Review by sauceje
"Presto! Save the world, one guitar strum at a time!"
It's easy to tell when a simple concept is executed nicely, and when a great concept is executed poorly. Just having a good concept doesn't save a game, and the same deal regarding a good execution. But when they meet each other, you have in your hands the definition of quality. For example, this game. Trying to follow the relative success of rhythm games on the DS, Maestro! strives to be a combination of rhythm and platformer, both of which are implemented very successfully with a tiny amount of flaws.
In Maestro!, you are Presto. A pink-ish bird who sings a lot. Or something like that. Your rival in the music niche is Staccato, a silly-looking spider which plays the guitar. The game begins with the simple storyline of, this female bird called Bella walks in and both Presto and Staccato feel attracted to her, but she corresponds only to Presto's singing abilities. Staccato, angered by his rival getting the best of him, sets off to ruin everyone's deal with an evil plan to rid the world of all noises, music-like and otherwise. This poses an obvious problem to Presto, who, backed by Bella, sets out to save the world!
It then starts with the tutorials. Basically, Presto constantly walks to the right on top of what seems to be a guitar string. At certain points, the guitar string gives way to a thicker type of string with a sort of aura to it, that closes in according to the timing of the song. You are supposed to strum the string when the aura is nearly disappearing. The platformer side-effect to this is, if Presto is on top of the string, you can make him jump or fall through the string; this can also be done at any time, based on whether you strum downwards (causing you to jump) or upwards (causing you to fall). On the different stages, there may be various collectibles strewn along the string, giving you a reason to strum correctly as they allow your ranking to rise. If you strum upwards until Presto falls off, the viewpoint will follow him if the string was high enough, causing you to be unable to strum the strings (which you can do independently of Presto being there) and/or collect items (which has to be done by Presto).
There are multiple elements. There is a green string which can be strummed multiple times (at least one is enough, though) for repeated guitar sounds in a song. There are harp-like sections where you have to strum various strings in a column correctly, paying attention to how fast you go downwards (you nearly always have to strum downwards on harp-like sections). There are enemies onstage, which serve to make a "clap" kind of sound if you tap them when the circle closes in on them (similar to Ouendan, or Elite Beat Agents). There are red strings, which cause Presto to jump really high when you strum them, allowing you to focus on the strumming and not worry about keeping Presto on the string. There is a vortex-like fixture that appears in the top center of the screen; you have to spin the stylus on it, and it will draw Presto in like a black hole. And, finally, there are these rival birds which you have to tap when a cursor lines up with them. One of these characteristics is added per chapter, though some of them are not used in the subsequent chapters (the black hole for example).
Each chapter is comprised of three song stages and one boss stage, except for the last one which has two boss stages. Boss stages are basically this game's version of Simon Says; the top screen does a combination of drum hits and strums, and you have to copy it. If you know what's going to happen, you can copy the combination while it is being played on the top screen; finishing boss levels fast enough is the way of getting higher rankings. For each combination, you have three chances to get it right; once you get it right, your chances are restored, and if you get it wrong three times, you have to start the boss level over.
The levels themselves are a combination of rhythm and platformer, as mentioned before. When the song gets to a guitar-like sound, there is a strum. Beats are represented by the enemies you tap, and the items make various different noises. The timing is very nicely matched; unless you meet some sort of slowdown somehow, the song lines up nicely with the playable part in the platformer. Some parts have a rather abusive amount of strings and items in the same screen, and it does slowdown, but it does not affect the synchronization of the song. Speaking of which, they are all somewhat toned down and instrumental versions of classical and/or popular songs; for example, there is Beethoven's 5th Symphony, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the Nutcracker song, Jackson Five's ABC, and others. They are all nicely represented and sound good, although I suppose the DS could have handled a higher quality version of the songs.
Graphic-wise, the game looks just fine. It has a lot of variation between the difficulty levels and the chapters, being that items and enemies are different throughout the chapters, and the same chapter may have different backgrounds based on the difficulty. The boss levels usually look the same, the differences being the background and Staccato's outfits throughout the chapters. The sound effects are nothing special, as for the most part the emphasis is on the songs themselves. Before you begin each level, there is usually a phrase on the screen chosen from a pool of random phrases; they usually mock movies, books and other famous pieces of art, and sometimes they are even self-referential (one of them mentions how it'd be nice to play with a friend, and says something about implementing that in the sequel). The menu is styled like a vinyl player, and if you tap the vinyl with the stylus you get to play around with it as if it was a turntable.
In all, this is a very solid underdog worthy of purchase. Between rhythm game and platformer, Maestro! shows us how games don't have to be elaborate for them to be fun; you will keep coming back to play the Halloween song (which is called Peer Gynt!) and the addicting Nutbreaker song (which is called Sugar Plum Fairy!). It's a very enticing game guaranteed to keep you entertained for quite a while.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/19/10
Game Release: Maestro! Jump in Music (EU, 11/30/09)
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