Old School Musical is something special. I really mean that. So much so that for this review I’m going to do a little something different. The review structure is going out the window. Instead, I’ve gone for something a little more personal. I’ve decided to open up on a couple of things that I never normally would. My long term illness and lonely childhood being two of those. Gaming is something that I hold incredibly dear, as I’m sure almost everyone reading this can attest to themselves. Gaming and music go absolutely hand in hand. Old School Musical celebrates the heritage of this ideal. So that’s what we’ll do here. Music has always been absolutely vital to the gaming industry. Just think about your first time experiencing Hyrule field. World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. The Mortal Kombat theme. Being spotted in Metal Gear Solid. The title screen in Skyrim. Destiny 2’s opening mission. Persona 5’s orchestral Life will change. These moments somehow took ten, twenty, even three hundred hour experiences and condensed them into a few minutes. Anyone who hears the original Pokémon battle theme and doesn’t get goosebumps is a liar.
So what exactly is Old School Musical? It’s a rhythm game. Button prompts will appear on screen and you’ll press them in time with the musical score in the background. While this happens the in-game heroes will battle their way through a dangerous environment. Whether this is through hordes of dementedly evil chickens, militant bases or defeating an ancient genocidal evil is up to you. At least after you beat the story that is. This will take you around five hours. There is plenty of replay value and content here, every level can be replayed in story or free play mode on any of three difficulties. The difficulties are very well balanced, normal never feels overly challenging and hard always feels achievable.
Story wise, I don’t want to spoil a single beat. It’s silly. It’s fun. It’s over the top. This is all executed in the very best, most video game way possible. There’s a prophecy. There are chosen ones. There’s an ancient evil. There’s magical weaponry. Every cliché in the book is in here in some way and it’s absolutely glorious. After you beat the story mode you’ll unlock a second campaign which is essentially one massive gaming inside joke. The joke never wears thin. There’s still plenty of variety thanks to the fifty tracks. This gets mixed up in the second campaign with gameplay modifiers. The screen will go dark, black and white, blurry and several other fun touches to throw a spanner in the works. There’s a multiplayer mode for up to four players which can be a bit of fun but is, unfortunately, the weakest part of the game.
Music is powerful. No matter what form it takes it has the opportunity to elicit a reaction. Seriously, watch the Pixar movie Coco. If you don’t cry, you’re a monster and deserve a horrible life. If you can watch La La Land without getting a swell of ambition, then you’re lost. Even whatever random autotuned song that tops the charts will likely at least make you want to tap your foot. It’s no surprise then that the gaming industry took the medium of music and has done so much with it. Think about something as special as The Last of Us, which features in OSM. The first game’s music set the tone for the world. It was sombre and powerful. The sequel is a much more violent and vengeful story and the music already sets the scene. Both share a similarity. It’s a desperate and hopeless world. OSM knows how to capture that aspect.
Then you have something like Metal Gear or Metal Slug and even Mega Man. Three franchises that are absolutely symbolic of the 8/16 bit sidescroller era. Metal Gear might have successfully evolved into something more but it always retained a sense of pride in its roots. Why is the music so important here then? Think back to that era of gaming. It was simpler. Classic. You started at point A and used skill to reach the other side. Graphics wise there wasn’t a lot going on, especially in comparison to today’s standards. Yet these games can still hold up. That’s due to the music. These musical beats give context to what’s going on. You can feel that you’re heroic. It’s almost as if the score supports you. It tells you who you are and what comes next, it acts as a guide. In Metal Gear NES the music that kicks in when you’re caught is incredible. It’s absolutely perfect music for a chase, it’s frantic, it escalates and most importantly it’s pulsating. You know you need to move. You know you need intensity. OSM understands that. It’s part of what makes this game work. Take the clichéd story out. Take away the game modes that add context. With a black background, just the music and just the button timings, OSM works. The songs on offer are a huge part of this. Not only will they pull at your nostalgia strings, but they’ll also introduce you to a level of intensity that few genres or titles will ever offer.
Then we move onto something more tranquil. Outrun. Yes, it was a racing game. But it was also about driving down the coast having fun. Enjoyment was key. Again, strip out the story (which the music always works with here anyway) and you have a tune and gameplay reminiscent of what it should be. The intensity still remains in the gameplay but the music in the background will calm you. It allows you time to focus on each beat. However, it mixes up rather nicely. Throw in something a bit nastier, a tune with a bit more rock and a bit more roll. Something from Road Rash maybe? Again the intensity really comes into play. The music pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. Despite gameplay which is essentially the same thing fifty+ times you’ll keep going. Like so many other games which should be repetitive by nature, OSM has the ability to hook you and you’ll be promising yourself it’s your last track or last go at hard mode way into the wee hours of the morning. Even on a school night.
There’s a reason video game music needs to be special. Like any musical, whether it’s an animated classic like The Lion King or a live action blockbuster like Les Miserables, a story can be told through music alone. The aforementioned Pokémon is a wonderful example. The story in those games is bare bones at best. Like Mamma Mia. But the music carries this. You know when Team Rocket’s theme kicks in that they’re evil. You know the battle theme means it’s time to do business. You know the town’s themes mean you can relax and explore. You know when you’re in Lavender town you should be incredibly freaked out and want to leave immediately. Even when you’re walking towards the champion, the simple piano tones are playing. They build up to something you know is important. They slowly introduce something epic. They start to pick up as the first round begins. After a couple of turns, they’re in full flow. It’s understated in comparison to wild battles but intense. The further into the battle you go the closer notes get. It continues to build. It almost becomes a race near the end because of just how intense those tones get. You can feel the excitement rise. Then the victor’s tune kicks in. You immediately know you’ve achieved something. It isn’t a simple pat on the back either, it’s a celebration dozens of hours in the making and it feels that way. Then again, Masuda is an absolute genius as Pokémon’s audio continues to prove.
