When I first starting playing Epic Sax Game, I thought “Shit, this is really hard.” Then, I thought, “Wait, no, this is absurdly difficult. It’s like the keyboard doesn’t even really understand what I’m trying to tell it.” Then, I finally made it to the Eurovision level, and I was like “Wait a second, there’s a YouTube video?” Then, I watched the video, and I was like “This game is brilliant.”
There’s something beautiful and provoking in Epic Sax Game’s absurd difficulty. The way the notes come in a step too late or inevitably hold out a millisecond too long. It’s a difficulty that highlights the cold, impersonal, yet strangely comforting nature of our internet culture. It’s as if we’re trying to communicate–trying to say something genuine or personal, but all that comes out is this pale imitation of some long-forgotten phrase. See what I just did there? Whenever I find a game difficult, I decide it’s making a philosophical statement. That way, my ego remains unscathed, and if anyone else pops up and says “Hey, I didn’t think this game was that hard!” I can just shake my head dismissively, and sigh: “Sorry man, you just don’t get it.”
But seriously, Epic Sax Game won me over. The difficulty adds a layer of absurd mechanical humor to what would otherwise be a fairly straight-forward wink at an internet meme. The game isn’t difficult in the sense that it’s impossible to get good feedback, as the game is pretty forgiving when it comes to dishing out ratings. What I mean is, it’s nearly impossible to play the correct notes in correct time. In a comment on Free Indie Games, the developer chalked this difficulty up to tech limitation rather than intent: “Sorry! It’s one of those Flash + MP3s things to do with encoder/decoder delay that I simply wasn’t smart enough to fix up. I tried for a while and then figured it worked well enough to still get the idea across.” At first, I found the difficulty frustrating, but now I think that the game is more interesting than it would have been, had it achieved a perfect mechanical responsiveness. Since you’re allowed to play the notes in any order you like, the lack of response ends up encouraging improvisation. Later in the game, I spent most of my time wildly mashing keys or holding chords out for sixteen bars instead of playing the riff I was supposed to, and it was a good time.
The other thing that’s really striking about this game is its premise. It attempts to recreate a viral event, experienced specifically through the YouTube lens. In this way, it reminds me of Rara Racer, a provocative, weird little game that’s difficult to describe. Both games blur the fourth wall by playing with YouTube culture, but they resonate differently: Rara Racer in an unsettling, creepy sort of way; Epic Sax Game in a kind of ecstasy that says, “let’s embrace it.” And while Rara Racer invents a video based on an existing YouTube presence (the “Let’s Play” series), Epic Sax Game invokes two specific videos: The first is a recording of a live performance, which the game recreates as a live performance. The second is a meme, which consists of a clip from the first video that loops for ten hours, and the game reimagines this as a live-streaming, ten-hour internet performance. It all gets very meta.
Anyway, I’m not sure how the equation ends up looking here, but I do know that the sum of this thing’s parts is brilliant. The game subtly bridges the gap between its fiction and our internet reality (whatever the hell that is). But forget everything I said here. Once you’re done playing, the developer has his own wonderful write-up that you can, and should, peruse.