Review: Rockin' Pretty

My insatiable lust for all things even remotely related to rhythm games will forever haunt me, as I drop the Benjamins on titles that will satisfy my hunger for becoming a rock star, if even for a few fleeting moments. Aksys Games’ Rockin’ Pretty caught my eye the instant I noted an ad on the official Aksys website. Though I was sure at first it would be just another pitiable attempt at catering to “girl gamers,” I knew deep down that I would end up sampling it at one point or another simply because it offered the ability to play four different instruments in a rock band on Nintendo’s diminutive handheld. Reluctantly I took Rockin’ Pretty for a spin in all its sequined, shoujo glory, and came out quite entertained with the end result of a hard day’s night spent hunched over my DS, stylus firmly clenched in hand. It’s not perfect, and it’s far too cute for its own good, but it serves its purpose as a childish rhythm game that serves up plenty of challenge.

Rockin’ Pretty stars sprightly Mai, a young girl who has always dreamt of one day performing in the “Rockin’ Pretty” contest – a stage on which numerous rock band hopefuls sing and strum their hearts out in order to land a contract with a record label to jumpstart their career in the music business. Though she’s a guitar player she has yet to find a reputable band to accompany to the contest. After checking out a filmed Rockin’ Pretty competition with instrument center owner Ken, Mai is introduced to Ken’s little sister Kara, who just so happens to be the bassist in the upcoming all-female band Starlight. They’re looking for a guitar player, and Mai fits the bill. You can most likely guess where this is all going, so I won’t insult your intelligence any further, but rest assured in the knowledge that from then on, Starlight paves their way to stardom. It’s your job as any of the members of Starlight, Mai, Kara, Mio, and Reena, to make a name for the fledgling band and ultimately win the Rockin’ Pretty competition. If you work hard enough, you can make all your dreams come true!

rp2Though the story and artwork are ripped straight out of a shoujo anime, the gameplay is purely rhythm game material. You can assume the role of any of the four members of Starlight, meaning with each performance you can play guitar, keyboard, bass, or drums. After story scenes advance the plot along, you will be shown a map screen where you can choose the next venue Starlight will be playing at. After selecting a stage to perform at, you’ll likely be treated to more story, which consists mainly of a lot of text and anime-styled character portraits that occasionally change expressions, which is typical for games such as this, especially Atlus, Ignition, and Aksys titles – that same font is even used! Once you choose a destination the storyline will kick in and it will be time to perform a song.

Don’t get too excited, as the songs are little more than midis without lyrics, so you’re essentially playing instrumentals to the crowds of people who visit your shows. Depending on which character you’ve chosen, you’ll be presented with a different setup. Mai players will be presented with a guitar layout. Three arrows will be onscreen at all times – blue, yellow, and red, in the middle of two lines representing frets and strings of a guitar. Diamonds that represent notes as in Guitar Hero will shuffle in from the top left and you must slide the stationary diamonds to the corresponding colors in time to the music. It sounds quite simple, but as you begin to unlock different venues the difficulty ramps up considerably and the colored gems will start coming at you at a much quicker pace. Drums are played in a similar manner, except colored circles replace the diamonds. Keyboardists will be reminded of playing a harp, and keyboarding is the most unique out of the four. As you can imagine, the bass is quite reminiscent of the guitar parts.

rp3Playing the instruments can be a bit awkward since they all must be controlled via the styus and there is no prior explanation before jumping right into the gameplay. Luckily it’s quite easy to understand without having previously played before. Still, dragging the diamonds up and down can be a bit of an annoyance since they don’t always move as quickly as you might like. Still, the songs are quite playable albeit just a bit boring. There are no licensed songs here, and you’ll be playing simple Ontamarama-like melodies while feverishly strumming out rhythms. I’d love to say the game is as simple as its presentation, though it really isn’t. You’ll get frustrated more than a few times. While you perform you’ll want to keep an eye on the top screen where a screen will continually fill with small multicolored stars. At the end of your song the stars will flutter across the bottom screen, where you’ll need to tap as many as possible in a mad dash for points. Points can be used to buy new outfits for your rockers as well as various other goodies, though they serve no other real purpose save for the ranking you will receive for your gig.

The visuals in Rockin’ Pretty are a mix of 2D anime portraits, sprites, and gaudy 3D models that perform songs at different venues while cheesy effects are displayed on top of the animation. Granted, it most certainly isn’t the best-looking game for the DS. The 3D character models are nowhere near the caliber that the Final Fantasy remakes made the new standard, so don’t go into the game expecting anything anywhere close to those. The game is quite colorful and quirky, though, and I did enjoy the bright and pastel color scheme rather than bland rusts and greys that gaming seems to want to gravitate to these days, no matter the game.

Rockin’ Pretty is a very cliched sort of music title that relies on bland graphics, storyline, and music in order to present itself as something more, but darn if I didn’t have a ton of fun with it. Something light and airy like this game is needed every once in a while, just like the Metallica amongst the Ashley Tisdale on your MP3 player. If you’re over the age of 12 you probably won’t get too much use out of it because of a sappy shoujo story, wonky graphics, and boring song choices, though for music enthusiasts it’s an interesting little addition to your collection, if only to say you played through it once.

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