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‘Music Inside’ Review: Little Drummer Game

by Kevin Ohannessian • December 7th, 2016
Positives

- Light, musical fun
- Play with your own music

Negatives

- No real incentive to keep playing
- Sudden difficulty spikes

One of my favorite songs of all time is hammering away in the background and I’m swinging sticks, furiously accompanying the beat. I am feeling the music and my vision mostly glazes away to nothing but red and purple bursts of color. I guess I am inside the music, if only for a few seconds.

Music Inside is a VR rhythm game made by indie developer Reality Reflections. You play air drums. There are two rows of five drums each, so 10 drums you wail away on with virtual drumsticks. The left stick is red and the right stick is purple, and as those colors fill the virtual drum pad, you hit it. The larger the circle, you get more points — a pad that is completely filled is a Perfect hit.

Sometimes the colors filing two pads are striped, as you have to do a simultaneous hit with both sticks. If you miss a color, or hit it with the wrong stick, the combo of hits in a row you have been building up ends and the combo restarts. The game is honestly as simple as that.

At least, it was for me. You see, the game can be made more complex if you want. By pressing a trigger button on the Oculus Touch controller, the stick on the left will turn from red to yellow, or the one on the right will go from purple to green.

Playing the game with these four colors instead of just two changes it tremendously. Obviously it is more difficult, but it also makes it more of a game than the act of playing along with a performance. It adds a layer of hesitancy before each hit. Do I need to press the trigger? Let go of the trigger? And on which hand? It becomes a pro-level of whack-a-mole, rather than a music game.

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And that is not the only choice you make before playing a song. You can also choose the difficulty from 1 (easy) to 5 (difficult). This seems to dictate the number of drum hits per song, from maybe 250 or so in a 3-minute song to about 700. I found for myself that 3 was a nice balance between having to remain active, but also not overwhelmed so that I don’t enjoy playing with the music. You can further customize the experience by going to a pause menu and adjusting the size of the pads or the size of the space between them.

When you are playing, besides the simple line art of the drum pads, there is a psychedelic music visualizer in the background. Blue bars bounce up and down with the music, discs and triangles fly through the air, and a huge globe floats in the middle, trembling and wavering in the distance. It isn’t really compelling graphically, but VR does allow you to have these virtual drums floating in the air in front of you in a way that a game on a flat screen could not.

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And with motion controls, such as Oculus Touch, you can hit these drums with virtual drumsticks. You can use the analogs or touchpads to adjust the height of the pads on the fly, and press a button to reset the view (and the drums’ position) if you find yourself needing to move your chair back a few inches from the desk, so you don’t smash a controller upon it. To round out the experience, there is a little vibration feedback in each controller when you bang the drums. It helps with making you feel that much more immersed as you accompany songs.

Speaking of music, these kinds of games are often only as good as the song library that is included in the game. This one doesn’t include any at all. When a song is loaded, it is analyzed for a few seconds, and the gameplay is determined that way, almost like a music visualizer in and of itself. And so rather than including songs with carefully “choreographed” hit patterns, the game pulls in music from SoundCloud.

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This leads to a huge variety of song choices, including music from all over the world or tunes from Anime soundtracks, besides classic and contemporary music of many genres. It also means that finding a good song is challenging, especially since track titles could be the name of the band or the name of the song or the name of the album. It also means there are many covers of songs. I started Nirvana, Metallica, and Coldplay songs, just to be infuriated that they were covers and not the originals.

Luckily, the developers included the option to use songs from your own library. This is what I mostly played, indulging in some of my favorite music from the Beatles, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Modest Mouse, mostly. Of course, it turns out not all songs from these great bands were appropriate for Music Inside. Faster paced songs work best to get you in the groove for drumming along, especially those with great drum presence — I particularly enjoyed “Yellow Submarine” and “Float On”.

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When you finish playing a song you get a score from zero to one million, which dictates a letter grade. Cs in the 700k range and Bs in the 800k range were my norm by the end. This score, seemingly adjusted by your difficulty and number of colors to your sticks, dictates your experience points and coins earned.

You can spend coins to get customized skins for your drumsticks, like icicles or even light sabers. Skins for the drum pads include pads with a star on it that shoots out other tiny stars when you hit them or pads with a snowflake that emit ice. These things aren’t cheap though, since you need an estimated 40 songs played well to buy one skin.

The experience gains you levels, which as far as I can tell, only serves for bragging rights against your friends. Other online features includes a leaderboard where there are songs for a Weekly Competition. You can also play Music Inside in a multiplayer-mode, up to four players, though there weren’t any players hosting rooms when I tried.

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Final Score: 6/10 – Decent

Music Inside is a fun experience. I am playing with the music, only occasionally missing a drum pad, or hitting a color with the wrong drumstick. It is another way to enjoy my library of favorite albums. But as a game, it misses a beat. The gameplay hasn’t been customized for each song, in the way the tracks are in Guitar Hero or Rock Band. And using all four colors, like in the tutorial, just isn’t fun. It is a distraction from feeling the song. And considering there isn’t a campaign mode with a sense of progression or anything to earn in the game beyond the skins, Music Inside is more of a tool to play air drums than a game to complete.

Music Inside is now available for purchase on Steam with both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift support for $19.99, currently discounted to $9.99 at the time of publication, or on Oculus Home for $14.99. Check out the official website for more details. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.

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