Keytari: 8-Bit Music Maker seems to be an interesting entry in the eShop for anyone who's ever grooved along to the chiptunes that played during NES games. After hearing music from Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man for decades, Keytari tries to put the tools in your hand to make your own. Unfortunately, its limited capabilities turn it into more of a novelty than a practical music creation tool; it's much more approachable than most chiptune-creation software, but that is where its good aspects end.
Keytari is an instrument more than it is chiptune creation software. You're presented with a keyboard whose keys you can tap with the stylus, a few pre-selected pitches and background beats, the ability to sustain notes, and that's about it. It isn't shy to tell you that there isn't any option to record, edit, or share the music you create; as such, it's more geared toward someone who'd like to jam away, creating music as the mood strikes them. There are no tutorials or hints on how to play it, either, making it the equivalent of being handed a piano or guitar. It's on the player to learn how to use the actual instrument.
As something created purely to jam with, Keytari can be fun. The keys are large on the Wii U GamePad, making it easy to fiddle around with them and see what kind of notes you can produce. It's not especially complicated to create a couple of simple songs for yourself, or compose a little melody that doesn't sound like you're just mashing keys. As with a real instrument, there is a pleasant feeling of discovery when you cobble together the beginnings of a song just by playing with the keys and learning what they sound like.
Still, not every aspect of this app delivers. While playing around with the keys is simple enough, the four face buttons provide somewhat of a limited drum kit, playing various tones when pressed. These buttons aren't especially useful to anyone who is right-handed, as playing the notes with the stylus and hitting these buttons is tricky, especially doing so in a way that sounds pleasant to the ear. The only way around it for this reviewer involved either not using buttons or to flip the game pad upside down and use the keyboard that way. Since you're just learning this instrument that's not necessarily a huge problem, but it does feel uncomfortable.
Beyond the ability to change the colours of the keys and playing a few notes, that's about all there is to do in Keytari, which is why its launch asking price seems a bit steep. $7.99 isn't exactly expensive for an instrument, but when all you can do is play around with the keys and the background beats until you get sick of the app, you're not getting much value for your money. There are many places to play a simulated version of almost any instrument online for free, and there are just as many free programs that will let you create, save, and edit chiptunes (PulseBoy, for example). It's an extremely hard sell to try to get $7.99 for a tool that has far more limited use than something you can find for free in seconds on the internet.
Also, the concept with such a limited scope has limited practical use. This is not a guitar that you can bring out at a campfire or a piano you may play among friends. This is a program on your Wii U. It's hard to imagine a situation where someone would practice with this tool in the same manner that someone would work away at learning the bass or drums. Even if someone did, Keytari's touchpad interface makes it incapable of very complex music, as only one key can be pressed at a time, and there is no way to record this instrument in order to make something of the music you've worked so hard to create.
There is some pleasure to the act of creating music just for yourself, but that is the limit of Keytari's appeal. Someone with a real instrument or free chiptune software can play it just for themselves or aspire to something more. That option is lacking from Keytari, making it feel far too expensive for what it actually delivers.
Keytari is pleasant to use and allows for some fun creative freedom, but it is - at most - a stepping stone to using something more complex to create music. As a simulated instrument some entertainment can be gleaned from it by the musically creative, but there are far better, and vastly cheaper, methods of creating chiptunes. These methods may not be as simple to use as Keytari, but they offer far more options for less money. With its simple aspiration to be a digital instrument, Keytari succeeds at what it strives to do, but it's very hard to justify splashing out for an app that does so little.