I'm standing on the roof of my office as I load Yasuhati on my phone so as not to bother my coworkers while I play. There are no controls on the screen to push the tiny pixelated eighth note that is my avatar forward. Only when an involuntary groan escapes my lips does the Mario-like mini-me jump up. It begins an erratic march forward toward a large pit which I must cross, or die. When it hits the edge I belt out an operatic squeal, which surges into my microphone and sends the note careening over the chasm.
Yasuhati a voice-sensitive game by Japanese developers Freedom Crow, is really hard to play if you're not trained in the art of controlling your pipes. Pitch, tone, and volume all seem to factor into its audio-based gameplay, but a layperson like me winds up in the pit more often than not. Whether this is due to a lack of training—or a lack of commitment—is up for debate. After all, the description in an App Store bootleg suggests that you can win by, "shouting, screaming, and even groaning in different degrees." Performance artists like Kim Boem, known for his 2012 performance Yellow Scream, or Marina Abramoviç, who replicated Edvard Munch's The Scream with her own vocal chords, would excel.
For me, playing the game isn't nearly as entertaining as watching the scattered demo videos which have popped up on the internet. A Chinese voice actress, whose control over her vocal chords is mesmerizing in and of itself, kills it playing the game in the video below.
"Let's Play"-style videos of the game are fascinating because seasoned gamers reduced to amateurs, screaming at the screen not in frustration or excitement, but simply to move forward. There's a voyeuristic pleasure in seeing the strange performances they put on in an effort to accomplish with the eighth note what is so basic in Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog.
Unlike other audio-reactive games like Nintendo's Hey You, Pikachu, Yasuhati feels completely experimental. Rather than talking and behaving as if to another person, players feel utterly inhuman. You're not crooning to a pet. You utterly forget everything you know about how to control your body, screaming and shrieking to accomplish simple tasks. It's great.
If you want to give it a shot, or watch a friend yell at her phone for an hour, heed the advice written in the App Store description. "Don't play the game in the midnight or in someone's company, or it may cause unnecessary misunderstanding!" reads the app store description. "Seriously!"
Download Yasuhati and check out Freedom Crow's on their website.