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Rockin' Pretty (DS) artwork

Rockin' Pretty (DS) review

"Rhythm games are defined by their music and mechanics. Rockin' Pretty misses on the first count by featuring instrumental-only pop tunes. Without vocals, the whole experience should have been be very forgettable. That is, if RP hadn't nailed the second requirement. The gameplay here is ingenious."

Rockin' Pretty was made to be ignored. It features a quartet of generic anime teenyboppers churning out vacuous pop tunes. Your task is to lead their band, Starlight, to stardom by conquering every stage of the titular talent competition, dressing them up in a limited array of outfits and accessories along the way. The ultimate reward for winning is actually a 'studio' where the group can be dressed, posed and photographed for time immemorial. Something strange happened during this quest for fifteen minutes of fame, though. RP's brand of rhythm gameplay really rocks.

Two qualities stand out. First, each instrument plays in a different way, offering its own unique challenge. Second, the main idea behind the mechanisms is misdirection; success depends as much on spatial perception as rhythmic instincts.

Take red-head Mai's lead guitar. It has only three different-colored frets lined up horizontally, and there's a track of notes running in parallel both above and below. As the beats enter, you must match the color of the beat with the same colored fret. Because the pickups are staggered, though, the order the notes enter is not necessarily the order in which they should be played. It requires more of a thought process than a typical rhythm game.

Spunky Kara's bass parts work with similar principles, except the bass has four frets, only one beat line, and some notes require a special stylus flick to register. Fortunately, the refined Mio's keyboard setup is completely different. Her five keys sit in the middle of the screen, then thin lines creep in from the top and bottom; you tap the key the moment the two lines meet at the ivories. As the melody gets more complicated, it becomes a symphony of lines to track. You'll even have to glissando across the entire range.

By far, though, mischievous Reena's drums are the most fun. Here, four drum heads are equally spaced along a semicircle at the bottom of the screen. The notes feed in from the different ends of the trail. Like the guitar, these must be played when they reach the matching-colored drum. The beats for the left two drums enter from the right, and those for the right enter from the left. Not only must you estimate the sequence these beats will reach their destination, but you have to do it while the notes overlap as they travel in opposite directions.

With these radically different styles, there's more replay value than you might expect from only fourteen songs. Rockin' Pretty is smart, too, because it offers the player flexibility. The game allows you to advance by clearing a song with any instrument on any difficulty level. You can stick with a favorite or dabble with them all. Anyone having trouble can dial it down and still see the ending. Crank up the difficulty, though, and Rockin' Pretty can be just as challenging as other DS rhythm stalwarts like Elite Beat Agents or Guitar Hero: On Tour.

If only these girls could sing. Rhythm games are defined by their music and mechanics. Rockin' Pretty misses on the first count by featuring instrumental-only tunes. Lyrics would've been the easiest way to inject some depth of personality into the shallow performers. Even generic bubblegum pop would've added some much-needed pizazz.

Without vocals, the whole experience should have been very forgettable. That is, if RP hadn't nailed the second requirement. The gameplay here is ingenious, both more complicated than the norm, yet still intuitively understandable. That's the shine of Rockin' Pretty's real Starlight.


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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (October 19, 2009)

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