Public domain is often seen as the place cheap music games go to die, but it does not have to be this way. There is a lot of great music from the past that remains untapped; a multitude of virtuosos from previous centuries whose works can appeal within the context of a game. All that’s needed is the right creative approach.
Frederic: The Resurrection of Music takes this idea and runs, forming a game around remixes of Frédéric Chopin’s works and a goofball plot that sees the lauded Polish composer rising from the dead to save the fate of modern music. As a proof of concept that a classically-leaning music game can be a treat, Frederic shows promise: it suffers from some problems, but the soundtrack ain’t one.
Frederic’s gameplay setup will be familiar to anyone who has played Guitar Hero or Rock Band. The freshly risen Chopin will enter into duels with rival musicians as he embarks on his global quest, having to best each one with his piano skills; the GamePad become a keyboard with seven playable keys (including three black keys). Notes will travel down the “highway” and onto these keys — hit them when the notes are in the right position to gain power and win the duel at song’s end. Voila (or “otoz to” if you want to keep with the Polish vibe)!
The GamePad makes for a sound virtual piano, with wide and responsive keys that make necessary motions such as holding down a note or sliding a finger along several keys smooth and satisfying. Activating a “super attack” to rile your rival is a clunkier matter, however — the instructions say a gentle shake of the GamePad is all that’s needed, but the motion doesn’t register that well. Given that you still need to hit the notes while shaking, it feels more like a risk than a reward. Thankfully, they don’t often feel vital to winning a battle.
Of course, even a virtual piano is no good if there’s nothing good to play on it, but the selection of 12 arrangements in Frederic are easily the highlight of the game. Chopin’s masterpieces resonate clearly throughout, but each is given an invigorating twist depending on the locale of the duel (you can hear most of them over at iTunes here. It’s clear that someone over at developer Forever Entertainment has musical chops and an ear for fun; the fusion of classical piano with genres such as reggae, celtic, and hip-hop provide a fresh sound while simultaneously making one want to listen to Chopin’s originals.
The gameplay is interspersed with cutscenes that tell the plot in a distinctly quirky, semi-animate comic style. Humour is played up throughout, and we found some legitimately chuckle-worthy moments (it’s especially helpful if you’ve brushed up on your musical terms and Chopin history before going in). Other times, however, the comedy seems steeped in stereotypes and caricatures, including toking Jamaicans and otaku Japanese. While it doesn’t feel intentionally mean, it could still make some uncomfortable and just doesn’t feel necessary; at least cutscenes can be easily skipped with a tap if so inclined. The voice acting is also mostly fine, but sometimes cringe-inducing. In a way, though, it can be seen as adding to the distinct flavour of the game.
Unfortunately, some technical issues are also mulling the performance. While off-TV play is available, the GamePad does not play any sound during cutscenes. The duels themselves are still perfectly playable, however. A few stages also feel very slightly off sync — these are not much of a problem, as the system is rather forgiving and it’s easy to play by sight. Stage 8 in our copy, however, is terribly out of sync (or may even be the wrong song entirely), to the point that the notes stop coming a full minute before the stage actually ends! It is currently unknown whether this is an isolated incident, but a patch should hopefully be made to fix both disappointing concerns.
Frederic: The Resurrection of Music is an odd duck in the Wii U eShop lineup, yet contains a brilliant musical theme and touch control simplicity that makes one wonder why so little like it has arrived before. That’s why it’s heartbreaking that current technical snafus make this a difficult title to recommend. Even without bugs, though, not everyone may go for Frederic’s stylings, and some hardcore rhythm game fans are likely to find it too easy. That said, those who feel closely attuned to musical fusions and arrangements should still consider taking up the keys on this one, especially if it receives an update; you could even feel comfortable adding one or two stars to its score yourself if that improvement arrives.