At the Day of the Devs showcase, we got another look at A Musical Story, one of what can now be called a generation of engrossing rhythm games like Unbeatable or Sayonara Wild Hearts that want to tell a story rather than giving you largely unconnected levels and songs to jam through. It’s intriguing, because AMS’s striking visual style and music directly relate to the story it wants to tell.
It all begins with a man lying in a hospital bed, seemingly taking his last breaths. The tutorial is the only time the game is going to be directly talking to you, but A Musical Story’s gameplay is intuitive enough that even the introduction gets away with relatively few words. The first song you follow is set to the rhythm of a beeping heart monitor, which is both morbid and weirdly cool.
The controls are simple—sounds, such as a plucked guitar string or a pressed synth key respond to either the left or right arrow on your keyboard, sometimes both at the same time. For longer notes you of course have to hold the button down, but that’s it—this is a game all about keeping the rhythm and not much else. Each song is split into several sequences. On the screen, you see a sequence arranged in a loop, and you have to get the entire thing right before you’re shown one of the guitarist’s memories as a reward. A Musical Story plays you each musical sequence once before you’re asked to repeat it and, should you make a mistake, the music seamlessly repeats: you won’t be suddenly kicked out and forced to start over, which I found very satisfying. It’s all just one groovy loop.
I didn’t find A Musical Story as simple to play as it looked, because the game and I seemed to have different ideas of rhythm. I play a lot of rhythm games, but I’ve never had an issue with input lag or timing the way I did here, and it still baffles me a bit. If you get a sequence wrong multiple times, the game does help you with a little glowing dot you can follow, which does assist, but I still maintain I should’ve been better at it all things considered. The most difficult part is often the beginning of a piece, as you’re always asked to begin on the first beat. If you get the first beat wrong, it doesn’t matter how well you do with subsequent ones, which is a bit annoying. But since each sequence is so short, and you’re not forced to stop until you get it right as mentioned before, I didn’t find it a huge bother just to keep trying.
A Musical Story is a completely non-verbal game where the visuals do a whole lot of work. It’s vibrant stuff, sparsely animated, but it captures the colourful, psychedelic art of the 70s. It’s far-out in more ways than this—in one scene you see the guitarist sit in front of his TV in nothing but his boxers, smoking a giant spliff and seeing fun things in the smoke. Those were the times. You also see him jam with his band, and their eventual plan to play at a big Woodstock-type festival called Pinewood. It’s not a big narrative coup, at least not in the demo, but this is a guy who’s reliving his favourite memories on his deathbed, so I’m going to cut him some slack. I’m sure we’ll see what eventually got to him over the course of the full game, too.
From the demo, A Musical Story seems to be a rather chill affair, likely too easy for rhythm game pros, but a good fit for anyone who just wants to listen to some funk and enjoy some undemanding gameplay to go with it. If you’re better at keeping the rhythm than I am, that is. But even if not, this isn’t a game that will make you rage quit. You’re more likely to groove and take it easy, maaan.
A Musical Story doesn’t have a release date yet, but you can play the demo for yourself on Steam.