Music Puzzle is a free-to-start mobile game whose genres are exactly what you’d expect: music and puzzles. The goal is to sort out a clip of music, putting each piece in its proper order and in the row for its proper instrument, like a jigsaw puzzle you listen to instead of see. I really liked the concept of listening and logicking through different instruments to put together a piece, so I thought I’d give it a try.
The game starts with a female voiceover walking you through a couple of tutorial levels using Beethoven’s well-known 5th Symphony. The game controls are pretty easy: you move pieces around with a swipe, tapping to listen to an individual puzzle piece. There are also controls that let you listen to one or more of your rows together, or listen to the piece as it’s supposed to be. In terms of the mechanics, the only real complaint I had was that I needed a way to turn up individual instruments: some of the background instrumentals are so quiet it’s difficult to pick out the sound at all. There are usually 2-3 puzzles for a clip of music—one normal, then one with a gimmick (the audio waves are invisible, you have a limited number of moves, etc.). I understand they’re trying to give each clip some additional playability, but to be honest, the gimmicks just annoyed and frustrated me, especially as you have to play through them all before you can move to the next clip of music.
Once you finish the tutorial levels with Beethoven, the game tells you the later levels are too difficult and not-so-subtly steers you toward their download options. The game only comes with the Beethoven track: others must be first downloaded after watching an ad. The first one I checked turned out to be an ad for … Music Puzzle, which seemed a little redundant. A few songs (specifically their English-language/notable ones) are also purchasable outright. The game does have a currency, Beat Coins, which you can purchase or earn by beating levels. They can be used for hints, restarts, and to bypass locked puzzles (or so the game says, but I couldn’t find any that I could unlock with Beat Coins).
When a music game premise rests on using recognizable, non-original music, it can really live or die on the selection of music available. (But we wouldn’t know about that, right, Wii Music?) As of now, the game only has ten songs available: the free-to-play Beethoven, four Spanish-language ad-supported songs, and five English-language paid tracks. I found this to be a rather anemic selection, which makes me wonder if it rushed to release too quickly. Music licensing being what it is, I understand introducing requested tracks to the game would take time, but I think it would’ve been smarter to front-load the game with some more classical music (which wouldn’t have as many licensing/copyright complexities). It’s not like a lot of music lovers aren’t going to be able to recognize “Ode to Joy,” the William Tell Overture, the “Hallelujah Chorus,” “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” or many others. I would’ve also made some more of those tracks free to play—right now it feels less like a game and more like a sample. I’ve had demos that played longer than this one.
Overall, with its slickness in graphics, the bordering-on-banality evenness of its female narrator, and its pricing schedules, Music Puzzle feels like a game a marketing company would put out. It’s solid, but it lacks the little touches and quirks a lot of small indie games have. It may just be that this game doesn’t have enough room to have such stuff yet, but that doesn’t help it now. And given music games aren’t exactly as wide a market as, say, tower defense, match-3 or MMO games, making it feel so corporate seems like a mistake.
Ultimately, I think a lot of people who may be willing to try the game out now aren’t going to stick around, because the game doesn’t give players enough time to sink their claws in before asking for money and ratings. (C’mon, y’all … prompt me once and then give me an option on the main menu. No one likes a nagging game. I don’t need 2-3 pokes in the first couple of hours before I’ve even had time to form a thorough opinion.) Free-to-play with microtransactions is an entrenched part of the mobile market now, and it obviously works: I enjoy plenty of games that have microtransactions and have paid for them more than once. But in this particular case, for me, Music Puzzle doesn’t have the gameplay or the clout to continue earning my money.