[Review] Duet

Just when you think you saw it all, game developers come up with something as ingenious as Duet and you get completely lost in its infinitely re-playable world full of meaning. Duet caught me completely off-guard as I was expecting yet another twitch game and got engrossed in a brilliant and beautiful experience of drifting through the never-ending geometrical maze of survival.

iconDuet [Android, iOS]
By Kumobius
Genre: Arcade
Website: www.duetgame.com
OST: Duet Original Soundtrack by Tim Shiel

Gameplay

The premise is simple, but obviously has a philosophy to it. Players are tasked with tapping left or right side as they control a pair of colorful spheres – Red and Blue. The two dots are bound together by an invisible circle, and can orbit along that circle either of the two directions. The game throws a maze of white rectangles and squares at them, and your task is to maneuver the two spheres that move in sync to avoid hitting the rectangles. Each hit leaves a mark on the white object and sends you back at the beginning of the level.

Levels and Modes

I was not surprised by the increasing difficulty and tension, but I definitely did not expect there’d be a story to it. From the start, a female voice is a constant presence you might not be fully aware of until you realize it guides you through an evolving story of Ignorance, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Guilt, Depression, Hope and Acceptance, each consisting of several levels. It is no coincidence the stages are titled as the five or seven stages of grief and loss, which suggests if not a linear narrative, but a symbolic adventure of death and survival of a couple. ‘Never give up,’ she says, and the entire gameplay feels like you’re not playing on your own versus the AI, but in a duet with the other invisible, but very real co-pilot. That’s what the story mode entails.

Then, there are Challenges – endless, daily, impossible, endless epilogue, revolution, quickening, resilience, transcendence. Further on, there is the Epilogue that consists of Trust, Understanding, Control, Identity, Initiative and Intimacy.

IAPs

The game is free, but a one-time $3 in-app purchase unlocks all content, and trust me, it is and adventure you will want to embark on. Other than that one IAP you will find in the depths of the UI, the game does not bother you with money issues and lets you dive completely in the action.

Visuals and Sound

The game in its core is an endless reflex testing survival, but the layers of content that wrap it are so rich and meaningful Duet ends up being a totally different experience from other twitch games. Its simplistic, but beautiful design lets you focus on the action and marvel at how smooth and polished everything looks.

However, what truly sets Duet apart and makes it ingenious is Tim Shiel’s soundtrack, and when the game suggests you put your headphones on, do so, unless your device has very good speakers.

This is a case of an obviously talented game and a masterpiece of contemporary music, which blends trendy electronic Daft Punk-ish beats, adds synth elements à-la Jean Michel Jarre, and creates an eerie symphony, which not only enriches the game and lets the story come to life, but makes its way to the top of your music library. Duet Theme and Patinkin are now on my personal list of the best mobile game OSTs next to Siddhartha Barnhoorn’s Out There! [See our review of Out There!]

Difficulty

Chances are only the hardcore gamers will make it to the end since Duet is excruciatingly difficult, and just when you think you know the pattern it throws a different set of obstacles at you, forcing you to re-discover the pattern.

Thankfully, each level has a limited number of obstacles you need to navigate through, and once you’ve made it, a checkpoint gets closed and you can no longer be thrown back at the very beginning. Each subsequent fail gets you back to the latest checkpoint. Even though this mercy is a gift from Kumobius, I see a few bang their heads against the walls in aggravation.

Pros

  • Hypnotizing music
  • Beautiful, simplistic design that lets you focus on the mechanics
  • Painfully hard gameplay
  • Symbolic story to unravel
  • Plenty of levels available free of charge, and even more via IAP
  • Addictive, challenging, atmospheric

Cons

  • Difficulty suggests not everyone will be able to make it to the end of the story mode
  • I might have failed to find it, but a Zen or Cruise mode, where you can’t die, but can simply meditate to the soundtrack and the visuals, seems missing

Conclusion

The more I play it, the more emotions it triggers, and the more engrossing it becomes. It’s not only the awesome soundtrack that hit the base with me, but the mix of aggravation and accomplishment the gameplay provides. It surprises me the Duet comes free of charge, so there is nothing not to love.

A symbolic tale of love and survival, Duet is a beautiful dance of geometry to the beats of a modern electronic symphony – brilliant.