I recently had the pleasure of stumbling across A Musical Story as part of Steam’s Next Fest 2022. It’s a delightful music rhythm game that’s definitely the cooler, arty cousin of genre stalwarts such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero.
Rather than hitting the right notes being your sole objective, A Musical Story aims to tell a story through images and music alone. The result is a sensual, sonic road-trip with some surprisingly tricky solos.
A Musical Story Review
Set in the U.S in the 1970s, you follow the story of a group of misfits who start a band and decide to set out on a road-trip to play at the Pinewood music festival. Each of the 26 chapters see you jam along with the band in a variety of different musical styles. Play the song successfully and you progress the story onward.
In each level, a series of circles pop up, indicating the key or button you need to press on your controller (or keyboard) to hit the right note. To continue to the next song, you have to hit every note at the right time. Playing on PC, this is mainly the left and right arrow key, but the game introduces different notes such as holding a key for a vibrato effect or pressing both at the same time.
Initially, you’ll have no trouble breezing through the first few loops as most of the melodies are in time with the beat. But as you progress, the music tends to get more complex and asynchronous, creating a greater challenge. While the difficulty does ramp up towards the end, it’s never punishing and you’ll feel a buzz of adrenaline each time you smash your solo. What’s great about this game is that it encourages you to properly listen to the music so you can feel when the next note comes, rather than just taking your cue from the circles on screen.
It’s a relatively short game (taking me around 2 hours to complete) but the gameplay can get a little repetitive towards the end. I expected a bit more variation to the arrow keys but didn’t find much. And while the story sags a little in the middle, it packs an emotional, heart-warming punch.
The highlight of A Musical Story is the outstanding art direction. Every scene is lovingly animated in a simplistic, yet beautiful, hand-drawn style, evoking big psychedelic energy. And of course, the soundtrack, with 26 original songs is a tour de force. As the story shifts in tone, so too does the music. From upbeat, funky guitar licks, to the cool electric organ, to the pensive strumming of a solo acoustic guitar. Throughout my play-through, I kept catching myself bobbing my head and tapping my feet along to the music. I challenge you to resist – it’s infectious!
After completing the main story, you can use the chapter select to go back and try and perfect a certain level. If you complete a level without making any mistakes, you gain a star (and a trophy/achievement depending on the platform). It’s great that the game offers this kind of replayability to those that want it, whilst keeping the emphasis on the music rather than high scores.
Within the game’s options, there’s also an ‘assist mode’ that’s set to Auto as default. This basically introduces a guiding marker on each loop if you start to struggle. For those who want more of a challenge, you can turn this off completely, If you’re struggling, you can also turn it fully on to be guided from the start. A word of warning, though – you can’t gain stars for a perfect loop if you have assist fully turned on.
A Musical Story is a wonderful rhythm game that’s all about the music. It encourages you to listen for the next note, rather than watch for an on-screen prompt. In doing so, you’ll be dancing along to the beat – you may even forget you’re playing a game. Take your time with it. Soak in the chill vibes and let the beat flow through you.