Music games are as nebulous and diverse as music itself, as we've very recently explored. Still, it's no surprise that when Q-Games turned its hand to the genre the results would be stranger yet - for if there's one thing that's defined the studio's PixelJunk series, it's a willingness to be different.
"I personally always feel uncomfortable if the game feels too familiar," says Dylan Cuthbert, Q-Games' founder and president whose long and illustrious career has taken him from Edgware to his current base in Kyoto, "but at the same time I like to have a small amount of familiarity in there."
And so the PixelJunk games have always used the most simple of concepts as a springboard, be that the tower defence template at the core of Monsters or the 2D shmup mechanics that the forthcoming Sidescroller is built around. From there, though, ideas are spun out and explored, accompanied by often breathtaking visuals provided by an impressive roster of collaborators.
Ask what PixelJunk actually means, however, and the answer is as freeform as the series itself. "Innovativeness and enjoyment and preferably with a peppering of technology," says Cuthbert of PixelJunk's overarching philosophy. "We don't want to make anything that just anyone could make so we always strive to make our games feel different - to each other and to other games."
Lifelike, the latest offering from Q-Games, fulfils that particular remit more keenly than any PixelJunk game before it. Perhaps more fittingly described as a piece of music software than a game, it left many perplexed after its most recent showing at E3.
The demonstration certainly didn't offer any easy answers. With little pre-amble, the assembled games journalists sat through an extended performance from Baiyon, the Kyoto-based multimedia artist who previously collaborated with Q on PixelJunk Eden.
With controlled gesticulations of the Move controller, tendrils of colour danced across the screen to a progressive trance soundtrack that pulsated and evolved over 15 strange minutes. The sound of heads being scratched was more prominent in the room than the usual screech of biro on notepad.
"Obviously one or two people just didn't get it or the music," says Cuthbert of the divisive E3 outing. "That's fine, because we certainly can't cater to people who only listen to heavy metal or country music for example. Music is a personal taste and those people who are into the club scene and like the kind of music they hear there will love Lifelike."
So what exactly is Pixeljunk Lifelike, and how do you play it? The Move controller's at the heart of the experience, and it makes for a brilliantly tactile conductor's baton. The face buttons open up different banks of sound, which can then be manipulated with sweeps of the controller. An upwards swipe sets off a rippling bassline, while swinging to the left starts a round of heavily reverberating drums.
Pointing the controller at the screen and twisting it filters the music, and all the while the visual kaleidoscope sends salvia swirls spiralling out in time. If you've been unfortunate enough to sit through Gaspar Noé's film Enter The Void, the effect will be familiar, but if not then the tendrils of Pixeljunk Eden offer another easy-to-grasp reference point.
It's an experience that's hardwired around its technology too, so it's surprising to learn that at the project's start, Move wasn't a consideration. Now, however, it's at the very heart of the game. "Lifelike is our first and probably our only foray with the Move controller," says Cuthbert, "and I think we've managed to discover a very unique way of using every single axis of motion it has - we use absolutely every bit of data we can get out of the thing."
Of course, it's not the only game this year that, through the magic of motion control, turns players into conductors. Pixeljunk Lifelike is more loosely defined than Child of Eden, though it offers more creative control: the tracks that spring forth after a few minutes spent experimenting are the player's own, and there's a performance aspect to the game that Q-Games is hoping to cater for.
Performances can be broadcast over the PlayStation Network, with players able to tune in and out of other people's sessions. How exactly this will work is yet to be revealed, though it's likely that artists like Baiyon will be highlighted in featured sessions, and other artists could well come on board.
Lifelike's appeal lies in how it levels the playing field between those wanting to recklessly tinker and those of a more professional bent; the results will be different, but they'll always be engaging. "We demoed it to two execs, neither of whom have any musical experience," recalls Cuthbert. "When we handed them the controller to play with it they took to it like second nature and were producing some really cool and original music that was completely unlike Baiyon's style, yet still very good."
As a piece of casual music software, Lifelike proves surprisingly powerful, though it's likely to confuse as many as it delights. Those won over by the often traditional mechanics that have been at the centre of past PixelJunk games will find little to latch onto; instead, it's a means to create and share music, and the game part of Lifelike is abstract to the point of being non-existent.
It is, however, a natural fit in the genealogy of a series that's always evolving, and that's as happy to take in bold experiments such as Lifelike as it is thoughtful spins on traditional shooters. And how long can this series run?
"Oh I doubt it will end... ever," says Cuthbert, and long may it continue.