For dedicated players who can stomach the tutorials, or just experienced musicians who know how to write music, there’s a song editor mode. This toolset is about as user-friendly as the song creators in the Guitar Hero series and takes quite a bit of practice to use effectively, but has the depth to create some complex songs if you invest the time.
Star pianist mode is the real meat of the game and the aspect that most closely resembles typical music games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. The game includes an impressive variety of songs across four genres—classical, traditional, anthems and pop—and you play each song on a horizontal scrolling note highway. The Guitar Hero similarities make it easy to get a handle on the gameplay quickly, but the keyboard controls can get confusing. Each song naturally uses different combinations of keys, requiring you to place your hands in different positions or slide up and down the keyboard. There’s no flaw here—this is just how you play the piano—but gamers accustomed to Guitar Hero’s mostly uniform hand placement will get frustrated quickly. More in depth basic piano playing tutorials would have been a huge help here, and it’s a shame that so much gameplay was wasted on dry notation and music reading minigames.
The difficulty curve is also a problem. Easy Piano includes only two difficulty settings: beginner and virtuoso. Like Guitar Hero, Easy Piano removes a lot of notes on beginner difficulty, so the transition to virtuoso is quite jarring. This is basically the equivalent of the easy and expert modes in Guitar Hero; needless to say, a medium and hard option would have been nice.
In terms of production values, the game’s menus and graphics are all attractive and easy to navigate, presented as a lesson room. A helpful instructor guides you through all the minigames, and you play as her in star pianist mode. You can even choose the venue and outfit she wears. Multiple characters would’ve been a nice addition, but what is available works perfectly well. Unfortunately the actual audio quality of the songs is rather poor—most are very synthesized sounding, and the pop songs contain no vocals. I hate to keep comparing this game to Guitar Hero, but about the only thing the On Tour games did really well was audio quality.
Easy Piano isn’t a bad game, but it doesn’t live up to the class promised by the peripheral. There is a good deal of content in the game but it isn’t organized all that well. If you work at it you can definitely learn some music theory, but so much of the content is locked up in boring minigames and the focus is skewed toward music reading, when a more comprehensive and better sequenced tutorial would have gotten the job done. Easy Piano offers a wide range of information on playing the piano and with some hard work it can impart basic skills, but it doesn’t succeed as an intuitive crash course on learning to play quickly and comfortably.
It’s a shame because the keyboard is one of the best peripherals I’ve seen on a handheld or home console. Easy Piano feels very much like a first effort at a music game, and hopefully Valcon will produce a sequel that exploits the potential of the keyboard, and really embodies the fun of learning a musical instrument.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Easy Piano is an excellent peripheral bundled with a disappointing game. It has a lot of solid content but it's presented through confusing music theory minigames, when the game should have put more focus on learning the basics. The lack of a solid tutorial makes the actual piano playing all the more frustrating. Hopefully Valcon will make a sequel--their DS keyboard really deserves a good game!
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