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Aug
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A long time ago in a galaxy far away, a wise old man once said, "let go your conscious self and act on instinct." Little did we know at the time Obi-wan was not just talking about using The Force, but about playing the game Duet. This title just came to Android as part of the Humble Mobile Bundle 6 last week, and a few days later it arrived in the Play Store. It has quite a reputation on iOS for being challenging and highly addictive. I set out to learn if those things were true.

Gameplay And Controls

Duet is a rhythm-based arcade game that places you in control of two small orbs. One orb is red and the other blue, but the color isn't as important as their position. The orbs are attached exactly opposite each other on a small ring at the bottom of the screen. You can spin the ring clockwise or counter-clockwise by pressing on the right and left sides of the screen, respectively. The ring will rotate for as long as you hold, then stop on a dime the instant you release. The goal is to spin the ring around in such a way that the orbs don't run into any of the blocks falling toward you. As the game description says—keep calm and avoid everything.

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Let's get this out of the way—yeah, Duet is brutally difficult. The levels are only 20 seconds or so in length, but it might take you a long time to successfully navigate through even one of them. We're not just talking about static obstacles falling toward you, either. Duet keeps throwing new things at you including spinning/zigzagging objects and blocks that accelerate without warning.

I realize this can be hard to envision, so I've embedded a handy GIF below so you can see what it's like to play Duet. Insane, right? If you fail to swing one of the orbs out of the way in time (or you swing too far, start spinning too soon, or make any of a dozen other mistakes) it will go splat on the block and it's back to the beginning of the level. Every one of the colorful blotches on the pristine white blocks below is a failure that haunts me to this day, each one as painful as a paper cut between my fingers. Some levels are so challenging that the blocks start to look like tiny Jackson Pollock paintings.

Duet

The first few levels make Duet seem fundamentally impossible. Surely a human brain was never meant to see space and time in this manner—it goes against the very nature of the universe, but that's where the previously mentioned "letting go" comes into play. You eventually get used to the way the ring spins and which way each orb is going to move when you bring a finger down on the screen. You don't have to think about every move, instead it becomes "make that one go there." In fact, it seems like becoming too aware of your presses makes the game harder to play. If you get out of the zone, death is sure to follow.

Perhaps by this point I have properly impressed upon you how hard Duet is, but I don't want to leave you thinking it isn't fun. On the contrary—it's amazingly entertaining. I can feel my pulse quicken and my muscles tense when I'm near the end of a level that I've been working on for a while. As I pass that last splatter of paint from a previous failure, I know I'm close, the open space ahead means the end is in sight. When I finally pass that last block, the sense of satisfaction is immense. Few games of any type are this much fun when you win... or as demoralizing when you accidentally nail the last block and have to start over.

Graphics And Sound

Duet is just a collection of shapes floating through space, but don't let that convince you it's lacking in style. Your colored orbs and the blocks attempting to squish them all leave ghostly trails as they fly through the darkness. The background of each level is a constantly moving geometric pattern that serves a nice soothing animation in the event you ever have a spare moment to look at it. But really—Duet is so intense you wouldn't be able to devote the brain cycles to enjoying even the most gorgeous high-resolution textures in the universe.

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Also of interest is the excellent support for displays of different sizes (with immersive mode, yay). I tested Duet on a few mid-sized tablets and phones of various resolutions. It ran beautifully on a 1440p phone screen and can operate in either landscape or portrait. I'd suggest portrait mode if you can manage it—the objects are larger and fill the screen space better (landscape shrinks everything slightly and centers it). However, the landscape support is great for playing on a bigger tablet that isn't comfortable to use in portrait, and Duet does a good job of showing you what's coming up without making it feel like the game is too cramped.

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One of the best parts of Duet is the soundtrack from composer Tim Shiel. It's atmospheric and haunting, but it frequently moves into heavier beats with an electronic edge. There are nine tracks in all with a good mix of sounds. It's the perfect companion for the fast-paced gameplay in Duet. The only sound effect is the splat when you swing an orb into one of the obstacles (I hate that noise). There is also a narrator of sorts—an echoey female voice at the beginning of each level that says comforting (and sometimes not so comforting) things to you.

What You Get

There are about 50 story mode stages, modeled partially on the stages of grieving (denial, anger, and so on). The difficulty of these stages ramps up quickly, but that's only part of the game. There is another set of levels, the epilogue, with a few dozen more stages. What's really cool here is that the blocks behave in completely different ways across the two sets of levels, so it's not like you're just playing more of the same.

Once you've mastered that stuff, if you just want more challenge, there's the aptly named Challenge mode with daily levels that you can use to compete against friends through Google Play Games and a number of really, really hard stages. There's also an endless gameplay mode. Seriously, there's so much. I also applaud the developers for implementing cloud syncing of progress through Google Play. It even works across the Humble Bundle and Google Play versions of the game.

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Okay, so you want to buy it—what about these two versions? The Humble Bundle edition is the full premium game with everything unlocked for whatever price you pay to get the Bundle. The Google Play version is free to download and try, but you have to pay $3 via an in-app purchase to get anything past the main story mode. Also, there are un-skippable video ads every now and then. Yeah, it's lame, but they go away if you buy the game. The two games are identical after you unlock the Play Store variant, so get whichever one you like. The current Humble Bundle is a really good deal, though.

