Some fifteen or maybe even twenty years ago, I was good at rhythm action games. It began with the likes of Parappa the Rapper and Final Fantasy Theatrythm, but with the advent of instrument based games like Rock Band and DJ Hero, my attention moved elsewhere. In recent years, developer Rayark has emerged as the standout developer of rhythm games, with Cytus Alpha representing the peak of their output to date.
The relevance of my former talent matters to this review only to the extent that it provides me with at least some kind of gauge as to how difficult Cytus Alpha is — let me just be clear, this is a proper, hardcore rythym action game. With over 200 tracks to work through and a huge raft of difficulty levels, Cytus Alpha may well provide the only serious game of its kind that Switch owners will ever need.
Cytus Alpha is simple to play, offering both touch and button based control options that are arguably about as easy as each other to master, and will boil down to personal preference. Simply put, a single bar moves up and down the screen, with button prompts appearing in time with the music. The player needing to press either a button, or tap the screen, at exactly the right moment.
Some notes need to be held, and on increasingly more frequent occasions, the need to hit multiple notes at the same time begins to crop up. This involves either using multiple fingers or buttons, which I personally found to be a lot more difficult to handle than I remember it being in the good old days.
Regardless of which song you choose or what mode you wish to play in (Cytus Alpha is playable both in handheld or on screen configuration) there are various ways that the in game view can be configured to suit your own preferences. Notes can be grouped to appear at the same time and there are a few other tweaks that can be made to how the on screen action is presented.
Whilst each track can be played in easy or hard, these suggestions are not strictly accurate, with some songs being hard or harder. In any case, players who want to ramp up their skills steadily will be happy to know that each track is ranked from one to nine in terms of perceived level of challenge, so it’s entirely fair to cut your teeth on the easier tracks over and over until you master them — not that there is any shortage of supposedly easier tracks to work through.
Once in the game, Cytus Alpha really does present the players with an onslaught of notes. For my old eyes and cracking fingers, this was marginally easier to battle through by using the face and shoulder buttons. When I’ve played with friends however, most of them have preferred playing the game in handheld mode by using the touchscreen, so at least it’s fair to say that both options are viable depending on your preference.
Visually, Cytus Alpha looks great, with a clean user interface that features a largely white background with elements silhouetted against it as required by the theme of the song being played. There are some exceptions, with various theme tunes or other popular songs that are associated with another IP in use, and those generally have a bit more visual chaos to them. In all cases, musical notes are presented clearly and a colour coding method is used to help players determine the required timing.
With all this said, the major problem with Cytus Alpha that some players will have is likely to be the price, which is pretty steep at almost £45. If you’re a casual rhythm action gamer, then in all honesty I wouldn’t start with this game because of the price and level of difficulty. However, if you are, then thanks to the sheer completeness of Cytus Alpha, it might actually be worth the investment.
There’s a long campaign mode complete with brief and sometimes a little bit trite story, and there are many ways in which each track can be replayed. For hardcore players, the goal will always be to get a perfect score on the highest difficulty level — which is no mean feat. In all honesty, I’ve never achieved it on a single track and I don’t see myself doing so any time soon — even though I will keep trying.
Overall then, Cytus Alpha is a really good looking, fairly chilled experience that works superbly well on Switch when you’re just sitting on a train or taking a break from work. A half hour session with headphones on is completely immersive, but for players who simply can’t get to grips with the rather tough difficulty level, Cytus Alpha could be an expensive and frustrating experience. Certainly one to try before you buy, if you’re at all uncertain.
Cytus Alpha can be purchased as a physical copy, for Nintendo Switch, directly from publisher Numskull Games’ retail site, Geekstore.