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Review: Circuits (Nintendo Switch) – A sharp concept that falls flat

As a nerdy musician of 25+ years, I really tried to like this.

circuits nintendo switch
Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

[letsreview postid=”89991″]

Circuits is a brand new puzzle game out on the Nintendo Switch that has you reassembling moody, atmospheric, synth-heavy music piece by piece until the track you put together is the same as the track that’s given to you. Sounds pretty great, right?

As a nerdy musician of 25+ years who plays brass, woodwind, string instruments, sings and can read bass and treble clef sheet music, I was super intrigued and ultimately pretty disappointed with Circuits. Here’s why, and why the game may still appeal to some anyway.

The gameplay is simple. You have a line that goes from left to right, origin to endpoint, and along the way, it branches off and touches nodes

Each node ultimately has to include an icon on it and each icon plays a short snippet of music. Some might be percussion, others are beautiful snippets of piano, and others are moody synths. It’s your job to put the right bubbles into the right nodes and all you can do is listen to the track as it’s supposed to be and compare it with the track as you have it assembled so far.

You can make this job a little easier on yourself by isolating layers, for instance only listening to piano, and you have some fast-forward and rewind scrubbing capabilities, too. That is, in its most atomic essence, the entire game. Listen, then put the right pieces in the right places. When you think you’ve got it, you press the big play button; you finish a level when the white bar gets all the way to the right side and a message tells you that you did it right.

That premise by itself is fantastic. I get to take chopped up measures that sound like the lovechild of Ratatat and Sigur Rós and piece them back into songs? I can’t think of another game that has musical listening comprehension as a mechanic and my goodness it felt cool, at least initially, to flex my musical background as a gaming skill.

circuits nintendo switch review
Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

That is, however, where Circuits falls apart.

What happens when the bar gets all the way to the right and you haven’t gotten it right? The game just tells you, ominously, “Something is wrong…” What’s wrong? Which node is incorrect? Are multiple nodes incorrect? How far off course am I? Well, the game doesn’t tell you. There are two error correction protocols in the bottom right, but you can only use each once: one fills in a node correctly and one tells you which nodes are wrong. If you use both up, you’re left with just trial and error, which I’m here to tell you is really, really bad. 

nintendo switch review
Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

Here’s one of the game’s later levels. There are several mechanics to know about here, including 1) you can add loops to any node and it’s up to you to figure out how many to add and 2) you can click on those blank circles to activate different pathways and only one combination is correct.

I sat here for a while listening to this track over and over and over again, trying to figure out where I had gone wrong, but this level actually doesn’t provide you with any hints, for some unknown reason. I know that if I wanted to, I could brute force it and just try every combination blindly on fast-forward, but therein lies the design leak; the actual gameplay of Circuits in practice just isn’t that fun.

ou’re testing my listening, but providing me with obtuse options and nothing to actually guide my way, all while giving me node options that sound impossibly similar to one another at times. When I’ve gotten something wrong, my only choice is to completely start over and audit all of my work and that feels extremely bad. I can play five instruments by ear, so I can’t even imagine how much harder and more frustrating this would be for someone without any ear training.

nintendo switch circuits review
Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

It’s a shame, too, because there’s so much promise hereCircuits delves into relatively unexplored territory and all of my praise literally goes to that point. I just wish they had explored further and tested their premises more thoroughly because what we’re left with feels uncooked. When you throw in a sluggish control scheme, literally no options menu of any kind, and some random quibbles (e.g. Why are the touch buttons for layer selection so small?), Circuits goes from a promising, music-themed relaxation game to something that’s only going to appeal to a narrow audience of music-lovers.

I would recommend Circuits to anyone with an abundance of patience who is really looking for something atmospheric and music-centric.

Jake reviewed Circuits with a code provided by the developer. He only plays one of those instruments these days, but he still loves karaoke. 

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Jake is a writer and game designer in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He loves action, exploration, building, filling bars, and turning numbers into bigger numbers. Someday he'll release a video game.

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