As much as it might punish me for it, I have difficulty putting Duet [$2.99] down. As it did with both Bean's Quest [$2.99] and Time Surfer [$0.99], Kumobius has tapped into a potent combination in its new game, this time exploring simple action, electronic music and death. Quite a bit of the latter.

There's a bit of Super Hexagon [$2.99] in Duet's bloodline. When you find yourself tapping the right and left sides of the screen to rotate semi-static figures amidst obstacles, there's a certain familiarity. But this game isn't playing with stale material. Its steps are powerful.

You control two circles, bound by a ring. The ring is illustrative—it won't hit obstacles. The circles will, though, so you rotate them around each other to slip past wall after wall. Slip one down to the left and the other swings up to the right, and both must always bypass whatever stands in their way.

This results in a fluid dance, with one side leading. In a given level you might need to swing them past half a dozen static walls. Later it's more than a dozen, and they're moving as you go. Duet is rarely easy, and the evidence of your failure is left behind with splatters on the wall.

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Each set of levels is given a title, one of the five Kübler-Ross stages of grief and a few things beyond. Meditations on the subjects lead into the action and carry the narrative. Thematically this risks being a touch overwrought, but Tim Shiel's outstanding soundtrack effortlessly sells the mood . I'd be better at Duet if I could play without sound, but that would be too great a waste.

It's not that the soundtrack outshines the game, but it does stand alone—quite beautifully. Shiel, who releases most of his electronic music under the name Faux Pas, has put together tracks that are both upbeat and eerie, with classical strains that draw attention to the dance on-screen.

And a dance it is, most of the time. With the barest hint of imagination, Duet becomes careful choreography viewed from the top down, partners carefully sweeping around the obstacles before them. In darker moments it's a struggle, a madcap, violent embrace. In my hands, however, it spends as much time as a comedy of errors, each spin leading into a pratfall and a sudden end against the wall.

But Duet is designed for death—it's made for failure. In the tradition of games like Super Hexagon, death is smoothed over. You slip back to the beginning of the level, the music barely skips a beat and you continue on to fail or succeed again. The only hint of failure is that growing collection of splatters on the wall, and when things are going poorly enough you can even appreciate their artistic merit.

Duet is split into nine chapters and an endless mode. Given its punishing nature, it seems as though endless ought to be a one shot, one kill sort of thing. Instead you have hit points, and they regenerate. Run into a wall and you're sent back to the start of the segment, a chunk of your life gone. The trick is to get further next time, get far enough that you earn back more life than you lost. It's an unusual trick, one that's better suited to the game than a hard failure.

Duet is good—very good. It's not flawless, but neither does it expect you to be. This isn't an endless strive for a few more moments of perfection. The dance allows a few missteps, and doesn't it feel incredible when you get it just right?

TouchArcade Rating

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  • dribblejam

    Love this game.

  • toxiccheese

    Absolutely addictive game. Very much a trial and error game, but every now and then you manage to breeze through an area flawlessly on the first try, and when you do, it's a very rewarding feeling.

  • http://www.acceleroto.com Bryan Duke

    Duet is fantastic. It had me smiling within 30 seconds of first launching it. This is a must own game.

  • cloudpuff

    Great game, the option to invert colours is a nice touch too.

  • saosijs

    High quality stuff in visual, musical and game sense.
    It's just that I found out by playing it that I'm rotationally challenged :D

  • KyleMac

    I've been playing Duet a lot but i think it gets a couple things wrong and often ends up being frustrating in a bad way while also being less satisfying when you do succeed.

    For example, the majority of the chapters are easy until you get to the invisible blocks. But at this point I felt like they ran out of ideas as anybody can make their game harder if they make all the obstacles invisible. Overall the difficulty of the game seems completely random and even the last 3-4 levels are some of the easiest and have no thrill.

    When you die the level is rewound and there's definitely a feeling of failure that doesn't exist in Super Hexagon. Duet is probably more like an easier Impossible Game.

    But saying all that, I'm enjoying the game more now after completion as I just focus on endless and perfecting all the levels.

    • Kumobius

      Hey. Glad you have still enjoyed the game. After reading the Touch Arcade forum thread and deliberating on the invisibility we're going to tweak it in an upcoming update.

      In short: we're going to fade the blood splatters slower than the rate that the blocks fade into invisibility. This means the more mistakes you make on blocks in the invisible waves, the more visual markers you'll have to indicate their positioning as you play.

      • Kyle

        I think that might help. What makes it frustrating is when you keep getting a pattern wrong and since it's invisible you can't see why you're getting it wrong.

        Somehow I managed to do both Transcendence levels in < 10 tries and perfected them first time, but I think it was Acceptance VI that I was stuck on for a day because I couldn't get the pattern and it was a grind of trial and error.

      • Kumobius

        Personally, out of the team, I have had difficulty with Transcendence. I mentioned in the TA forum thread that we debated the invisibility gameplay quite a bit in the team.

        I understand what you're saying that "you could add that to any game". However, with Duet I think it fitted better than most other games because of the muscle memory and feeling of spatial awareness you build up as you play. You become confident in your movements and rotations based on the patterns of obstacles. At least, that's the idea anyway.

        With the new tweaked update I mentioned, I now find Transcendence much more manageable.

        I never had much difficulty with Acceptance VI but we've heard a lot of people say it's the hardest so we might revisit the difficulty of Acceptance :)

      • maxo220

        I've been loving Duet. Beat a couple levels and run into something new that stumps me. Step away and come back and I've internalized it and it's a lot easier. Until I got to Acceptance VI. Man that was hard. I haven't been happier to beat anything since Ornstein/Smaug in Dark Souls, and that's a really big complement.

      • Adrian M Ryan

        So, I love Duet. I've been playing it non-stop since downloading. Finally beat all the levels, now seeing how many perfects I can get (some tricky ones in there!).

        I totally agree that invisibility is a great mechanic in this game. When nailing some of the earlier levels, I felt like a golden god whose every move was blessed. "This, I could do with my eyes closed. I see the patterns in my mind's eye. I'm like Neo watching the source code."

        "OK," said Duet. "Prove it."

        Never has been getting my ass handed to me been so satisfying.

        One question. I'm currently #11 on the "finesse" leaderboard. But I have no idea what "finesse" is, nor why I jumped from #2000 to #10 in one day.

      • Kumobius

        Finesse is a measure of the number of times you touched the screen during a level. The aim is to pursue the minimum number of touches.

        The leaderboard for finesse is for the whole game. Until you complete a level though the finesse value for that level is considered 999 or something ridiculously high.

        So that leaderboard is only really important once you've completed all the stages in the game. And then it's about trying to get the minimum touches across the entire game. Ever noticed the green triangles when replaying a stage? Or the green triangle markers on the level buttons?

        Those are indications you completed a level in the minimum number of touches possible.

      • Adrian M Ryan

        Oooh that makes sense. I've been trying for "perfection" on all levels, but wasn't sure why my fitness jumped up so quickly out of nowhere, and so figured they weren't related.

        But it jumped up after I finished the last Transcendence level, so now it all fits together.

  • Das Falk

    This game is amazing and I immediately bought the OST. Can't stop playing the game and the soundtrack <3

  • April Sedillo

    It's a beautiful game. Few other people succed in making a unique and equally mind bending gameplay. This one's first on my list.

Duet Game Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4.5