captures those glory days of painted background art from the middle of the last century, while the character animation resembles those 1970s European cartoons you’d only ever see when you were off school ill, never quite sure if they were part of a fever dream.

The only weakness, and it’s such a small detail, is the way the character grips to cushioned surfaces. Rather than just holding down right trigger to grip the nearest, you also have to push in the cushion’s direction at the same time. There’s no reason for this, as it’s never ambiguous, and it’s an extra fiddle that introduced needless frustration for me. Especially when you need to hold the left trigger to pull yourself in the opposite direction in which you want to leap, like a stretched elastic band – that’s fine, but all together there are too many buttons to juggle when it comes to rotating blocks and the like.

Oh, and I read that the game was originally designed for Switch, but I can’t find any details of a release there. I can only imagine they will have enormous trouble getting around Tales Of Symphonia-shaped lawyers if they try, of course. A name change seems like a smart idea if they want to take this further, as well they ought.

What a gorgeous half an hour. There’s a reason to replay, if you want to gather all 200 of the tokens strewn about the screens. (I got 191 on my first run, which felt good enough to me!) But a better motivation would be to just experience it all a second time. The art, the sound, the music, the cheering robots. This is marvellous, and that it’s an eight-month student project is staggering. Oh, and free!

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  1. What an astounding achievement for a student project, production quality soundtrack aside it managed to do some genuinely novel things with its blended 3d background work. Some very minor platforming issues aside, this is so worth everyone’s time.

  2. I’m finally getting around to trying this now, and I am amazed that you, who are usually quite keen on good interface design, have nothing to say about the befuddlingly poor standard key mappings. D goes left, but A… plays the violin? And Q goes right? And Esc doe nothing? ESC does NOTHING. That can’t be chalked up to studentry.

  3. I studied there, and there are a very good amount of amazing projects, but it’s nice to read a well-rounded article about it!

    I just discovered you (through RPS, sorry), and I added you in my pages to visit frequently!

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