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Maestro! Green Groove

11:5117/07/2010Posted by Simeon Paskell2 Comments

There was a time when rhythm action titles were almost uniformly eccentric/borderline insane – let’s look at the evidence: The genre was first popularised with Parappa the Rappa, which saw a paper thin, rapping dog being taught karate by an onion. Then, we got to assume the role of a guitar playing lamb in UmJammer Lammy, before picking up a Gitaroo in Gitarooman and blasting a Jazz playing Bumblebee called Mojo-Mojo Kingbee out of existence with our musical skills. Even the more serious arcade titles relied on beefy, oversized cabinets, the likes of which gamers could only dream of having in their living rooms… But, how things have changed – with the arrival of the Guitar Hero’s and Rock Band’s of the world, rhythm action gaming became ‘cool’; the zaniest that Guitar Hero gets is to let you witness Kurt Cobain performing with the voice of Jon BonJovi (which, to be honest, is just plain wrong!). Luckily, despite the genre’s street-cred, there are still stalwarts keeping the quirky-flame alight – Maestro! Green Groove is one such title.

Maestro! Green Groove opens with a charming cutscene in which we witness a great calamity befalling the world, stemming from something as innocent as the jazz improvisations of scatting-songbird called Presto. Presto’s scooby-doo-wop-skiddly-ba-doo-wop’s prove all but irresistible to the lovely female songbird, Bellisimo, something that does not go unnoticed by the heavy metal loving arachnid, Staccato. Staccato’s, heavy-rock leanings have made him unlucky in love and the heartbroken spider calls forth a smog that smothers all music out of existence; the world falls into silence. Thus, it falls to Presto to set out on a search for the worlds missing sounds, and bring the evil Staccato to justice…

Maestro! Green Groove has the looks of a fairly traditional platformer but is, at heart, a fairly pure rhythm action experience. The game’s mechanics are quite simple, but nonetheless quite difficult to explain. Levels are constructed from suspended strings running from left to right; Presto moves automatically along these strings and can be made to jump or descend by a quick stroke of the stylus across the string (just like playing a guitar). Further depth is added with the introduction of different string types – strum a red string, and Presto is sent soaring onto the DSs top screen, giving you more freedom to concentrate on plucking glowing strings that require specific timing. Successfully controlling Presto, collecting percussive fruit and plucking glowing strings, all trigger audio feedback, building and embellishing the accompanying music. On top of this, the game also requires that you tap leaping spiders in rhythm before they hit your screen, sending out distracting shockwaves.

It’s certainly an ingenious concept that, at its best, works wonderfully, with the tactile nature of the stylus control blending beautifully with the music; it can feel responsive, fresh and engaging and definitely immerses you in the music. Boss fights against the malicious Staccato introduce a new mechanic, with the touch screen playing host to a selection of drums and strings, that must be plucked – call and response style – to replicate the tune played by Staccato and his cronies on the top screen. The game also makes use of the microphone, with extra points being earned by the player singing along – despite being reasonably musical ourselves, we simply could not get this feature to work with any degree of accuracy.

Some slightly poor design decisions stand in the way of the game reaching its full potential. The biggest problem is that instead of having a fixed view that would allow you see all the strings at all times, the game attempts to always keep Presto at the centre of the action. The upshot of this is there are numerous occasions when Presto jumps that strings disappear off the bottom of the screen, making it incredibly difficult or even impossible to pluck them. While this is forgivable when Presto falls through a gap acting as a perfectly reasonable punishment for your errors – its less easy to stomach when you’re actually performing well.

The second major issue is the game’s slightness; though selling as a standalone package, Maestro! Green Groove is actually only one world that has been sliced out of the full retail version – Maestro! Jump in Music (which has to date not been been released in Europe) – and repurposed for DSiWare and the iPhone app store. While we’re not completely averse to such repackaging of content, Maestro! Green Groove ultimately feels somewhat slight as a result. Included in the game are a measly three audio tracks (Beethoven’s ‘5th Symphony’, Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’ and Chopin’s ‘Nocturne No 2 Opus 9’) plus an original composition to accompany the handful of boss fights. To 100% complete the game takes a few hours at most, at which point, replayability is reliant on your desire to beat your high scores. For 500 DSiWare points, it could be worse, but when you realise the exact same game can be bought for the iPhone for 59p…it’s hard not to feel a little short changed if you plump for the former.

Maestro! Green Groove is a nice little title that strives for originality and almost achieves its goal. Production wise, we have very few complaints – visually, it’s all very slick (with some nice character design and crisp 2D sprites embellished with the sparing use of 3D in the boss battles) and the songs themselves are well produced, absolutely doing justice to original compositions. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to whole-heartedly recommend. Upon completing everything the game has to offer, the simple fact is that you’re left wanting more – more levels in which to perfect your strumming skills, more songs to enjoy and more time for the game to convince you of its design decisions. In fact, it really isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest that Maestro! Green Groove feels like more of an extended demo than a fully fledged DSiWare title – its brevity is put into stark contrast by other 500 point titles on the service such as Starship Patrol and Reflect Missile. Our advice would be to give the iPhone version a try and if Presto and company managed to get under your skin, hope that the full retail version gets a European release.

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