I woke up this morning and I read that Masaya Matsuura just released a new game... for the iPod. I immediately bought it, without knowing much about it. Now that I think about it, it's a nice feeling: it's not often that you do a game impulse buy based solely on the author's name. Matsuura has a history of making incredible games and some really weird stuff, too. In any case, I loaded up my iPod with Musika and got ready to play.
This is how the game works. You get to chose a song and then different letters are displayed on the screen. As soon as you recognize a letter from the song's title, you must press a button. Otherwise, just let it go. That's it. The letters have different color and animation effects but the game mechanics is as simple as I just described. Oh, and I forgot the most important part: you get to listen to the song while playing!
My first impression was total disbelief. I couldn't believe the game was so awful! The good thing about knowing Matsuura's track record is that I knew he would never release something unplayable –great artists can make mistakes but they generally keep certain minimum standards. So I gave the game a second chance.
Amazingly, the game works. Against all odds, it really does. Notice that I'm not saying it's a great game. I'm not even saying it's a very good game. But I was very surprised that, at least, it's a good game: the one-button mechanics, as silly as it sounds, works.
It's not the first time that my first impression about a game is wrong. However, my first impression here was that it's one of the worst games ever! And that's why I'm so surprised to find out that I was dead wrong. Now I realize why this happened (it was actually my colleagues at Powerful Robot who hinted what might have been going on). When I judged the game, I solely focused on its gameplay. Big mistake. I failed to take into account how, where and when the game is used. More than a game, Musika is sort of a toy to play with while you are listening to music. Music is your #1 concern here, gameplay comes second (at least on the casual game mode). It's a game you play while doing something else. It's a more sophisticated way of drumming your fingers, humming or playing air guitar with your headphones on. Unlike traditional videogames, you don't need all your attention to play this game. And that's why it succeeds when traditional game criticism says that it should fail.
Do you have to rush and spend 5 dollars on this iPod game? Not really (get Zuma first if you don't have it). But anybody interested in ludology should at the very least check it out. My advice is that just don't be in the mood for playing a game. Be in the mood for music. Let it flow, start on the medium difficulty level, and you'll realize that there's something very interesting going on in there.