Vib-Ribbon is an absolutely wonderful PlayStation game, by the developer of Parappa the Rapper (Nana On-Sha) and Parappa's producer (Masaya Matsuura). It stars Vibri, a stick-figure rabbit who is probably female - it looks like she's wearing a dress, although that's interpreted from the fact that her body's triangular and her leg-lines come out from the base of the triangle. Vibri dances, and quite well at that.

Vib-Ribbon has primitive graphics - they're entirely vector based, white lines on a black background, like the original Asteroids arcade game. There's a good reason for this, though - because of functionality that will later be explained, the entire game must be able to be loaded into the PlayStation's RAM.

Vib-Ribbon is a music game, and in some ways is typical of music games - the main object is that symbols move towards a point on the screen, in time with the music, and when they get there, you have to press a button, determined by the symbol. The game features six tracks by J-pop group Laugh & Beats that were written to make good game levels, and one track sung by Vibri herself that teaches you how to play the game. All seven songs are tracks two through eight on the game CD (the first track is the game data), which is a nice touch for those of us who were immediately addicted to the catchy tunes and sometimes humorous pronounciations of the English parts of the lyrics.

The great thing about Vib-Ribbon isn't the specifics of the gameplay system or the music it comes with, though - it's the replay value. Since the whole game can be loaded into the PlayStation's RAM, you can take any music CD, and switch it with the Vib-Ribbon disc, and play that CD's songs as game levels. There's no randomization here, the levels are based on the song's beat and tempo, they are unique to a song, and are always the same for a given song.

Unfortunately, Vib-Ribbon was never released in the U.S., only in Japan and Europe. The Japanese version is in NTSC video format, of course, so it will play on modded U.S. PlayStations, but it's in Japanese. That's not so bad, though. Once you look up what the menu selections mean (for instance, on, it's not so hard. The European version is in English, but you would need a PAL PlayStation to play it, and if that wasn't annoying enough, it's also missing one or two of the songs, because they had all-Japanese lyrics. Usagi tells me that his European copy has all seven songs. I may have read wrong information, or there may be two Euro versions. Be wary, importers.

Back to the gameplay!
In Vib-Ribbon, Vibri dances down a white line about a pixel thick that stretches off into eternity in both directions. (I think that's the "Vib-Ribbon") She's always walking forwards, so you only use the four buttons that make her avoid obstacles when she reaches them. The four are the L1, R1, down arrow, and X buttons - IMO, the four that are easiest to rest your index fingers and thumbs on, obviously laid out so you can always be ready to hit any of the four. If they had used the Playstation controller's four symbol buttons for the four actions, the game would be impossible to play. Also, each of these obstacles can be combined with any other obstacle, to form 6 different combined obstacles, that require you to push two buttons at once when you get to them. Timing ends up being almost everything in Vib-Ribbon. You have to push the right button or buttons right as Vibri gets to the obstacle to successfully avoid it, and when they start sending you obstacles that move down the Ribbon at different speeds relative to each other, or that spin around the point where they're attached to the Ribbon as they move towards Vibri so you sometimes can't tell what obstacle they are or when they're going to hit Vibri - well, then the timing becomes very hard to pull off.

Here are the four obstacles, and silly mnemonic devices to remember which button goes to which:

L1: The letter L has a right angle, just like a rectangle that Vibri must climb over.
R1: R is for round! Loops are round.
Down arrow: Well, the obstacle is basically an arrow pointing down...
X: I soon realized that trying to memorize what buttons go with what obstacles in a way other than playing the game over and over until I learned them all was futile, so the best way I came up with to remember the X button obstacle was "Xig-Xag", and that's just terrible.
   ______        -      -
  |      |      /        \          __                 \/
  |  L1  |      |   R1   |          \/                 /\
  |      |      \_      _/
  |      |        -____-
__|      |_______--    --_______          _______/\  /\  /\  /\__  
                                \        /         \/  \/  \/
                                 \      /
                                  \    /
                                   \  /

In conclusion, Vib-Ribbon is a great game if you can get a hold of it and are able to play it, and it has as much replay value as your CD collection. Some day later I'll add the diagrams of the six compound obstacles, but it's four in the morning and I'm taking a break from an assignment that's worth twenty percent of my biology grade to write this.
Go, Vibri, go!

Well, looks like I won't need to add the rest of the shapes.

MP3s of the 7 Vib-Ribbon audio tracks are available at the Gaming Intelligence Agency, linked to the old Vib-Ribbon preview page that can be found in the "games" section. That site also has their own guesses at the lyrics, and titles they made up for the songs, and it's also a great website for news about video games, though it's mostly confined to RPGs, adventure games, and puzzle games. (A bit of information in here was taken from the GIA's Vib-Ribbon preview page:

The last song is sung by Vibri, in the same voice that she uses to read the option you select in the game's menus. She's explaining how to play the game, and in the game this song accompanies the gameplay demo that can be selected through the title screen. She also sings the music that plays on the title screen, a bit a few seconds long that loops.
I've been trying to work out how the game actually works. The levels on the game CD are pre-programmed, if you copy them to another CD and play them in the game they come out differently, so the starter levels don't really give any insight to the working of the game.

The sound obviously has an effect on the levels created. If you play a track which is just silence, no shapes appear. However, sometimes the game picks up on sounds that are very quiet which you may not pick up.

Rythym seems to play an important part. Most pop music or dance tracks will come up with relatively easy levels, wheras tracks that have no beat, or aren't music (sound effects, spoken word, noise for example) tend to be quite wild and unpredictable. There are a few exceptions. I tried using the Atari Teenage Riot album 60 Second Wipeout. I expected Digital Hardcore to be the most insanely difficult track, but instead found it pretty easy. The first track, Revolution Action, was near impossible to complete, even though it's the most reasonable track on the album.

I think the program works on the variations in the sound, or possibly is programmed to react to certain frequencies. This would explain why some pure noise tracks don't respond too hecticaly, while some go completely insane, as some noise will trigger the right frequencies, while some won't.

The scoring system is a little unfair, as you can easily get higher scores just by playing longer tracks. However, you can't save your hi-scores, which is quite annoying as you have no proof that you managed to get a great score. As you play the game, you can't even tell what your score is (it's added up at the end of the game), since it is represented by a string of shapes that twirl around the top of the screen. The higher your score, the more complicated the shapes get, so you kind of know when you're getting a really good score. The furthest shape I have ever got to I think was a six-pointed star. Before that was a five-pointed star.

The animated sequences, especially the opening and the how-to-play section, are incredibly cute. The "it's a hi-score" animation does get kind of irritating though, as does the repetitive menu music. You might want to turn your TV to mute while you search your CD collection for just *one* more game.

To finish, some of the most difficult tracks I've found to play on this game. Some of them are probably quite obscure, but that's my music tastes...

Squarepusher - Greenways Trajectory (from Go Plastic)
Nine Inch Nails - Starfuckers (charlie clouser version) (final track on Things Falling Apart)
Packd like sardines in a crushd tin box - Radiohead (from Amnesiac)
Smashing Pumpkins - Zero (from Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
Revolution Action - Atari Teenage Riot (from 60 Second Wipeout)
the first track on 'lift yr skinny fists like antennas to heaven' by godspeed you black emperor! I've tried it three times and am expecting the ultimate high score if i ever finish it, but it is so difficult.

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