Pianista Review -- A Sour Note Concerto
Around seven years ago, music and rhythm games were at their height of success. Rockband and Guitar Hero were selling plastic guitars like hotcakes, both on home consoles and on their handheld counterparts. However, at this time, there was a lack of games that covered playing the piano. Sure, drums, guitar, bass, and singing were covered, but those of us who wanted to practice our keyboarding skills didn’t have a game to play. Now, the rhythm game craze has pretty much passed on consoles in favor of twin stick shooters or open world exploration.
However, the smartphone market has kept up the rock star trend, with the touch screen being an accessible and ideal way of getting those notes on point in your favorite songs. Granted, there are lots of free-to-play rhythm games available, but Superb Corp’s Pianista app is a rhythm game which is catered to playing the classical piano, differentiating itself from the Guitar Hero clones so readily available.
The object of the game is to touch the notes when they hit the white line at the bottom of your phone screen. This can sometimes include chords (two or more notes you have to play once) and notes you hold down. I was impressed with the tutorial, which explained this very well and succinctly.
Unfortunately, after that, I felt like I jumped into the deep end. The first song in career mode, Elgar’s Salut d’Amour, was quite challenging – and this very steep difficulty curve at the outset (in Normal Mode) may put off less skilled (or less patient) players.
Having learned basic classical piano when at school, I found the easiest way to improve my score was to use my fingers as if I was playing an actual piano. This was especially useful for the chords that sometimes occur in the classical pieces and for holding down notes effectively. I felt that this was a good emulation of how to play the piano in real life, unlike Guitar Hero, which is quite different to playing an actual guitar, etc.
Pianista is a good introduction to famous classical musicians such as Haydn, Chopin, Handel, Beethoven, and Verdi. My personal favorite was playing Verdi’s La Donna e Mobile, which is a piece from Verdi’s opera, Rigoletto. If you’re a fan of Swan Lake, you’ll also find that in this collection. As with other music games, I wasn’t sure if the difficulty of each piece corresponded to how hard you would actually find it on a piano, but broadly speaking, the slower tempo songs, such as sonatas, are paced appropriately. The syncing of the music track to your movement is also on point.
Music Note Micro Transactions
A major downside to the Pianista, like most free-to-play titles out there, is its reliance on in-app transactions (IATs) – otherwise known as micro transactions. Whether you’re in Career Mode or Collection Mode, you only have a finite amount of energy, represented by music notes. When you run out of energy, you have to wait for 10 minutes just to get one music note – and you need at least two to play a song. Considering the huge cooldown time in relation to actually playing the game, this seems pretty unfair.
You can also upgrade your piano so that you can get through songs with more errors. This can be paid for by coins you earn in career mode or through IATs. If you want to play a specific song, you can also buy it – but some of these cost at least $2, and you’ll still need energy to play them.
I used to play the piano, and I found Pianista was a good way to improve my skills and get back into that hobby. That said, I was having flashbacks to music exams with some of the pieces – which are pretty challenging even in Normal mode. Technical difficulty for me was nigh on impossible, and I just managed to pass the first Career Mode song after quite a lot of practice (I suppose that’s the only way you get to Carnegie Hall!).
Portraits of all the composers was a nice touch, as sometimes these names can seem quite far removed from today when you just listen to classical music on the radio, and the syncing of audio to touch input worked fluidly – a marked change from going through the sync screens in Rockband or Guitar Hero back in the day. Unfortunately, the emphasis on micro transactions coupled with the steep difficulty level are deal breakers for me, which were left unchanged in a recent app update.
If you want to learn to play the piano, then other apps such as Piano and Yousician are good alternatives. There are also other better rhythm games available on mobile that don’t rely so much on IATs.