Beat the Melody is a new iOS game from Shortbreak Studios, developed in collaboration with Wroclaw Music Academy, Poland. It’s available now as a $0.99 download from the App Store, and carries additional in-app purchases.
Beat the Melody is a simple music game designed as a means to help its players recognize pitch and repeat short, simple musical phrases by ear. The basic gameplay mechanics are extremely simple, but applied consistently and effectively over the course of the game, gradually building into an enormously challenging experience even for skilled musicians.
Beat the Melody is essentially a memory and pattern recognition game, though unlike most other games of its type, there are no visual cues to help the player. Instead, the player is played a short musical phrase — usually from a well-known classical work — and then asked to repeat it back. This is done by tapping on the screen — further to the right if the next note is higher than the previous, further to the left if it is lower, and in the same place if it is the same note repeated. There are no set places on the screen to tap — in other words, the player doesn’t have to recognize exactly how much higher or lower a note is, just be able to distinguish the fact that it is higher or lower — and there is no need to get the rhythm exactly right. If the player taps in the wrong place, the correct note is played but with an “out of tune” effect, allowing the player to determine where they are in the phrase and pick up where they left off. Once all the notes in the phrase have been attempted, the player is given a rating between one and three musical notes according to their accuracy, and may share their score for a level on Facebook and Twitter if they so desire.
That’s essentially all there is to Beat the Melody, but it’s in the game’s building complexity that the challenge arises. The game never adds any mechanics more complicated than the basic tapping on the screen, but as the player advances through the level packs, the musical phrases become longer and more complicated. In the first level pack, for example, players are typically playing no more than five or six notes. At the start of the final level pack, meanwhile — appropriately named “Musical Apocalypse” — the player is dealing with phrases of over 30 notes at a time, often played at a high tempo. In a nice nod to experienced musicians, all level packs are open from the start of the game, so those who are already confident in their abilities can jump straight to the more difficult levels without having to work through a large number of very easy challenges beforehand.
The $0.99 price of admission to the game — apparently 75% off the app’s usual price — provides players with access to all the level packs, the piano instrument sound and five “tips,” which can be used during play to bring up an on-screen hint for where to tap the next note. In-app purchases allow seven different instrument sounds to be purchased for $0.99 each or $3.99 for all of them. Additional tips may also be purchased in packs costing between $0.99 and $2.99 each, and a $0.99 “Note Key” purchase allows all levels to be immediately unlocked rather than players having to complete the previous ones beforehand. The effect of the “Note Key” purchase isn’t made particularly apparent on the shop screen, though it is explained when tapping on a locked level from the main menu.
Some App Store reviewers have complained about the pricing structure and stability problems. With regard to the in-app purchases, the game is “complete” as-is, and the additional instrument sounds do not change the gameplay at all — only the sound that is made when the screen is tapped. As such, they can be safely ignored, although the fact that a couple of achievements are tied to things that are only possible after making an in-app purchase is poor form. As for the stability issues, I encountered no problems with the app during testing — it ran smoothly and reliably on my iPhone 4S, even with other apps running in the background.
On the whole, Beat the Melody is an excellent, original game that will be of real benefit to those seeking to develop their aural recognition skills. The gameplay is simple enough for even non-gamers to understand, yet offers significant enough challenges to keep even talented musicians busy for a while. There’s a significant amount of content on offer, too, and the scope for further expansion in the future.
You can follow Beat the Melody’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social games and developers.
A highly original take on the music game genre, and a great way to practice pitch perception.