I dislike the idea excusing flaws in a game, because there is no reasonable excuse for sacrificing the medium in order to convey a message. So it's entirely logical to call Rolling Without Slipping's Synaesthete a bad game. But to call it that is a grave injustice, and completely inaccurate.
For the unaware, Synaesthete is an indie rhythm game. However, unlike most rhythm games whose stories tend to be menu-based, or soundtracks incredibly large, Synaesthete is simultaneously petite and without menus. The changes don't end there, either, as the game has a higher focus on efficient movement and skill management as rhythmic capability. Which is wholly unique across nearly every other music game across the board. Even at the hardest difficulty, the game never really presents a musically insurmountable challenge.
The challenge instead stems from the multitasking involved. Instead of simply being beats coming in from the distance, or score incentive on the horizon, this game stars a small silver humanoid called a Zaikman. The Zaikman is controlled by the player, and his attacks are lasers powered by the beats. The enemies are swarms of musically-powered beasts of varying shapes and sizes, and must be staved off by the Zaikman's rhythm attacks. The challenge doesn't come from getting the rhythms for each section of the soundtrack, but instead comes from dodging enemies, avoiding pinning the Zaikman into a corner, and attacking by getting the rhythms correct. At the same time.
This is a daunting task that takes a lot of getting used to, and the game is a little too short to master the technique, even after two or three playthroughs. The challenge is really keeping out of harm's way while fighting wave after wave of enemy. This mechanic is unique and innovative, but by itself nothing terribly special.
Even the graphics do little to help this process along, with the glowing lights and patterned shapes providing a minimal decor for the events of the game. Each level is watched over by an unseen narrator, who provides cryptic sentences between waves of enemies. Nothing is terribly stand-out about the graphics, even sometimes looking stiff and disjointed.
The soundtrack, provided by William Towns, sticks almost exclusively to trance/techno, providing little variation between the passage of stages. Each track blends pretty seamlessly into the backgrounds and stage design choices, which are already unremarkable. It's almost inexcusable to find a rhythm game's music generic, but the music offers little enough variety to make it an accurate statement. However, there is still a silver lining for this game.
There's something special about Synaesthete. The game is a textbook case of "eh, it's alright" in every imaginable review criteria. And logically should be given nothing more than a average score, a passing glance, and a play through just for experience. Here's the part where any reviewer could simply say "Three out of five. Run of the mill." and get away with it. But they'd be so wrong.
The game manages to transcend the little pieces. The backgrounds are uninspired, but it's almost too difficult to notice while playing the game. The hazards are frantic, unforgiving, and the music repetitive, but it all seems so wonderful in the process. There's a lot of immersion that practically drip from the screen and invades the mind. After the end boss is over, the game finished, and the scores tallied, there's a quiet feeling of disappointment.
The game practically asks the player to enjoy it, and it manages to happen. Despite the mediocrity, despite the repetition. It manages to persist, to continue, to thrive. It really is a game worth more than the sum of its parts.
Bottom Line: Trying the game should feel bland, but is actually a rush of excitement. Being fun, fresh, unique, and freeware, there is no excuse to have not tried this game.