Since Ouendan proved to be mighty fun on the DS, I was extremely curious when I heard about Nodame Cantabile, another Ouendan-like rhythm game with classical music. While the game is based on the Nodame Cantabile manga series, previous knowledge of the story is not necessary to enjoy the game. You play as a journalist for the magazine “Classical Life”, who is assigned to do a report on the conservatory where the characters from the manga study music. It turns out that your character has talent and is asked to join to perform with the other students.
Nodame Cantabile starts by placing you on a map of the school where two icons indicate what you can do. The musical note icon lets you converse with characters, while the Mongoose head (Orchestra S’s mascot) icon lets you play the rhythm games. In the rhythm game you follow the maestro’s baton as it generates musical notes (also heart icons in some levels) that flow from the top of the touch screen to the center. While this is happening circles with empty music notes or hearts flow from the right right hand side of the touch screen to left. You have to tap the heart shaped note as it flows into the middle of the circled cue. If you do this perfectly, a rainbow colored ring ripples outward. If you miss, the sound of the music is distorted to sound "ugly". The game seems relatively simple at first since the cues always come from one direction, instead of popping up all over the place like Ouendan. Later on a variation appears where the notes have a trail following behind it. You need to match the timing same like before, but as soon as you tap the note inside the circle you need to slide over the entire check shaped trail quickly. Watch this video, it will probably give you a better idea of the gameplay mechanics.
The minigames in Nodame Cantabile (whack-a-mole, simple side scroller, etc) are really no more than a diversion, except Masumi-chan’s Taiko no Tatsujin, which is a mini version of the arcade/PS2 game. The drum game actually lets you adjust the difficulty to the main musical themes, so it can get a little more challenging (by the way, the so-so gameplay is not me…).
While it is certainly refreshing to play a rhythm game with familiar classical music instead of pop songs, I couldn’t help but compare this game to Ouendan. In Ouendan, each song is generally broken into three to four segments, and you are graded with an O or X at the end of each. Also the difficulty gives the player a sense of intensity as you are trying your best to hang on to dear life and earn a O. On the other hand, Nodame’s pace feels more relaxing, even though some pieces are quite fast. It is harder to fail after a couple of mistakes, only the flow of the music is disrupted if you miss hitting a note on time. So the satisfaction of tapping perfectly is not as rewarding, except your heart might tell you to honor Mozart by not messing up his masterpiece by tapping off beat. I suppose this allows the player to truly emerge themselves in the classical music we all grew up listening to. Any music that you finished will be unlocked and you can play your favorite songs again. There is quite a large selection of music in Nodame Cantabile including the famous Wedding song and the upbeat Hungarian Dance No.5, which makes up for some of the relatively short first movement pieces.