Music games have taken the video game world by storm in the last few years. Arcade and home console players have been inundated with a seemingly never-ending stream of games that make you jump, tap and bump to an endless procession of beats and rhythms. Mad Maestro, from Fresh Games, is one of the newest entries to the music game category and tries to do something a little bit different. Instead of the usual electronica/rap/rock soundtrack of most other beat games, Mad Maestro immerses the player in the world of classical music. You play as the conductor of a small orchestra that must entertain aliens bound to Earth. Sounds interesting right? Well, it is a Japanese port and keeping with the Fresh Games attitude, it is aimed squarely at a niche market of gamers.
The graphics in Mad Maestro are relatively strong but difficult to appreciate. Often I found myself so focused on the beat patterns that I couldn’t stop and notice what was going on in the background. However, when I did look I was happy to see an environment that really helped to set the stage for this quirky game. You conduct your orchestra in several different locations and each one of them has a very funny, very quirky, cartoonish atmosphere. Models are a little blocky and not very detailed in their texturing. I think its okay though, as the game does such an excellent job of maintaining a constant feel. The levels have some nice touches on them but for the most part, are not that detailed either. Overall, the graphics in Mad Maestro go well with the premise of the game, but there could be a little bit more detail throughout.
Classical music has always been one of my favorite genres and I am quite excited to see it make a video game appearance. The music selection in Mad Maestro is quite large with thirty-some songs available to unlock. Unfortunately, there are only five or six boards so you do see a lot of repetition. The songs will go in and out of tune based on your performance and they can be the most beautiful or the ugliest tunes you have ever heard. I am not as versed as I would like to be in the classics but many of the songs are very familiar and even the most uneducated will likely recognize them. I would have liked a little bit more quality but I can understand that computing the music in real-time is a daunting task. I liked that the analog controller functions were used to vary the music’s impact, but at times it is somewhat inconsistent. There is a fair amount of voice acting throughout the game and like the graphics, it is not excellent but holds true to the game’s theme. Overall, the music is not as good as it could be but there are such a large number of songs that quantity does win over quality.
Beat games tend to have simplistic if not tricky gameplay and Mad Maestro takes this to the extreme. The player has a metronome style pad in the center of the screen that helps to relate the current tempo graphically. Each beat is labeled in a different color and it is a simple matter of pressing a button at the appropriate time. The difficulty is compounded by the need to hit each beat with certain pressure. This is the most extensive use of the PS2 analog controller that I have ever encountered. There are three degrees of strength and I found hitting the middle one to be quite frustrating. Occasionally, a direction must be pressed along with independent beats. This helps to increase the difficulty and also can help fill in the music with different instrument sections. Depending on how well you are doing, there is a status bar that displays the quality of your performance. The graphics also change depending on how moved the audience is. I found this to be distracting at times because the camera starts to swing around rapidly and if the tempo is changing, it only serves to confuse you. At the end of every song, a letter grade is given to your performance. Achieving high grades, even on the easy skill level, is difficult and will present a challenge to even the most seasoned beat gamers. My largest complaint is that the gameplay is so simplistic and the songs so long. By the end of a five or six minute song, your fingers are sore and your mind has started to wander. Also, my eyes got quite fatigued from intensely concentrating on the screen for such long periods of time. Overall, Mad Maestro does not present much innovation in the world of gameplay.
I liked Mad Maestro upon first glance but got quickly tired of it the more I played. There are a fair amount of songs and mini-games to unlock but I wonder if it is really worth it. I applaud the developer’s for creating a fun game but it is squarely aimed at a niche market and I really don’t feel that it lives up to its full potential.