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Easy Piano Play and Compose Package Art
Little Worlds Studio
Valcon Games

Easy Piano Play and Compose

Easy Piano Play and Compose suffers from a bit of an identity crisis; on the one hand it is a mediocre rhythm game and on the other it is a rather poor teaching mechanism. However, it should not be completely written off. The package does offer some value towards both of its attempted goals, and being bundled with quite possibly the coolest DS peripheral ever warrants (at the very least) a passing glance.

First and foremost is that peripheral, a one-octave piano that plugs into the GBA slot of the system. Of course this means that DSi owners won't be able to use the piano accessory, but the vast majority of the game remains accessible, though it automatically becomes significantly less interesting. The piano is made entirely of plastic, but somehow finds a way to feel surprisingly solid. The only complaint to be filed against it is its shrunken-down size, which is completely understandable and is not so small as to be mercilessly painful like the Guitar Grip from the DS entries in the Guitar Hero series. Also, one could complain about the fact that the keyboard contains only one octave, but adding on more would have been a little ridiculous, especially seeing how this is for a portable system and the piano already doubles the size of the DS's dimensions.

Unfortunately, the game that comes with the piano is not nearly as cool. Easy Piano is divided up into three major modes: learning, playing, and composing. Most players will probably start out with the learning feature, a set of ten lessons meant to teach aspiring pianists the basics of reading music and playing the instrument. Here's the problem: learning even the basics of music cannot effectively be boiled down to ten lessons, especially when those lessons are only a few minutes long each. Also, each lesson ends with a short activity only loosely based on its preceding lesson. The activities are primarily touch-based minigames, and most have to little to no practical application to the lessons. Thankfully the later activities incorporate the piano attachment and could actually prove useful if frequently repeated.

After becoming a virtuoso without peer in the learning mode, gamers can more thoroughly enjoy the meat of the game: playing. In this mode, Easy Piano suffers a bit from one of the problems that dragged down Wii Music: cheap developers who are unwilling to license much music and thus rely almost entirely upon the public domain. However, quite luckily for this game, the public domain happens to be filled with some of the greatest piano music ever written. Songs in this mode are divided into four categories: classical, traditional, anthems, and pop. Traditional compositions include such wonderful tunes as “Happy Birthday”, “Silent Night”, and “Jingle Bells”. Anthems pays homage to America and Canada by including each country's national anthem as well as other tunes like “Oh Susanna” and “Yankee Doodle”. The pop category is obviously where the money was spent, because it includes non-public domain songs like “Our House”, “Material Girl” and “Over the Rainbow”. The Classics easily has the best song selection with such masterpieces as “Moonlight Sonata”, “Fur Elise” and “Pachelbel's Canon”. Each song can be played in two difficulties, either beginner or virtuoso; beginner is possibly too simple while virtuoso is an accurate note-for-note portrayal of the melody. Playing along is actually similar to Guitar Hero, only with a lot more buttons. Notes move from left to right, on their proper line in the staff nonetheless, and must be played in time with the screen, either on the piano attachment or on a virtual keyboard on the touch screen. Needless to say, the peripheral is a much better choice. More difficulty levels would have been nice as would the option to turn the display into actual sheet music, but overall this mode easily takes the cake as the best thing this game has going for it.

Composing with Easy Piano is quite the opposite: useless and almost completely devoid of any redeeming value. This mode is overly simply with the tools it gives players but somehow manages to be too complex and confusing with the way said tools are presented. Instead of being able to place actual notes and rests, both of which are actually covered sufficiently in the learning mode, would-be-composers have to place either sharp or natural notes and drag them to the desired length. Furthermore, standard four-four time is the only option for time signatures and the furthest rhythms can be subdivided is the eighth note. Adding to the disappointment is how little space the gamer is given to flex their creative muscle; songs can only be 33 measures long and there are only three save slots for original compositions.

As for the game's presentation, Easy Piano is decent but by no means noteworthy. 3D graphics are presented sparingly in the menu and during boring and poorly animated scenes that are shown while performing. The rest of the game is flat, bland, and consists primarily of black text and white backgrounds. Thankfully the sound quality is decent and the arrangements of the the songs are acceptable.

Easy Piano is ultimately a decent package. Sure, the game barely scratches the surface of the instrument and its composition tools are pretty much useless, but the rhythm game contained within is fairly solid, has a strong selection of good classical music, is made all the more realistic and even a bit educational, thanks to the included piano peripheral. In fact, for some one looking for a DS rhythm game, Easy Piano is a much better, and less painful, choice than the first few Guitar Hero titles on the systems. That being said, don't expect to learn too much or to be completely blown away by the gameplay.

final score 6.5/10

Staff Avatar Andy Hoover
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"There's SAND on my boots!"

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