Dyad review: Where is my mind?

Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Put another way, anything that lies beyond an observer's understanding will take on a mysterious, nearly mystical quality.

The phrase applies to Dyad for PS3, I think, albeit in a strangely opposite way. To the outside observer, Dyad appears to be little more than a rhythmic, psychedelic mishmash of shapes, colors and sounds, a whirling mass of indecipherable technology. To the player – to the one who comprehends what's happening on the screen – Dyad is magic.

Tripping my way through its challenges, there were moments when I ceased to realize exactly what I was doing. I was physically present, dimly aware of my fingers moving, but my brain ... my brain was somewhere else entirely.%Gallery-160529% The basic description of Dyad is simple enough. As a particle of light zipping through a tube toward some unknown destination, you avoid colliding with other particles while simultaneously trying to "hook" onto them. Each kind of particle offers a different benefit when hooked. Certain particles, for example, offer a small speed boost when hooked in pairs (two blue particles in a row, etc.). Later on, hooking two identical particles will create a zip line that you can glide upon for even more speed. Other particles will create zip lines when you hook them, but only after dangerously charging toward you or blazing a trail with a laser.

Usually, the only drawback to being struck by an enemy is a time penalty, but once you settle into a good groove with Dyad, even such a small setback can be devastating. I'm not simply talking about a lower score, either. I'm talking about the synapses in your brain shorting out. While the mechanics are easy to grasp, the visual design and the music blend together into such a chaotic display that missteps are genuinely jolting.

Warning: Viewer discretion advised for those prone to photosensitive seizures

Dyad adds new layers of mechanics to the game with each level. This is done slowly enough that it never becomes overly difficult, but quickly enough that it never becomes boring. There were so many mechanics at play in the final levels that it was hard to believe I was still playing the same uncomplicated game I started a few hours ago. Here's a quick glance at the things I had to manage in a single level:
  • Hooking particles in pairs to create zip lines between particles
  • Gliding across circles to fill my lance gauge
  • Grabbing invincibility power-ups specific to one color of enemy
  • Lancing through enemies and extender power-ups to pick up speed
  • Hooking enemies that automatically create zip lines but attack me for doing so
  • Not colliding with any obstacles
And all of this happens while the electronic music thumps and the entire screen flares with increasingly kaleidoscopic fury. At one point, I was assaulted with so much stimuli that something, somewhere in my brain just popped, eliciting widened eyes and the involuntary cry of "MY MIND!"

Honestly, if the mechanics weren't as clear and refined as they are, it would all probably be too much to take in. As it stands, I was given just enough objectives to manage without my mind folding in on itself. Before long, I earned a degree of Zen-like finesse, able to hook particles, ride along zip lines and lance enemies with a rhythmic, practiced tempo.

Those obsessed with high scores will no doubt replay levels until they can earn the elusive three-star rating. Beyond that, every single level has an alternate challenge level that will unlock a corresponding trophy.

There's a lot happening in Dyad – enough so that onlookers may question whether you're controlling it at all – but in all its visual and aural splendor lies a simple, stimulating experience that's difficult to put down. Dyad manages to create a beautiful synthesis of music, visual design and gameplay mechanics, and it does so without missing a beat.

This review is based on a PSN download of the final version of Dyad, provided by Sony.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.