The first promo images for Easy Piano were one of those "oh cool!" moments for me as a gamer. The game not only promised an intuitive piano tutorial that would teach you the basics and even the ability compose your own songs, but it came bundled with a slick little keyboard to make the experience as authentic as possible on the DS. Just seeing that keyboard plugged into a DS made me think of a classy, mature game--this wasn't some candy-colored approximation, it looked like the real thing. After suffering with the hand-cramping fret grip from the Guitar Hero DS games, I was ready for something more real. Here was a music game that got it: gamers were tired of using cheap plastic instruments to mimic musicians, they wanted to learn how to play an actual instrument.
I’ve been tapping away at Easy Piano for a couple weeks now and I can report that the keyboard peripheral met my expectations. It’s great—solidly built, comfortable, functional and attractive. It’s not the most portable add-on for the DS but it isn’t really meant to be. Rather, it’s designed with a sturdy base, so that you play it by resting both your DS and the keyboard on a flat surface. Like the Guitar Hero grip, it plugs into the GBA slot so it’s only compatible with the old DS and the DS Lite—no DSi support. That said it’s a great peripheral, and I wish more developers provided such solidly designed add-ons.
Easy Piano includes a touch screen keyboard and thus can function without the keyboard peripheral, but using the add-on is far more comfortable. However, the game’s menus and minigames use touch controls and the keyboard in tandem, which can get awkward when you have to switch back and forth.
It’s too bad the game’s quality doesn’t match that of the keyboard. With the title being Easy Piano, I went in expecting a quick and intuitive primer on basic piano mechanics. Technically you get that with this game, but you have to dig for it and once you get at the good content it’s not nearly as seamless as it should be.
Easy Piano has three main modes, the first of which is learning mode. Contrary to what you’d think, this mode is made up of minigames that teach you to read music. There’s a wide variety of simple challenges that teach you how to draw F and G clefs, read the C to C scale supported on the keyboard peripheral, add flats and sharps to notes and place notes in the correct position on the scale. These are all useful skills to be sure, but they aren’t presented in a helpful way. The minigames are bland and require a lot of trial and error to get right, mostly because the instructions are somewhat confusing.
The minigames also lack internal consistency, with rules changing significantly among multiple lessons. With so many activities geared toward reading music, I would’ve preferred basics on finger placement and hand movement techniques. These lessons do show up eventually but at the end of the minigame sequence, so you have to play through a large selection of pretty dry minigames before you’re even playing the piano. What’s more, the actual playing lessons are just as frustrating as the others. Valcon was nice enough to leave a developer file on my review cartridge so I wouldn’t have to slog through all the content in order, but I imagine retail copies will make you go in sequence. It feels like they tried to adapt a weeks-long piano lesson onto a series of minigames, and the end result is rather cumbersome.
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