Until I played Sentris I wasn’t sure what it was. All I knew was that there was a new music game from Samantha Kalman’s Timbre Interactive game studio but not what the actual gameplay entailed. Was it a rythym game in the style of Rock Band or Guitar Hero but with a circular note highway? Or is Sentris more along the lines of Rockstar’s Beaterator as a musical toy?
If you have ever tried to go your own way in Guitar Hero you would hear broken notes that sound terrible. Sentris is more free form, and can also be a little intimidating while you’re becoming familiar with the process of laying out tracks. I hope this explanation helps new players because it is too easy to plow through the tutorial without learned anything.
Instead of the vertical note highway typical to other other music games, in Sentris you’re only dealing a tight loop of music on a circular plane with four tracks that rotates automatically. Different instruments are represented as different colored sets of blocks, each block has a honeycomb shape on it that represent the different pitch of each block note. Those blocks are placed onto the leading edge of the track or stacked together to form chords before being placed.
There are 20 songs in Sentris. Each song is a selection of handpicked instruments and puzzles. On top of that, there is a 21st song that is always randomized for infinite variety. The puzzle is in the stages that divide each song. Each stage has a different configuration of dots that match the colors of the note blocks which need to be put in place. Once you’ve completed a stage you unlock the next layer of instrumentation to be laid down on top of what you’ve already created.
It isn’t very challenging to slap down something that meets the base criteria for success, but as soon as you get out of the first three tutorial stages you’ll be given more block notes than you would need simply for meeting the goal. This is the first taste of freedom. You’re being encouraged to experiment and make some music you actually enjoy by picking whatever you want and putting it down wherever you want. There is no failure in Sentris that you can’t recover from. You can recycle the instrumental note blocks and replace them.
Making music through this process is so much fun, it’s exciting to build a piece of music and be happy with what you’ve created. The only downside to music creation in the 1.0 “final form” release of Sentris is that you’re not prompted to save your work upon completing all of the stages in a song, and there is no way to go back in to the song and export it. I expect this will be rectified in a future update. Saving the loops that you create in Sentris are what take it from a game into a practical instrument. With the ability to remix songs using different scales, beats per minute, and instruments, the possibilities are incredible.
Although the instruments do have some surprise guest stars (disasterpeace, for example) Sentris users are limited to the instruments included with the game. There’s no Steam Workshop or other support for users to contribute instrument sets. Given that Sentris is also distributed on non-Steam stores it would probably be an incredible pain in the ass to add that feature, but it would go a long way towards improving it for more serious musicians.
Behind the rotating circular note highway are amazing backgrounds that the game calls dreamscapes. From rocky desert landscapes, bamboo forests, and urban cyberpunk dystopias where your beats cause windows and neon signs to flicker. Each dreamscape is grand visual accompaniment for your music. If you want fewer distractions there are also dreamscapes that are just visualizers for the music and with muted colors aren’t very distracting at all.
There are a few technical quibbles. The background disc is polygonal instead of actually being a circle. Each time I restart the game I have to change the track rotation back to Goofy mode so that instead of the entire track looping on the screen it’s the playhead that loops because that setting isn’t saved. If I leave my flight stick plugged in the prompts are all for the keyboard instead of my Xbox controller. The tutorial seems to be confused about using an analog stick versus a directional pad. One of the tracks, Kentucky Fried Chernobyl, is just completely broken in the Steam version at launch and loads no instruments. None of these are particularly large issues and I expect they will be resolved quickly.
My only experience with music creation before Sentris was with Rocksmith on Windows, Garageband on the Mac and iPad, and various Korg musical toy applications for the iPad. However, Sentris very much reminds me of some of the great iPhone and iPad music looping applications like Loopy. The downside to it being a looping application is that when you do export your music you’ll find out just how much work goes into making beats. For all of the work that you put into each track you will only have produced about 5 seconds of music.
Sentris could be amazing in the hands of a talented musician. As a casual musician, I’m happy with the music I’ve created using Sentris. It has been difficult in the past to start from nothing when making music, and the loops I can make with the tools that Sentris provides are so much better than starting from a blank slate. The only major improvement I would like to see is the ability to unwind and replay or fast-forward your changes to the loop so that you could replace instruments on the fly and experiment with different placement of your note blocks. Even though it’s the lack of complexity that makes Sentris approachable to casual music creators like me, I think the triggers on the gamepad are mostly unused and could be part of such a feature if it were to happen.
At $15 for a fun music game that can also be a legitimate creation tool on Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Sentris to anyone who has that itch to create music but doesn’t know where to get started.
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