[qi:091] Two acclaimed boutique game studios recently released music-based games for the iPod, and I hope they are pioneers of a new frontier. The iPod interface offers such intriguing possibilities for play style, and with 100 million versions of the iPod sold, the install base is quite large! NanaOn-sha’s Musika and Harmonix’s Phase both import songs from your playlist and can both be purchased through the iTunes music store — but that’s where the similarity ends.
Musika, a word-matching puzzle game, fails to live up to the standards set by NanaOn-sha, the studio that arguably did the most early work on music games, especially with its charming, groundbreaking cult hit, Parappa the Rapper. The gameplay in Musika, disappointingly, has almost nothing to do with music. As you listen to each song, you watch for letters to materialize on the screen. If the letter matches one of the letters in the song’s title, you hit the center button. That’s it. It’s not a music game; it’s a memory and perception game — and not a particularly compelling one.
Chris Kohler’s interview with creator Masaya Matsuura reveals that Matsuura had doubts as to whether or not players would find a rhythm game for a handheld platform too taxing on their concentration. I hope Phase will change his mind and encourage him to explore rhythm-based play again.
Phase, a rhythm-matching game, is an impressive debut, but ultimately promises more than it fulfills. (A quick disclaimer: my band contributed a track to the demo playlist for the game; we get no money or residuals or anything from it, it’s merely a friendly donation.) The game analyzes songs you import into the playlist to spit out patterns that you match by tapping areas of the scroll wheel and the center button, using visual cues that will be familiar to fans of Guitar Hero or Amplitude. Hard mode is, be warned, quite hard, and some songs are easier than others. I had tremendous fun on four-to-the-floor rock and dance tunes like Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage!” and Andrew W.K.’s “Girls Own Love.” but failed miserably on Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.”
It’s a solid, high-quality game, but perhaps a little too derivative of other Harmonix titles. I’d like to see the company really branch out in this area, innovating not just in genre, which they have done brilliantly, but also in the way that players interact with music, especially in the visual representation of that interaction. I believe in you, guys. Now go make the next one!