Because the genre of music games is pretty difficult one to enter into with an original concept, developers probably have quite a difficult time trying to think up an idea for a game that will truly stand out.
It isn’t enough to produce a “guess the track” game anymore since most people’s iPods already have this very basic game built in, and straightforward pianos, guitars, sequencers, or instruments of any kind simply aren’t entertaining enough to be classed as a “game”. So what direction can a developer go in to create an original and entertaining piece of musical gaming? Well, you could design a simple shape collection game set to stunning music like Music Catch 2, or you could go the electronic route and base a game around a nifty little 8-beat sequencer with synth sounds that must be produced by firing tiny little projectiles at them. This latter concept is precisely that of Music Bounce, and it is one that yields some pretty impressive and subtly addictive results.
The gameplay of Music Bounce initially takes some explaining, but after playing through just one level, it soon slots into place and becomes extremely simple. Each level contains a set of equally-sized blocks of different colour laid in a grid-like fashion that is 8 blocks in length and 15 in height. The 8 across is the most important here since it represents the number of beats for the sequencer, and with timing being important in the game it can pay to give some attention to the beats themselves. Each row of 15 has a small button on the left that shoots a projectile when clicked: it is up to you to open these “gates” at the right time to eliminate all of the blocks on the screen. The blocks regenerate after a certain amount of time, but all you have to do is hit all of them in the right way so that even for a moment, they all disappear (temporarily), winning you the level.
As I said, it sounds like a very complicated idea from developer Rowland Rose, but playing it abolishes any doubt that you may have had about its efficacy as a music game. When the blocks are hit correctly, different sounds emanate from them, and when you have managed to hit all of the blocks at the right time, a definite tune is produced with several layers including melodic sections and percussion creating a perfect balance. The only limitation is that there is a maximum number of gates that can be open at one time, requiring you to think carefully about which ones you must pick to eliminate the blocks and produce the level-winning mini-composition. It is effectively like a backwards composition: you are given the notes on the sequencer; you simply have to make sure they are played in the right way.
At its most basic, Music Bounce has the physics of Breakout, but with a definite musical twist that allows you to uncover a tune as you simultaneously solve the puzzle; the music is sort of a side-effect of discovering the solution to each. Unfortunately, the graphics are also a little basic in nature and though nothing is wrong with the design itself, the colours used are a little unremarkable and washed out as if it was a once-vibrant colour that got a bit wet and had its colours run a little. In spite of the visual blandness, there are still 50 or so levels to play through, with the difficulty increasing each time and therefore the fun as well. Though this isn’t really a useful composition tool for musicians, it is a wonderful music puzzle game with twangs of musical brilliance that allow you to trigger a new 8-beat composition upon solving each puzzle. There aren’t many games around that can do that now, are there?