Abylight's been putting out music games on DSiWare for a while, so you'd expect the Spanish studio to have it down to a fine art by now, but it's had a few bumps along the way. Thankfully Music On: Drums is a better outing than previous series entry Music On: Playing Piano, as it plays out more like an electronic drum sequencer than a virtual drum kit. While it can't beat stand-out DSiWare music package Rytmik, it's a competent and capable alternative.
Laid out in front of you are eight pads, which play a sample when touched. These samples can be switched at will, and range from open hi-hats to 8-bit style bleeps, and all are of a generally high quality. Because you play the instruments in real-time, it's extremely easy to build up a catchy beat, adding snares, finger clicks and hand claps as easily as tapping a pad. If you want to lay a track down more methodically, you can switch to a grid that lets you edit the pitch of individual samples too, eking out a melody step-by-step. Sadly that's as much editorial control over the sounds as you have beside panning the whole channel left or right, but the 160 samples available offer a range of sounds that should do for most hobbyist musicians.
On arrival, Music On: Drums isn't the most user-friendly of packages, and it'll take an hour or two of checking the user guide and experimenting with the available options before you start to get a feel for what's possible. The interface is uncluttered, with almost all changes able to be made with button combinations, and if you're ever unsure then a tap of Select brings up the help menu at any time.
You can play eight simultaneous samples, with up to 16 samples in a measure, letting you craft some pretty complex rhythms. You can alter the tempo and "swing" of the beat, which gives the music a totally precise, electronic beat or a more natural-sounding rhythm, letting you do more than just dance music: calypso, salsa, dubstep and more are possible with the right know-how and perseverance.
Once you've got your beat down, you can lay eight patterns one after the other to craft a song. While eight patterns doesn't sound like a lot, you can mute individual channels within each pattern to make subtle changes, as well as loop small sections, which offers a great deal more freedom than it initially appears. One song comes pre-loaded in the download, showing you how it's done, and with a great deal of tinkering you'll be able to create songs of your own to fill one of the 64 available slots. Sadly, like Rytmik, there's no support to export your creations to SD card, but our helpful Guide: How to Get Your Musical Creations Off Your DSi will help you out.
Music On: Drums takes a different approach than previous entries, and although it doesn't offer the power or flexibility to defeat Rytmik: Rock Edition it's still a good alternative that's fun to tinker about with from time to time. It's unlikely you'll be creating a full musical masterpiece with Abylight's latest, but it sounds great and will entertain you well.