Originality and Difficulty Clash with Pixel Quartet on iOS

Pixel QuartetPuzzle games are a common sight on mobile devices, but rarely do they challenge both the eye and the ear. So Pixel Quartet from Dutch developer Clever Hamster Games caught our eye. Created for the iPhone and iPad, this $0.99 title is unlike most other puzzle and rhythm games.

It doesn’t really fit into any single genre, but Pixel Quartet is best described as a rhythm-puzzle game. By focusing on the sound of individual notes, users attempt to recreate musical loops in order to progress through the game.

The twist is that players not only have to manage notes, they have to contend with limited space on a board. The concept of Pixel Quartet is very simple. Players are given a musical clef that will launch a ball onto a grid. In each puzzle, players will have to place notes and directional arrows in order to recreate the sound loop given to them.

Each level has a finite amount of space. The player must place arrows on the grid to physically direct the ball into a loop. Depending on the difficulty of the puzzle, more arrows may be needed. As they are placed, each arrow can change the direction of the ball, mute the sound, or play a pitch that ranges from levels one to 12 (lowest to highest).

Arrow ModifierTwo other basic tools are also at the user’s disposal. The first is a musical note that will alter the pitch, and the second one is a “Time Trap” control, that will hold the ball for a certain number of beats. This helps when physical space become too limited.

In order to successfully decipher the puzzle, each note must have the correct pitch, be in rhythm, and produce the musical loop three times.

Sounds easy right? Not so much. With each level, the type of instrument changes (chimes, guitar, piano, etc.) and one has to have a truly discerning ear to get the pitches right. For many, this is not going to be very enjoyable, and players will have to keep testing and retesting pitches to get it right. To ease the tediousness, there are colored visual cues that help guide the player. When the ball passes over a note or arrow, the grid space will light up and indicate whether the pitch is too low or high, or if it is off-beat.

This helps to a degree, but harder puzzles add even more tracks and longer loops to each level. In fact, even by the second puzzle, players must manage two separate loops and must successfully play the loop three times. This becomes exceptionally difficult when players get up to level three, as they also must try to keep the loops from crossing paths. Furthermore, with physical obstacles tossed into the equation, managing space becomes challenging.

SuccessTo help with this, there are some advanced tools that can affect two to four different adjacent notes. Unfortunately, the game does a poor job at clarifying how these should be used, literally saying that the user should “experiment” with them to figure it out. The four tools consist of the On-Off Modifier, the Pitch Modifier, the Arrow Modifier, and the Color Filter Modifier.

The first will toggle notes on and off when hit. The middle two will change pitch or direction when a connected note or arrow is touched. And the last will filter out different colored balls (for when there are multiple tracks and they must pass over one another).

They’re not terribly difficult to figure out, but it does feel like the developer copped out on the player. Typically, such puzzle games will introduce new mechanics one by one with a puzzle that specifically requires it, forcing the player to learn and use it. Here, they all come in at level three, and the user is asked to read the help menu on their own time.

The game’s presentation is also extraordinarily bland. It feels more like a tool than a game. The user interface feels old, like it’s an early 1990s PC tool. Granted, the game is about sound, not looks, but better visual quality never hurt anyone.

In the end, this paid app is definitely original. But it’s certainly not for everyone, and if you don’t have a good ear for sound, you’re probably not going to enjoy it.