Following the completion of my Dyad demo in a darkened hotel room, I was informed by developer Shawn McGrath that I had likely just experienced synaesthesia. He asked if I'd heard the music change when the visuals abruptly changed, which I had. He then told me the music didn't actually change, meaning that I'd heard the visual effects. My senses had become tangled.
McGrath said this was an unintentional side effect of the way he designed the last level (which he had skipped ahead to show me). Without spoiling it, I'll say that Dyad's ending is a protracted sequence of total visual hypnosis, interrupted only by my pause halfway through to wipe my eyes. Turns out I hadn't been blinking and my eye became irritated and watery.As I told McGrath, I suspected at one point that the game was designed to be literally hypnotic, and that I'd forget the events of the day, or wake up in a bathtub full of ice. Dyad is uniquely beautiful, combining the tunnel-vision design of a game like Frequency with a continuous display of over-the-top psychedelia and original music. Its game mechanics require a combination of absolute attention and total zoneout.
On a mechanical level, Dyad is a high-speed arcade racer/puzzle game. First, you learn to "hook" incoming glowing objects by pressing X when one is directly in front of your avatar. Then you begin to "hook" same-color pairs to get a speed boost -- making sure not to actually let the objects touch your avatar.
Dyad continually adds mechanics to this basis. You gain the ability to "lance," which allows you to blast through enemies at high speed, and keeps going longer the more enemies you can hit. Then levels introduce "zip lines," paths between two hooked enemies that increase your speed when traversed. Next, there are shield items that render you impervious. Because of this slow buildup of mechanical elements, the end of the game hardly resembles the beginning in gameplay style.
Added to that complexity are varying level requirements. The rules periodically change from level to level -- sometimes, for example, you have to lance a certain number of enemies to complete the level; sometimes you have to pick up items to slow yourself down in a rapidly accelerating level. To be honest, I didn't feel at all like I'd "mastered" the gameplay in my demo. I always felt as if I was lurching awkwardly through the level, when it seems possible to fly through the game, gaining speed in a graceful arc. Then again, I played for like one hour total.
If I were to classify Dyad in terms of existing games, I think I'd do it as an alternative musical evolution of Frequency and Amplitude, as seen through a Jeff Minter lens. But it's not just the sum of parts; Dyad is a true "experience," one that uses a series of tense elements to force concentration while feeding you insane visual and auditory stimuli. I look forward to experiencing the game in full, both because I want to explore the complex mechanics in a post-daze situation -- and because I want more daze.