First off, know that I'm a seasoned piano player. I've been playing for over 25 years now, and I still play almost daily. I play part-time in a band or two, record often, and have even taught a few people to play piano. But Easy Piano for the Nintendo DS kind of tripped me up. That's not necessarily a knock against the game, though.
For whatever reason, I didn't do well in my demo time, as evidenced by the above audio clip. How embarrassing!
In the Easy Piano box, for $39.99, you'll get the game cart and a little one-octave (13 key) mini piano to snap into the bottom side of your DS, via the GBA slot. We had a chance to try it out during GDC this weekend. Hit the jump to read our impressions.
Easy Piano is a cross between a rhythm game and an instructional title. It does teach you a bit, but you won't come away knowing how to play the piano properly. What you will get is a pretty solid grasp on music theory. Lessons show you scales and train you on finding notes on both the staves.
In one example, I used the touchscreen and stylus to locate notes on a staff by dragging and dropping. For me? No problem. But later when a game aspect was introduced, I fudged up. This was more of a timing game: Notes come across the screen horizontally, and I had to tap them out on the keyboard as they passed a certain point. I was laughably bad at this for some reason. I was missing the timing and keying in the wrong notes! Again, this is nothing against the game. It was probably because I was thinking too much like a musician and less like a gamer.
An in-game composer tool lets you record songs up to 32 bars long to share with your friends and family. You'll be able to both play and manually drop in notes with the stylus in this mode. The composer mode comes with a metronome, tempo control, copy and paste functions, and five instruments. I wouldn't call it robust, but it gets the job done.
The play-along song mode is more like a music game. You'll use the keyboard controller to play notes according to on-screen cues in 36 songs. There's three levels of difficulty. On the easiest, you only use a few of the keyboard's keys to help the song along. On the hardest you're basically playing the melody yourself.
I thought I had this in the bag. I did not. I was fumbling all over myself. Maybe being cocky and requesting expert mode wasn't the best idea. Sure, they keys are small, but I was equally at fault, hitting the wrong notes at the wrong times. My rendition of "Oh, Canada" on easy was pretty bad, but "Oh, Susana" on Virtuoso mode was just embarrassing. Everyone in the room was laughing at me. The PR person was laughing at me. Even the on-screen piano player looked distressed. You can hear my session in the above audio clip.
Easy Piano will be released on March 30th. It's more music lessons than piano lessons, and it's more game than either. Look for our review soon.