Just as console rhythm games have cluttered your living room with piles of plastic instrument controllers, their portable counterparts have taken to bundling themselves with miniature accessories: guitar grips, piano peripherals, and silicon drum skins, all offering an even more inaccurate imitation of the music playing experience.
Two music games got it right on the DS this year, both eschewing fancy controllers, instead focusing on the system’s touchscreen to present their engaging concepts: Rhythm Heaven and Maestro: Jump in Music.
Developed by French studio Pastagames and released in Europe last month, Maestro has you strumming, tapping, and sliding your stylus to nearly 25 classic and somewhat contemporary tracks (e.g. “ABC”, “House of the Rising Sun”). A bird runs across your screen at a steady pace, you strum his tightrope to play a note and make him hop or drop to another string, and that’s the basic idea. It’s simple, and it’s fun like you wouldn’t believe.
Five details that are fab:
- Simon Says-style boss fights. At the end of each four-song world, you jump into a minigame in which you repeat a short melody played on bongos and strands from a spider web. Again, it’s very basic but fits the theme and serves to break up the dozens of “platforming” stages.
- Condensed versions of songs. In Maestro's Easy setting (which unlocks other difficulties after completion), the tracks are chopped down to around a minute, allowing you to finish your first play-through and hear every tune in a few hours. You can play these excerpts later in Tracklist mode if you don't have the time or patience to run through entire songs.
- Gimmicks. Each of the five worlds introduces a new one — strings you strum more than once, black holes you spin Ouendan-style to mess with gravity, and, uh, chickens throwing sombreros at you if you don’t tap them with the visual cues. They can get confusing when you’re managing to many of them at once, but they keep each set of stages interesting.
- Try before you play. Before each level, you have the option to play through a demo version, allowing you to run through the entire song (minus backgrounds) with cues on which way to strum and where to hit flying targets.
- Free Play. In this mode, which doesn’t score your performance, you can set different tempos (andante, andantino, and allegro) and even different instruments for the tracks.
Two details that are butt:
- Condensed versions of songs. While the Tracklist mode allows you to replay every song after you complete the Easy setting, you can only access the condensed versions. You need to run through each track again in the Normal or Hard modes to play their full versions.
- Singing. You have the option of sing into the system microphone, but the tracks don’t ever give you any guidance on what to belt out.
- The most interesting Nintendo DS import this year.
Note: Maestro: Jump In Music currently does not have a U.S. publisher and is only available in Europe. I’m unsure where you can import the title from, but if you find an online shop with international shipping, please let me know!