I recently received a copy of this on the PC in all honesty not knowing very little about it. Everybody loves a freebie right? However I knew that it was music based and given that I’ve always warmed to this, especially with Audiosurf, I was keen to give it a go.

A wall of text, oh joy!

The player takes the role of “Ongaku”, a musical note that must fight an evil bad guy by painting pictures to save music. Naturally. There is an underlying plot but it is really only presented via the intro video and a wall of text for each level. I’ve seen this before, namely in APB. Having the core delivery of your plot in a text bio is a very weak method. A similar game in terms of theme and colourfulness is littlebigplanet, which had quite a nice way of involving a small plot. Very short introductions to the level (for example to find the missing bride) with it tying up at the end. You didn’t get any great involvement, but it provided the setting quite nicely and did the job. Think back to Mario and alike. Those had plots, weak ones to be honest, but via very short sequences it was delivered to the player and proved more than sufficient. No walls of text there!

Ongaku paints a colourful picture

But lets not dwell on that. The plot has little relevance to your enjoyment really, its about painting and music. The theme for the music and artwork is very colourful and seems geared towards the younger audience.  You start off with a grey background, which is a little dull and dry. As you play and hit bubbles, Ongaku’s painting fills the background with colour. It soon becomes visually impressive and has that same glow and charm as LBP.

A grey start

The music is also colourful and feels geered towards children. Unfortunately the lack of a solid beat doesn’t help in playing along to the music and unless you repeat songs, it is hard to follow the pattern without focusing on the bubble indicators. Hitting a wrong key, or missing a bubble, results in the music cutting out along with a rather annoying monkey noise. Guitar hero utilises this method more effectively as part of its success came from the fact that you knew the songs, but Ongaku doesn’t have the benefit of you knowing the tunes. As such it is an unwanted disruption and breaks the flow of the game.

The controls are actually a little awkward. You can use the arrow keys to match up with the bubbles and W/S to move up/down, or the other way round (along with a few other options). However movement isn’t smooth or quick enough for my liking, especially when the game starts moving at pace. The game is quite obviously designed for the XBox but it falls down a little on the PC. I know there is a version for the 360 (although not advertised on the official site) and I would speculate that it is more enjoyable due to the controls.

The game is very challenging, surprisingly so for one that appears aimed at a young / casual audience. Whilst I’ve not a great deal of experience with kids while playing games, I’ve generally found them to get frustrated and quit if they can’t get that “win”. The easy mode is quite achieveable, but perhaps the difficulty is a little much. Maybe thats just me and my struggles with the controls though. :)

Playing a music video. Can you tell what it is yet?

As well as using the ingame music and story mode, you can also play via your own videos. I was rather pleased to see this as it would give me a greater opportunity to explore the gameplay and enjoy myself to songs that I love. Unfortunately it was weaker than I expected. You have the same grey background that must be “painted over” to reveal the video. As such you don’t really get to enjoy playing along with your own music videos. Somehow I feel as though this is missing the point of your own videos!

Propane Nightmares is quite plain apparently

There is also the option to setup your own track using a good image, bad image and a music file (along with a couple of gameplay settings). I grabbed an amusing image, a dark wallpaper and my favourite music game track, Pendulum’s Propane Nightmares. For those that don’t know the track, its got a good beat and in the likes of Audiosurf and Beat Hazard, leads to fast and frentic gameplay. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case with Ongaku as had me following a very straight and plain path, even during the main riff! I tried out a few tracks and they all suffered the same issues. Onkagu doesn’t seems to have the same quality of song analysis that other titles have.

There is a melody editor that allows you to tweak and edit tunes to tailor them to your own liking, or load other people’s. However the editor is rather confusing and lacks sufficient guidance to be effective for a casual user. There’s no doubt great potential for user based levels though. I imagine some keen musicians or those interested in games audio could use this to great effect!

I’ve also had a quick flirt with the original flash game, which has earnt a respectable 6.9/10 average review on Armor Games. Personally I found this to be much more enjoyable than the comercial version. The controls were simpler and there was a lot less clutter. It was just as challenging, perhaps more so, despite being simpler in terms of controls and presentation. The music seemed more varied, which worked well for me. Some of the tunes I quite liked and I think that helped me get in mood to play it. What I also liked was that rather than cutting out on you if you failed, the music built on when you hit the notes. This sounded a lot better when missing the odd note and provided a much more enjoyable experience.

Old flash version of Ongaku

Overall I’d say that the core game is quite fun and I can see it being quite addictive. When bright and colourful, it does look visually superb but you need to finish the level to experience that. The weak controls and the annoying sound effect and loss of music when making an error hamper the core gameplay. The additions of story, using your own videos and the melody maker aren’t very well implemented which doesn’t (for me) justify buying the full version over the original flash game. Nice premise, could be executed better.

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