Defining moments in your life will always stay with you. One of mine was in a Glasgow shopping centre. I have no idea why I was there or where the adult who was supposed to be watching me was, all I remember is sitting on the floor outside a shop totally enthralled in battle. I was finally facing down the champion. I had prepared for so long. My Pikachu special edition Gameboy colour literally came everywhere with me and this was no exception. I turned the volume up full and got ready to take on Gary for what felt like the millionth time. This wasn’t an easy battle. I’m sure everyone can remember how challenging the champion is the first time around, especially for a six/seven year old. God knows how many attempts there had been but there I was. A lonely kid sitting on a shopping centre floor with my Gameboy volume at full blast. That’s what I was to the rest of the world at least. To me, I was locked in the most epic battle of my life and when my Gengar decimated Jolteon I was so much more than the lonely kid. I was the Champion of the Kanto Pokémon League.
What is the main purpose of music then? Is it to inspire? Is it to elicit an emotional response? Is it simply to entertain? Robbie Williams thought so, or at least wanted it to be. But it’s easy to contrast the former Take That singer’s Let me Entertain you with something meaningful such as Angels, or something heartfelt and emotional like Love my Life. This is where video game music has gotten it so very right over the years. Sony Santa Monica knew the importance of giving Kratos’ most recent adventure a score that sets the tone and envelops the player. Bethesda knew The Elder Scrolls would need to convey an immediate sense of scope, especially with the introduction of the kings of all mythical beasts: Dragons. Even the Mortal Kombat theme understood the importance of immediately gripping players. This isn’t some 8-bit side-scroller. This isn’t an epic exploration. This is a chance for you to put your life on the line and take a few other lives out with you. If anyone can listen to that Mortal Kombat theme and not want to immediately wear the tightest clothes possible, head to the gym and learn to tear out spines then I fear for you. You must live an immensely boring life. OSM won’t make you want to tear spines out, don’t worry parents! It may give you a desire to go assault a chicken or eighty though. To be fair one other game has been doing that for a much longer time.
Old School Musical just totally gets why music is so important. Not just to games but to everything. While the rest of the gaming world has evolved exponentially, from pong to 8 bit and onto virtual reality and so much more in between, music was perfected at the beginning. OSM isn’t a love letter to this. It’s a reminder. A celebration not of how far we’ve come, but of how long we’ve been at the top. This is more than just a simple video game. In today’s gaming scene this stands apart as a total nostalgia trip that does so much more than look back. It reminds us we’re in incredible hands moving forward. 2017 alone had some absolutely wonderful musical score. Persona 5, Destiny 2, Super Mario Odyssey, even Resident Evil 7. Let’s not forget Breath of the Wild though.
This is a series that is so intrinsically connected to music that it has managed to have two of the best video games of all time featuring musical subtitles. OSM knows this. OSM pays tribute to the musically greatest video game of all time perfectly. This alone makes it worth the price of admission. The homage to Link and everything associated with him here is unbelievable. It works in the silly world of OSM but still manages to portray a message of genuine affection. You can see the influence that Zelda has had on developers La Moutarde. OSM screams it. I adore it for that.
Most people reading this won’t know me. Most may not even reach this far into the article. Anyone who does will find out that from September 2016 to April 2017 I was incredibly ill. It was difficult. I could barely walk, I was bed bound, even the simplest tasks such as typing left me in pain and tired. I had no motivation and my body wasn’t mine anymore. I was trapped. If it wasn’t for other people, one in particular, I would’ve totally lost myself. Away from reality though, one game in particular reconnected me to the world. Not by helping me find myself or anything like that but just through the simple power of connecting music and exploration. Of connecting inspiration to activity. I’ll never forget three moments from that game. The moment Link realises he has given his all and falls in battle to save a life. The moment the Master Sword is pulled from its pedestal. The moment you enter Hyrule Castle. This was a story of a hero who fell as far as he could but was inspired by another’s immense sacrifice to return. When the musical theme kicked in at Hyrule Castle, when the end was in sight, I felt something that I hadn’t in a long time. Motivation. A desire to explore again. A reminder of myself. It didn’t suddenly magically cure me but something magical did happen. The simplest, softest musical notes made a theme that had been unfolding over one hundred hours in front of me become so clear. Breath of the Wild gave me a reminder of who I wanted to be that I genuinely needed and I will never forget that.
Essentially, if you’re a rhythm game fan Old School Musical is for you.
If you’re a puzzle game fan, Old School Musical is for you.
If you’re a gamer who understands how truly important music is to our medium, then Old School Musical is for you.
If you love Legend of Zelda you owe it to yourself to experience this.
Playdius and La Moutarde have combined here to make something unique. Something that’s both a musical experience and an excellent rhythm/puzzle game with a fun and quirky story. The music is fantastic, the graphics and art style are exemplary and the game is downright fun. You aren’t just buying a rhythm game here. This is a genuine nostalgia-fueled examination of the industry’s past and it’s well worth the relatively low price of admission. There haven’t been many games that I’ve totally adored, Old School Musical has walked right into the mix though.
Old School Musical
- It's a celebration
- Quirky story
- Intense gameplay
- Frantic Fun