Certainly, earlier NanaOn-Sha titles like PaRappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy embrace this music-is-everything philosophy. In Lammy, every action, from kung-fu fighting to piloting an airplane is performed by playing a song on the guitar. Play poorly, and the world begins to fall apart like so many props - the music fades, the lights dim. Play well, and everything disappears entirely - all that's left is swirling tie-dye backgrounds, the world transformed through funk into Hendrixian psychedelia. But Vib-Ribbon's stripped-down aesthetic seems to take these ideas of music a step further by turning the standard model of rhythm gaming on its head. Vib-Ribbon moves past the standard way of thinking of music-in-games, giving us instead a game-inside-music. The game's ever-twanging vib-ribbon works as a visual metaphor for the ways in which the system contains the playable CD, and in which Vibri inhabits each looping musical track. I can't help but imagine Vibri as a microscopic figure within the system itself, leaping and jumping along the CD's grooves as the music plays. It's a big idea for such a digitally small game - the notion that with only a touch of creativity and design, something joyous could, with a little nudge, turn into gaming and into play. Music already has us wanting to get up and move. Why not harness that verve, and take it for a ride?


All of this lines-to-music thinking eventually becomes an end in itself. Though the first levels consist only of the familiar blocks, spikes and pits, soon these symbols begin to mix themselves up, into less-recognizable forms. There are zig-zagging pits. Raised blocks with spikes on top. Loop-de-loops with a pit in the center. You're required to recognize these advanced traps as combinations of now-familiar icons. Here, the simple videogame actions of leaping, tumbling and ducking become codified, containing their abstracted meaning if not their literal fact. To someone new to the game, it would seem like meaningless scribbles across the screen. But to the trained eye, they serve as something else: a notation.

At this point, the vib-ribbon is reminiscent of nothing so much as the physical score for a piece of music, albeit written out in a gamer's code of jumps and rolls rather than a signature of sharps and flats. There is that same shift of perspective. When dealing with musical notation, a musician might look at a few bars and instantly recognize Brahms, Beethoven, or Beatles, when the rest of us are stuck gawking at scribbles - it may as well be Swahili. The gist of it is there - we might trace the lines up and down, see stretches of quiet and flurries of activity, and get some sense of the range of the piece. But it isn't until that moment of performance when it is translated into something recognizable, even universal - the moment it becomes song. In the same way, a gamer might look at an extended level full of ledges, spikes and pits, and already have an exit strategy in mind: hop, jump, roll, tumble, out. It's moments like these that inspire Vib-Ribbon, a game fascinated both with music, and the simple kinetic thrill of gamedom itself.

Vib-Ribbon may not communicate music through the brilliant pyrotechnics of other rhythm games, but it speaks in a language all its own. It may be a game in black-and-white, but it is not without color. Lines become song. A song becomes a game. In Vib-Ribbon, music is something conjured from nothing, a thin white line struck across a black field. Something simple but animate, with a life unto itself. Something that jumps for joy.

Brendan Main hails from the frosty reaches of Canada, where they don't actually have snakes: St. Patrick chased them all away. He will see your dum-diddy-dum, and raise you a shoobie-doobie-doobie-doo-waa.

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