The verdict is this: buy the game. Buy it now and prepare to hate yourself a little bit. Duet is a punishing game, but I can't put it down.

Humble Mobile Bundle 6

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • Kashmieer

    Completed the story 15 mins ago. It was a wonderful/nightmare experience. I was playing this game non-stop for 2-3 days. Also I hate it, yes.

  • S Mahmood Alawi

    My head is spinning just looking at that animation?

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    Finally tried it yesterday, it's ridiculously hard, but so incredibly well-made. Love seeing the previous splatters as you keep trying to progress through the same level.

  • tym0

    Yeah, I tried this game while it was development and I was really impressed by the way it just feels really instinctive. I find it way better then previous game by this devs, like time surfer.

  • Tykin

    Beat the Story, the Epilogue, and trying to beat the challenges. Love this game!

  • Kevin Aaronson

    The sound track is drop dead gorgeous to boot!

  • RomainAymard

    Amazing game : well made, good LD, good sounds. What else ?

  • PhilNelwyn

    Awesome.
    The devs deserve to be hugged... and punched in the face.
    The epilogue is insane!
    Sometimes this game almost feels like dancing.

  • http://canerk.com/ Caner Kamburoglu

    Here is best tip you will get about this game: Settings -> Video -> Visual Effects -> off

    You're welcome.

    • RyanWhitwam

      I disagree strenuously. They don't annoy me. In fact I usually don't notice them. It's nice to look at when I do have a spare second and am particularly in the zone.

    • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=iWizard Bikram Agarwal

      How does that help? Genuinely asking.

  • http://www.geekchoice.com/ Dagmar Schneitz

    Just watching this makes my head hurt. I'm scared to even play it.

  • Badouken

    Love love love this game ! Beat the main storyline the other day ! I'm trying for the prologue now!

  • Adil Tajgeer

    the title is 500% accurate. i love playing this game even though at times i'm sitting there cursing my phone. but it's also gorgeous, has a great soundtrack and clever. so i'm not mad, not really.

  • evertjr

    this is one of the bests games I played on my iPad, the dificult is just right and the music is amazing! Buy it now

  • Stanley C.

    too much dificult 2min and uninstall... boooring....:-

    • nealho

      Difficult games aren't for everybody. Mobile games have made gaming extremely accessible to people who don't want the sort of challenge that used to be standard--that games require fast, precise reflexes was something I would have taken for granted in 1990 (ever heard the phrase Nintendo Hard?). It's not about pretty graphics or sophisticated storytelling; it is just a test of your speed and accuracy.

      Don't get me wrong--I spend more time than I like to admit on my phone playing puzzle games, or on my computer playing RPGs, but these games don't provide the visceral challenge, the swift deaths, or the rush of victory the way Duet can.

  • AW Prince

    Ryan - Very well written article. You nailed Duet. The game is made up of two extremely different concepts, with one being based on "Finesse" and the other being and "Endless" mode. What you've been working on is the "Finesse". It challenges players to not only pass those 50-themed mazes (the recent Epilogue update brought 50 new ones by the way), but to pass them perfectly. The green triangle in the corner represents perfection, and the number of moves your allowed to make to achieve that level perfect. If it turns red, you have moved past the allowable number of moves. Your GIF is an excellent display of that; shows the countdown.

    I've been playing the game since November '13 on iOS. It was released in October '13. Just as you wrote, it does take some time to get use to the movement. However, at this point I have it down pat. And I think the same can be said for most Duet players. I rank in the Top 10 in Finesse, and I hold the World Record on the Endless mode.

    For those who have the Endless mode, give it a whirl. It is the greatest thing about Duet. The puzzles get most of the attention, but the Endless mode is like a 15-round heavyweight fight. How long can you take the Duet punishment?

    • PhilNelwyn

      On iOS? What's your record?
      Are Apple's Game Center leaderboards crippled with fake scores, like Google's Play Games ones? That's so annoying...

      • AW Prince

        Yes, on iOS. I'm well-versed in hackers on Game Center too. I actually hold the World Record on Doodle Jump, and I have so for nearly 3 full years. If you look at the game right now though, it'll show a score of 32Mill from 8/2/14, which is hacked. It'll be removed, but its just the way it is.

        As far as Duet, Game Center will show my record at 473K. 2nd place is 78k. However, I'm in the process of obliterating my old record. I'm closing in on 2 Million. Here's a video of me passing 1 Million - the game is still going; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OYIkqddkk8

        • PhilNelwyn

          Holy shit, man...
          Your playing is so accurate, are you really 100% human? ;)
          Congrats on the record!

          • AW Prince

            Thanks Phil. I typically don't comment a lot on stories and such, but I thought Ryan did a great job on Duet; arguably the best review I've read. The game is mesmerizing and irritating; both beautiful and frustrating. His commentary depicted those very well.

            I am most definitely human LOL. Like every game, the more you play it the better you'll be...and I've become pretty good at Duet. I'd like to post something over 2 Million, because that's essentially 48 hours of play time. I figure if someone beats that mark, they can have the record.

  • Eirik Corneliussen

    Very well made game! So frustrating yet so satisfying and fun. At first it seems to be too difficult, but you'll get the hang of it quickly.

    Got it through humble bundle, but it's definitely worth the money.

  • q

    A game where I get to move 2 balls around again and again? Mobile gaming is really getting awesome.

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