Despite their often experimental nature, most music games still maintain the convention of “dying” as a penalty for not playing it well enough. That’s where the experience of a music game versus actually listening to music fundamentally differs. No matter your age, skill, or past experiences, pretty much everyone can enjoy music. Universal accessibility is one of music’s innate powers, coaxing anyone who hears the tune to sink further into the melody effortlessly.
Though helixDX is described as “a short bullet hell set to the music of Sapphire Shores,” the bullet hell framing never once gets in the way of effortlessly enjoying its soundtrack. As floating Tetromino-like shapes fly at your tiny white spaceship, their movements transform in beat with the music. It becomes increasingly difficult to predict the movements of each incoming block, making it so you can’t finish the level unscathed.
Luckily, dying in helixDX doesn’t pause the soundtrack, nor does it cost you any time. Crashing the ship only results in it scattering into a million, emblazoned pixelated pieces. So, rather than worrying about death, the act of dying instead becomes its own kind of destructive glory—the spaceship’s explosions often synchronized with the beat-dropping moments in the music. The kamikaze impulse is only further indulged by Sapphire Shores, whose remixes blend ambient tones with the techniques and beats of chopped/screwed hip-hop.
You zip around peacefully, the calm destructiveness of your perpetual deaths lighting up the game’s horizon. Likewise, the music wavers between constraint and disruptive interruptions, a jarring juxtaposition of constants and variables.
The two artistic elements of helixDX, both the soundtrack and the game, mimic each other aesthetically. As “returns” or “re-dos” of classic forms in their respective mediums, the ubiquity of the game’s retro-style pixel art matches the nature of the remix itself, which in essence repeats and re-purposes samples from old tracks.
A post on The Village Voice’s music blog describes the associative, ambient music technique (as found in helixDX’s soundtrack) as “hooked around sampling the sounds of the environment and objects around [the creator] and, through some sort of technical processing wizardry, turning them into original samples and melodies.”
Although helixDX was clearly made after the three individual tracks were already completed, the environments seem to respond to the soundscape. Drawn by the familiar, repeated, computerized samples of each track, you zip and zoom across the screen in a kind of deathly dance. And by governing the game world around the rules of the music, rather than the conventions of typical gameplay, helixDX maintains the accessibility and escapism of listening to music.