“Music” is quite the cluttered category these days on mobile devices – there are the old school music players, radio apps, editing apps and then some creation apps. On the gaming front, the competition is pretty light with a few variations of Guitar Hero style gameplay and not much else. I’m not into the whole guitar-chord-busting genre, but one game that brought back memories of my childhood piano lessons is Smule’s Magic Piano.
If the developer’s name sounds somewhat familiar, you’ve probably heard of their Ocarina app on iPhone a few years back that caused quite a stir with its unique approach to creating music by blowing into the iPhone’s microphone. After a spate of ground breaking and successful apps on iOS and the excellent Songify on Android, they finally decided to bring Magic Piano over to Android. Having craved to see something like the Ocarina on Android, I decided to give Magic Piano a go and here’s what I came back thinking.
A Unique Take on Music-Based Gaming
The concept behind Magic Piano is pretty simple — you tap on dots that appear on the screen to play a tune. Tunes are downloaded as MIDI sequences, so the notes are taken care of by the app. You just need to control the tempo. As easy as it sounds, this can prove pretty difficult as you move on from the simple nursery rhymes to more complex songs, especially once you are dealing with three and four finger chords one after the other.
Now on the surface this might sound similar to the Guitar Hero like games where you tap on colored dots to play to the music, but the key here is that you are in control of the song entirely. There’s no music in the background, no beats to co-ordinate with and absolutely nothing but the notes you play.
Although there are a fair number of songs available to download for free — along with a couple of new ones every once in a while — you will need to shell out cash to get access to the better selection in Magic Piano. The free song selection is not bad though and will easily afford you a few hours of fun (or frustration, depending on how good you get with it) before you decide whether you want to invest into more songs. Songs can cost between 25 and 75 Smoola, Smule’s own credit system. You can purchase 200 Smoola for $2.99 all the way up to 3780 for $49.99, with some free credits coming with each purchase.
One Tough Cookie
The reason I used the word “invest” is that you probably want to make sure the app is for you before taking the plunge. Although all the notes for a song are available to you and there are difficulty settings you can adjust to suit you comfort level, getting the tempo right and making sure the song plays like it should can be quite the task. Difficulty settings can be adjusted though, from an easy one where all notes & chords are controlled by a single finger tap to the difficult one with four finger chords in all their glory.
The other problem is that you need to be very familiar with the songs you are trying to play to get them right. The nursery rhyme or Beethoven’s Fur Elise are all fine, but I for one was not familiar with a lot of the songs and had a tough time getting them right. If you switch on the “Game Mode”, the app will keep track of how well you are hitting the notes, letting you know when you are going too slow or fast and providing a score in the end. I managed a 3 out of 3 stars on merely two songs out of the dozen or so that I tried. Of course your mileage will vary, but you have been warned.
Bells & Whistles
When (and if) tapping to pre-synthesized notes gets tiring at some point, you can enter the Solo mode that lets you play the piano in freestyle mode. I found the keys way too tiny even on my biggish Galaxy Nexus screen and there was no way to zoom in on the keys. So bother with this only if you have a tablet that will afford you a decent enough size to really play just one key at a time.
An interesting aside from the gaming oriented focus is the ability to listen to how others around the world are doing with songs that you nailed (or were horrible at). Tap “Listen To Others” and the app will randomly choose users from around the world and play back songs they are messing with. Depending on you status with the game and luck, this can be extremely rewarding (hearing other players royally mess up the songs you scored three stars on) or extremely frustrating (listening to some much better than you). The globe that shows the position of the players you are listening to is a nice touch and you can just hit next to find someone closer to where you are — quite the waste of time you needed at the end of busy day!
Now if you’ve read so far you have probably figured that Magic Piano is not for everyone. If you are musically inclined or even better if you have some experience playing the piano, this has the potential to be the ultimate mobile replacement for the real thing in all its glory. It is not for everyone, but if you want to show off your musical skills, there’s little else that can get the job done better.
Magic Piano is free though, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t check it out even if just to listen to random users around the world messing with classic tunes one after the other.