Nerdook is back, and once again here to hybridize disparate game genres, this time as an entry for Ubisoft's Project Eden game contest. Jacob and the Magic Piano, a deft combination platforming, music, and tower defense gameplay, is the result. A starving artist's unknown Aunt has passed away, leaving him a cat, a chest of drawers, and a piano... a magic piano. Playing the piano releases the spirits resting within, but also the golden stars that are the key to accessing the possible riches in the chest. Can Jacob slay the spirits and save the stars? It's all up to the power of music!
The mechanics of Jacob and the Magic Piano are complicated, and a playthrough of the tutorial is required, but I'll try to give the general gist. The game consists of two main parts: a Compose Mode and a Play Mode. Compose Mode is manipulated with the mouse, where you place notes and chords on a musical stanza in preparation for the level to come. When the composition is played during Play Mode, they will cause Defender Blocks to appear in the play area based on the musical scale, lowest notes on the left to the highest notes on the right. These Defender Blocks cycle between long-ranged but weak arrow-shooting boxes, more powerful bullet-shooting blocks and burning flame blocks. You will use these boxes to attack the ghosts hoping to claim gold stars for their own. You get a view of the level before you start composing, so you can use that to make the most effective compositions... or just hit random and let the cat come up with something for you. Once Play Mode stars, you use the [arrow keys] to move, jump and double jump in range of the ghosts to damage them. If you don't take them out before they reach the stars, the level is over. Save the stars, though, and you'll be able to unlock a power-up item, weapon, or piece of clothing from your Aunt's chest of drawers. There are 64 levels to play and 64 items to get before you can even consider getting an ovation
Ultimately, I think Jacob and the Magic Piano would've benefited by a little more rehearsal time. The graphics and sound are amazing, typical for a Nerdook release, but overall gameplay feels a bit too random to be entirely satisfying. The tutorial doesn't really do all that good of a job of demonstrating how your compositions necessarily affect the battle screen to come. Unless you are particularly musically-minded (or are interested in the player-made compositions on Kongregate), it's likely that for each screen, you'll just let the engine create a random composition for you, which will probably end up working just as well as not, as you basically run towards ghosts and hope for the best. That said, the selection of customizable items for which to attire your avatar is varied and cool, and the game really is indeed fun to play, though it's staying power will depend on your compositional skill. Jacob and the Magic Piano probably won't be remembered as Nerdook's greatest symphony, but it's a fun little ditty that'll keep you humming.