If Music On: Learning Piano was the last source of piano-playing knowledge on Earth, the art wouldn't be lost forever. That said, it doesn't offer instruction in the traditional sense like Art Academy does. The game includes no nutty professor or girl next door to teach you how to read sheet music or enlighten you with musical theory. Heck, there isn't even a platonic best friend to give you fun facts on the famous composers whose music you'll be playing. The entire game is laser-focused on replicating a classic piano, with keys that light up to indicate which note you should play during a given song. With moderate powers of observation, anyone could likely take what they learn and apply it to playing a real piano.
The game offers no explanation of how to play, but that's because the vast majority of players won't need any. At this point in the DS's lifetime, most gamers can understand that when something lights up on the touch screen during a music game, you should tap it. This is especially obvious in a piano game, so the lack of any instruction becomes an interesting retro design choice. Abylight representative Nacho Garcia expressed to us a preference for this structure in an interview about their WiiWare game Fish 'em All. "Most past games used to provide immediate entertainment without the need of... tutorials, or complex controls," he said. "They were truly 'plug and play'."
You'll operate the piano keys on the touch screen, while the top displays any medals you've achieved in addition to the song's name and composer. Once you select a track, you can pick a difficulty setting corresponding to different medals. The easiest is the bronze, for which the game will stop until you play the correct note indicated by lights on the keyboard. For silver, the song continues even if you don't play the right key. The gold medal stops the game until you play the correct note, but it doesn't light up on the keyboard. Finally, the master rank doesn't indicate the notes or stop the game when you hit a wrong key. A score of 85 percent or higher is required to unlock the next difficulty level in a song, and more tracks become available based on how many medals you obtain.
Playing in silver medal mode feels similar to games like Guitar Hero; aiming for a high score while playing along with music that doesn't wait for you offers a nice challenge if you haven't spent a lot of time on the bronze medal memorising the notes. Tapping blinking lights is the entire premise of some games, and this one has the added bonus of making you familiar with a real life instrument. You'll only be able to play the included pieces, though, so any gamers looking for a free-play mode should check out some other titles in the Music On series.
The game's presentation is skeletal at best, but it gets its point across. The colour palette is fairly dark, with lightly coloured text and dark backgrounds. Even the keyboard lights up with dull shades of blue and red – so dull, in fact, that you may not notice it if you're not looking in the correct spot. Of course, you should take advantage of the musical notation on top to expect which note to tap next, especially if you hope to beat the higher difficulties in which the keyboard doesn't light up, but it's all too easy to ignore the top screen entirely and tap away until you complete the song.
The music in this game needs no introduction. These 15 pieces are some of the most recognisable classical music in the world, and you've likely heard them in everything from TV commercials to standard ringtones. There's a reason that these songs have been around for centuries, and giving them a careful listen is as enjoyable as you would think, depending on your taste. The game imitates a piano decently and avoids sounding tinny, but lacks a certain ring that makes each note hit home.
Music On: Learning Piano isn’t flashy, but it achieves what it sets out to do. You can apply the keys and patterns that you learn to a real piano, but with no prior of knowledge of music it’ll take some dedication. There’s some fun to be had by playing along in the medium difficulty, but the harder settings require that you have the song memorised. An experienced musician may have no use for this other than to revisit some beautiful classical music, while a casual gamer that enjoys tinkering with music simulators will be pleased and might even learn a thing or two. The DSi's lack of multitouch severely hampers attempts at emulating musical instruments – particularly a piano; even though this erases any hope of learning chords or playing anything complicated, however, it doesn’t prevent the game from demonstrating the simplest way to tickle the ivories.