Originally published at: Review | Infinite Guitars - XboxEra
Infinite Guitars is out and it released Day One into Xbox Game Pass. The solid hand-drawn animation is matched with great music, but how is the game itself? It’s a rhythm-timing, turn-based RPG. A unique combo, that felt exciting and new as I started playing. Does it hold up, and just what’s going on in this guitar-filled world?
As the character JJ, you are traveling around your planet of disparate islands with your grandfather, Miguel. In this world, people are powered by energy cores, and yours is broken. This issue with broken cores lies at the heart of what is occasionally an intriguing plot. I won’t spoil any of it, other than to say that characters go missing for far too long, or feel forgotten about entirely. The plot jumps from thread to thread with little care for cohesion and it ends up feeling like a jumbled mess.
Suffice it to say you have a beat-up old ship that flies between a small number of land masses, each with its civilization. You’ll fly in, and do a bunch of mundane tasks as you attempt to reach the end boss. A few times you reach that boss after hours only to be whisked back to the area’s main hub for plot reasons. You then have to run back to the boss, and that is because Infinite Guitars is a game that does not respect your time.
Busy work is the name of this grind-filled game, and it kills what had started as a fantastically fun time. There is a lot of turn-based RPG here, the twist is that instead of just choosing an attack and at most trying to time a swing you will take on full-fledged timing-based rhythm games. It’s like Rock Band but only using the A, X, and Y buttons on your controller. There is a lot to the gameplay systems here so let’s dig deeper.
You will fight a lot in Infinite Guitars. I might call it “Skies of Arcadia-esque” with how overwhelming the number of battles there are. You start in the overworld, where you can move slowly or hold B to run. Doing so will narrow your field of vision in this ¾ overhead view. This is dangerous because monsters and environmental hazards lurk around every corner. While exploring the open world you’ll find scrap, which grants you experience whenever you pick it up and is your main resource. In town shops, you can buy items with it and each character can equip them to gain defense, attack, or health bonuses. There are also core charges which we’ll get to in the combat section.
In true dungeon crawler fashion, you can bop unsuspecting enemies in the head with a press of X. As your guitar knocks them in the dome you’ll be granted the first attack. If the enemy hits you they get to go first, and I felt cheated constantly after pressing X only to have my character do nothing and then get hit. Combat is turn-based, though the computer always goes after you make a single move. Even with a full group of four players you only get to choose one action before the computer goes again. I’m not a fan of this type of system, as it led to far more time where I was stuck playing defense. This meant fights lasted too long and I was bored of the otherwise fun combat after only a few hours.
Playing defense means you have to move from left to right and press A to dodge enemy attacks on a 2D plane. Those attacks come in time to the music and are denoted with a flashing crosshair. Time your dodge correctly and you gain core charge. My defense issue is how sometimes a perfect dodge led to me immediately being hit as the next attack was instant. It felt unfair far too often. Core charges are used to either heal your character (both in and out of combat) or add extra damage to your abilities by overcharging them. It is a great system, at least early on. After fighting the same monsters with the same few moves for eight hours straight I gave up. I had gotten the full crew and nothing had changed.
The offense stayed the same the entire game. You have one move per character that requires you to fill a meter by holding X and letting go as close as you can to 100%. Mess up and it may loop around and end up at 1% or slightly more and your attack does no damage. The other system is the timing-based rhythm sessions. These require you to time press the A, X, and/or Y buttons at specific times. Maybe you need to hold one or two of them. Maybe you gotta mash it hard, or just tap it at the right time. It’s neat, and the music is great so it is what kept me playing for so long.
The issue is that it never really changed. I feel like eight hours in one day was enough for me to realize that I had seen enough. I knew what the game was and I found it far too repetitive to see it all the way through. I feel bad because so much here is great, like the art style and music.
Infinite Guitars features a lot of hand-drawn animation. It looks great both in the small overworld sections and the up-close cutscenes and combat scenarios. It is a low framerate look, but it’s clean and I dig the style. Each island has its theme, like one full of water and another that is a scorching hot desert. The music is even better, with a variety of catchy tunes featuring blaring guitars that I loved listening to the first 50 times.
Much like every other part of the game the music selection felt stretched out. After thirty minutes or so in each new area, I had heard the same few riffs a dozen times because of how often the combat crops up. It is truly some fantastic music, and if the game had a shorter runtime I think the music could have carried it for me.
As is there is just too much in this game that frustrates me and feels like it is simply there to pad things out. Constant back-tracking, a map system that is rarely helpful, and a quest log that never actually tells you what to do meant I spent a lot of time running around unsure of where to go or what to do. With a walkthrough guide, I could see a full run-through of the game is far shorter than I experienced. The map doesn’t even mark where your ship is parked, so if you forget as I did in the first area it means running around looking for it for nearly 30 minutes.
Wrapping Things Up
Infinite Guitars has so much potential. It is a shame to see its wonderful music, killer art style, potentially intriguing story, and promising combat system ruined by questionable design choices.