I always enjoy when a game comes along that takes some effort to explain; one that can’t be summed up or done justice by a genre template. Dyad puts you in control of an indeterminate conglomerate of threaded appendages, like some sort of fourth dimensional parallel squid, making its way through a string of nebulous, linear tubes. Weird, right? It’s gorgeous, too. A more simplified version, or at least a one with its head plucked from the clouds and weighed mightily back down to Earth, might explain that it’s something of a tactical combat racing strategy game, if that helps at all.
The fourth dimensional parallel squid’s locomotion is abetted by its dexterous tentacles, which it uses to hook onto enemies from afar, pulling itself along tubular stages thick with dizzying visual abstractions and bold, comingling kaleidoscopic colors. It’s a sensory smorgasbord, but not quite some highfaluting tranquil journey. Each stage is a challenge, with unique mechanics rooted in fast paced, twitch arcade style gameplay that can, at times, make a hardcore shmup fan raise an eyebrow. The insane, breakneck gameplay coupled with Dyad’s psychedelic visuals and trance inducing electronic soundtrack do, however, lead to a sort of chaotic zen that eventually leaves you slack jawed and wide eyed in controlled helplessness as your brain relents, deciding to just go with it.
Okay, let’s rein it back in. Dyad is traditionally laid out in a nice, colorful set of levels that make up 27 stages in total. On each stage, you can earn a maximum of three stars, depending on certain conditions. There are a few straight races, but most stages change the formula up radically; the game is constantly evolving from level to level, ensuring nothing ever feels repetitive. There’s also the inherently addictive leader board aspect; you’re told your rank relative to everyone else after each stage. I miraculously wound up ninth on one of the harder stages, so I need to remember to never check that leader board again, because I’m sure I’ve long since been usurped.
Hitting the minimal requisite for a star will unlock the next stage, but reaching greater heights and getting 3 stars unlocks a trophy stage, of which there are 26, with its own parameters and requirements. There’s even a platinum trophy — something less likely in a downloadable, but well earned if you get it. The trophy stages get real hard, real fast. Additionally, each level as a remix that lets you change settings, from inverting everything to changing visual effects, or even play an endless mode, not there’s much too any of the remixes save for novelty.
New mechanics are introducing with surprising frequency, namely in the form of new enemies that react differently to being hooked. The game will sometimes require you to couple same colored enemies; later, doing so creates a pathway between them that you can ride for a speed boost. Aside from hooking enemies, eventually the lancing mechanic is introduced, which is something of an invincible boost meant for impaling enemies in sequence that can be extended great lengths with the right touch. Coupled with it is the ever dangerous grazing. Hooking an enemy mine will create a halo around it and if you ride just through the halo, thereby grazing the mine, your lance meter charges. On top of that, there are pure obstacles, enemies that will roll out a red carpet of a speed boost pathway after being hooked, but not before attacking you, color specific invincibility pickups, invincibility blocking barriers, and all manner of things you might even forget about until they reoccur.
On top of this, as mentioned, the stages vary your objectives greatly. There are pure races that put all your abilities at your finger tips and just ask you to go Sonic fast, but you’ll also have to chain a certain amount of couplets, lance a certain number of enemies, simply go fast as you can possibly make your dimensional parallel squid go, and a number of other objectives. The main stages are also well paced, offering occasional reprieves as new mechanics are introduced before deviously ramping things back up to eleven.
In a sense, all of this is a lead up to Dyad’s brilliant, mind shattering final level, which blends most of the techniques you used up to that point and has the most stark, staggering visual flair. I certainly reached a point of transcendence playing it, which I know because I took a hit from an enemy that broke my brain. I was moving along with some sort of sixth sense, but the unexpected hit left me so disoriented that I thought I — real life, physical me — was spiraling backwards. It was weird and hard to explain, but it’s a testament to the level of immersion the game brings. A few levels prior I reached a similar level of involvement, and this seems to happen to most people I’ve talked to; you reach a point where you’re left wide eyed and slack jawed, your brain unable to fathom what’s going on.
It’s delightful stuff. The game can be unrelentingly difficult, particularly the trophy levels and higher benchmarks, yet it always feels fair. The game plays loosely, with an ethereal air about the whole thing, like you’re piloting an angel, and yet the mechanics are paradoxically tight, exact and refined.
While the music and psychedelic visuals are inexorably instrumental in producing the effect Dyad has on its players, it’s the unrelenting, brilliantly designed, stringent gameplay that makes it. Certain feats amidst the manic frenzy seem to require inhuman levels of reflex and focus. I’ve had plenty instances in games — puzzle games, mostly — where I’ve simply been in the zone; where things slow down and my thumbs act with inexplicable deft and quickness. Dyad’s tertiary bits, however, take advantage of that apt tunnel vision and unmitigated focus to offer the most violent, direct, synesthetic sensory assaults I’ve had.