Wave Trip Review

In real life, most astronauts are practical-minded pilots, engineers, and scientists. Fortunately, that’s not true in video games, where an astronaut can be a geometric shape floating through alien landscapes to dreamy music. That’s the case in Wave Trip, a game for those who always wanted Defender to be a little more psychedelic.

There’s a whisper of a plot in Wave Trip. Your astronaut is rescuing his stranded friends — also geometric shapes — by flying over orange and blue objects and avoiding pink shapes. The orange shapes score points. The blue shapes build up a bonus multiplier. The pink shapes trash your bonus multiplier, which is why you avoid them. Every time you pick up all the orange shapes on the screen, your friend flies away to safety and you get new orange or blue shapes to pick up.

Triangle Man hates Particle Man

The twist is that all these shapes are musical notes, and picking them up creates the soundtrack for the game. Each level is a song that you play, and exactly what the song sounds like depends on the order in which you pick up the notes scattered around the screen. That’s cool.

There’s also a full level editor. Building your own song levels is quick and easy, as is sharing them with other players. A beginner can create and upload something that sounds interesting in five minutes, while expert players are already uploading elaborate tunes. That’s really cool.

There’s just one problem. The only way to fly your ship is to touch the screen. While you touch, the ship goes up. Don’t touch, and the ship dives to the ground. That’s terrible.

Commercial video games have been around for over 40 years now. We’ve learned a few things about how controls work, and one of the near-universal basics if that if you’re not touching the controls, your avatar’s path stops changing. You may keep moving due to inertia — that goes back at least as far as Asteroids — but you don’t suddenly start going in the opposite direction. There are exceptions like Lunar Lander, but Atari built 70,000 Asteroids cabinets and less than 5,000 Lunar Lander cabinets. Asteroids had guns, but it also had the better controls.

Neighborhood Watch

Wave Trip would be fantastic with a simple “slide up and down to move” control system. In fact, it would have worked well with a Pong-style paddle control, which is what started us thinking of classic arcade games. But swooping up and down with precision requires a constant tapping pattern that seems to have nothing to do with the other rhythms of the game. You can master flying, and Wave Trip’s leaderboards boast impressive scores by the players who have done it, but it’s a pain.

Fortunately, there’s another way to play. The obstacles don’t kill you, so you can fly through the whole game and never dodge or use your shields. We had a lot of fun building levels, downloading others’ levels, and flying around listening to the tunes — much more so than we did trying to score points. If that’s the kind of player you are, then you may not enjoy Wave Trip as a game, but you’ll have a lot of fun with your trippy space music toy.

Wave Trip developer trailer

4 thoughts on “Wave Trip Review

    • Aw! <3 Thank you! I did indeed write the captions for these screens, but this is a good time to point out that our very own and very excellent Chris Aylott wrote the actual review. We still need to iron a few wrinkles out of the new site, and correct author attribution is one of those wrinkles.

  1. “We’ve learned a few things about how controls work, and one of the near-universal basics if that if you’re not touching the controls, your avatar’s path stops changing.”

    Like with Jetpack Joyride. And Whale Trail. And, oh, every Copter game ever. (Pesky gravity, eh?)

    Wave Trip is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful and playable games to arrive on iOS of late, and the best in its sub-genre. The arc-oriented control system is the entire point, and levels are designed and planned accordingly, requiring deft timing of movement and shields. Just having a vertical positioning slider would remove the challenge from the game and along with it much of the charm. Slide to Play’s often on-the-nose with its reviews, but this is one of the most baffling I’ve ever seen on the site. It’s like reviewing Canabalt and moaning because “the guy doesn’t slow down” or “he can’t move right AND left”.

    • Fair point about Jetpack Joyride. That said, I just pulled out both games and played them back-to-back. The “tap to rise” mechanic is the same, but the two games feel very different when you play them.

      Oddly enough, I think it’s the games’ themes that make the difference. In Jetpack Joyride, I run along the ground and lift off when I tap. The jetpack works like a really powerful jump button, and it feels like I’m playing a super-responsive platformer.

      Wave Trip did not feel the same way, and I think it’s because the metaphor is flying and not running. Instead of moving at rest along the bottom and lifting off, I’m trying to control the ship and keep it at a reasonable altitude — which I found annoying and fiddly. The wacky thing is that when I play Wave Trip like Jetpack Joyride — run along the bottom and fly upwards to catch — the game gets a lot more controllable and more pleasant to play.

      It seems to be all about the expectations. I expect to float back to the ground when I jump; I expect my “plane” to stay in the air when it flies. The game flows or frustrates based on the expectations it set up.

      I do think the different theme hurts Wave Trip as a game. I respect that a skilled player can rack up amazing scores with great arcing and swooping, but I think “tap to rise” is the wrong mechanic for a player who just wants to fly around. There’s a lot to like in the game, but I think its biggest problem is that to get the most out of it you either need to be really good or to play it “wrong.”

      The weird thing is that if the astronaut were running and jumping instead of flying, I think the same controls would be much easier to grok — and I would have written about them in a much more positive way. It’s funny how big a difference a visual metaphor can make in how you perceive a game…

      (And now I think I’ve run on longer than my original review, but thanks for giving me something big to think about!)

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