What is Dyad? I’ve cleared every stage of this game, got three out of three stars on the majority of them, and I’m still not quite sure, to be honest. There isn’t a way to tidily fit Dyad’s constantly-shifting mechanics into videogaming’s nomenclature, but it’s essentially a game of racing and twitch-shooting that plays second fiddle to a visual presentation that does its best to dazzle and scupper the player in equal measure.
The trouble with appraising Dyad is that each of its 27 levels –26 plus a bonus infinite stage– operate under a different set of rules. The basic premise is always the same; you control an electronic squid entity hurtling through a tunnel that can be rotated through 360 degrees to line up with the various enemies and collectibles that present themselves, but other than that, it’s anyone’s guess. The first few levels layer on more and more aspects – ‘hook’ (shoot) enemies to get speed boosts, ‘graze’ (near-miss) hooked enemies to charge up your ‘lance’ (boost) meter, then boost through them for – well, whatever that level’s goal dictates.
It’s frustrating to have to deal with an ever-changing ruleset – I failed a few runs because I misinterpreted or just plain didn’t pay attention during the objective screens. It’s not just during each level’s preamble that Dyad demands your attention though – stages regularly hurtle by at an absurd pace, with kaleidoscopic technicolor throbbing at your retinas that are already struggling to keep up with the pace of the action onscreen. Fortunately, the controls, consisting of ‘move’ and ‘shoot’ are thoroughly responsive, and there is no discernible delay between thought and action – I do take issue with the vague aiming reticle, but the audio-cues, subtle controller rumble and visual feedback is enough to know when you have a lock-on.
The game regularly gets so fast that there is no time to think – the sheer sensory overload results in instinct alone taking control – entirely exhilarating when luck is on your side, but skill goes out the window once the game begins firing on all cylinders. Dyad is a game that vindicates the flashing-screen, mouth-agape, videogame nerd that TV tropes have been peddling for years now, and it will swiftly punish those players who dare blink at the wrong moment.
So after investing a few evenings with Dyad, what kind of a cohesive whole does it amount to? Ultimately, it feels like a collection of mini-games presented in a unique, congruent style, but since the game so frequently requires you to rewire your brain from one stage to the next, it never really nails the kind of prolonged, zen-like transcendence that it regularly flirts with. The frequently modified rules and ludicrous pace regularly result in total momentum-halts, and the game doesn’t quite hit the synaesthetic vibe of its forebears, since gameplay more often results on cacophony than melody.
For $15, there’s a decent amount of game here. There are 26 ranked stages, each with a leaderboard and a trophy mode that adds additional challenge in exchange for virtual accolades. However, despite my affinity for arcade action, trippy visuals and electronic music, Dyad’s inconsistencies and moments of chance left me feeling like I was playing an interactive screensaver for my PS3, which is impressive, but ultimately unfulfilling.