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Score: 79%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Blitz 1UP
Developer: SmashMouth Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Rhythm/ Editor

Graphics & Sound:

The visual style of Ongaku is an animated, comic-book-esque art style, with story animations with a certain Flash animation feel to them. The main in-game graphics feature a changing background, which starts off as tainted (by an evil wizard) and, through your valiant skill as Ongaku, a controllable musical note character, becomes reverted back to the untainted, "pretty" version of the world. The backgrounds (both good and evil) are the same cartoony style, with the good versions being very bright and colorful, and the evil versions being more dark and dreary, and in black and white. This is true of the Story Mode, but there's actually a mode that allows you to generate new levels with your selection of resources - either a movie file or a pair of images (one good, one evil) and an MP3 of your choosing.

The music of the included levels is very sing-song and seems to all be variations on the Ongaku title theme, with a wide variety of different styles. However, with the ability to generate your own levels using either video (mp4 or avi formats) or images and mp3 audio files, you could use original creations or play to Mozart, Madonna or mariachis, so feel free to try anything your heart desires. Be warned, however, that if you don't do well, the cackling sound effect that plays when you make a mistake will make whatever song you're playing to sound horrible - at least while you're messing up. You've been warned.


At its heart, Ongaku is a two-handed rhythm game. There are different control setups, but they are either two-handed keyboard control or one hand keyboard, one hand mouse; I found the keyboard and mouse control to be the most comfortable. You control Ongaku, a living music note. Much like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, there are colored notes that require you to press a certain key at a certain time. However, in Ongaku, they don't restrict themselves to a specific line on a note track. Instead, they scroll across the screen from right to left and you have to move your Ongaku up and down to line up with them (Kaboom-style) and then either press and hold the appropriate button to match the notes as they cross your Ongaku(a method called "scooping" the notes) or time your button presses to press the correct keys at just the right time. Scooping can (sometimes) be easier to do on certain songs, but pressing the individual notes will gain you a better score.


There are five difficulty levels: Beginner, Easy, Medium, Hard and Very Hard. Easy's a reasonably easy difficulty level and medium kicks it up a notch, but I found the last couple of levels very difficult even on Easy, so if you get frustrated, you might want to work on the Story Mode at an easier difficulty level, to get a little familiar with the music.

The idea of hitting buttons (or keys) at a certain time to correspond with certain color-coded note indicators on-screen isn't new. However, the fact that when combinations (up and left, for example) are to be played at the same time, a combined, dual-colored arrow pointing in that direction (up and to the left, in this case) is displayed requires a little extra thinking - especially given the WASD keyboard layout. Furthermore, the element of moving the Ongaku up and down the screen to hit a given note or stay in the center of each note bar as it is being played with one hand while hitting the notes with the other adds a surprising twist of difficulty. I know, it doesn't sound like much additional challenge, but when you find yourself moving the mouse up to allow you to hit (S) for the Down arrow icon and then move the mouse down to allow you to hit (W) for an up arrow icon, back and forth a few times, it can seem counterintuitive and can get quite confusing.

Game Mechanics:

The video layers (evil and good) make for an interesting gimmick in Ongaku, and the gameplay can be quite fun at times, but the constant cackling when you mess up can get really annoying to anyone within earshot, and not only is there a cackling (which Psibabe says sounds like a monkey), the music temporarily stops until you play a note correctly again. This can cause a small mistake to get much bigger, as you lose a concept of what the song is doing as you make a longer series of mistakes.

While the artwork is cute and cartoony, I found that the levels I enjoyed the most were those I generated myself using music that I provided, whether music and images or avi or mp4 videos. These levels are music I'm familiar with (and want to hear), making the game more enjoyable for me. Ongaku may have been better served to have shipped with some licensed music, as the other above mentioned rhythm games do. As it is, you can, essentially "sort-of" buy downloadable content for Ongaku by buying your favorite music videos and then using them to generate levels for the game with the level auto-generation feature. You can even save and share levels, but there's no easy way to play a playlist of custom levels, since they aren't accessible from Story Mode. You'll have to load them indiviudally in the editor and then select Play Level to play them.

All-in-all, Ongaku is a fun, if quirky, casual rhythm game for the PC. If you have a nice collection of mp4 or avi music videos and like playing rhythm games, Ongaku definitely worth checking out... but, if you play where anyone can hear you - play with earphones or the cackling will annoy more than just you.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows (XP / Vista / Windows 7), 2.4GHz Processor, 1GB RAM, 3GB Free Hard Drive Space, DirectX 9c Graphics card with shader 2.0 and 256MB, DirectX 9 compatible sound card, Windows Media Player 9 or later, DirectX End-User Runtime Web Installer, Microsoft Visual C++ 2008 Redistributable Package.

Note: For using level generation features involving AVI and MP4 files, you may need to download the latest video CODECs.


Test System:

MS Windows XP Home Edition, AMD Dual-Core, 3.11 GHz, 2 GB RAM, Award Modular BIOS v6.00PG, Gateway HD2201 21" HDMI Monitor, Sony SDM-HS73 Monitor, ATI Radeon HD 2400 (256 MB), USB MixAmp, A30 Gaming Headset, Realtek HD Audio, Creative SB X-Fi, 1.5 TB Western Digital Caviar Green SATA Hard Drive, Sony DVD RW, Cable Modem, Logitech Wireless Gaming Mouse G700

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