String Theory Review
As a musician I know it can be rough getting into playing and creating music. You listen all the time, but like any art, creating has more to it than a lot of folks realize. It can be daunting, and can be a bit rough starting out. Any tool that can help you learn while not seeming like a chore is a positive. That is where String Theory sits. The game has a few quirks here and there, but I think Snappy Chap did some important things right in regards to training your ear to hear chords.
Now, to get into this game first a bit of music knowledge for those that may not know. This game is based all around chords. A chord is a set of single notes that when played together sound harmonious. It is something every music student learns quickly. If you are flat the chord sounds wrong to the ear. When playing music in a classical setting it is very easy to just “play the note that is on the page” and you will be fine. The problem comes within creation of music. When you are creating one note could be just slightly wrong, and it can create dissonance within the music. Sometimes it could be very hard to hear. Some people can hear this better than others, but many that get into music train themselves to hear this small differences.
This game does a lot of things right to be a fun, surface guide to the world of chord structure and notation. You are presented, at first, with three strings of a guitar. Each string represents a different note and you have to pick the string that is creating dissonance within the chord. As the game goes along more strings are introduced, gaining you more complex chords, making the wrong note harder and harder to hear. You are given tools at the bottom, in a limited number, that will help highlight right notes such as the root or the fifth.
I have a musical background, and with that I have come into contact with some really cool folks. Some of these have been college educated audio engineers. During their music theory schooling they had homework regularly on a program called Macgamut. The software required them to go through a set of notes and pick the note out that did not belong. If during the set they messed up, they had to start with a brand new set of notes at the beginning, and they had to get a certain amount right to move on. Many of them expressed frustration because even if you messed up on the final note you had to go back before getting credit for the set. That method is employed here. Each tier is in sets, and if you miss a set in a tier you get sent to stage 1 of the tier. This to me points at the developer wanting to use it as a teaching tool as well as a fun game. The repetition forces your brain to start making the note connections in the chord. While not as deep as something like Macgamut, I let a friend sit down and play a few tiers. While he expressed that it was admittedly easier for him, he said that it would have been a welcome addition to his education before he finished his Bachelors. From a guy that went through a Music Technology course with focuses in Audio Recording and Music Production, that feels like a solid check mark in the positives column for anyone learning more about music.
But even with the teaching elements, the game remains fun. With the addition of the help tokens at the bottom, you can always try to save yourself from a potential setback. For some that is going to allow them to play the game faster and eliminate some of the frustration. You get a new one after each tier, and I could see them easily being a purchasable item in a mobile game. I am still playing the game without using those though, because I think it is actually a cool training tool to help out a musician who doesn’t have as great of knowledge in music theory to help train his ear.
The game has a good number of unlockable items as well. You start with basic guitar strings, but you can unlock different instruments and noises as well as different background music to help you along. It is a nice carrot on a stick for those that don’t care as much as some might about the teaching aspects of this game to keep them motivated to play. Plus it is hilarious to play the game using dog barks as notes.
The chaos modes are there for a bit of fun, but I found them distracting from what I found the real fun of the game was. Chaos modes randomized each string to be a different sound. So one string would play its note as a piano, another string as a guitar, and another as a dog bark or other random noise in the game. While it could be fun, to me the games strength lies in reinforcing the chords, and this mode is just a little too random. The time attack though does add another level to it which I enjoyed. Like I said, this is something I will come back to for a bit of fun and to make sure my ears stay sharp, so there is some good stuff in here.
Also, when playing the notes there was one small oddity that I am going to mention. I will admit this is not going to be a problem for everyone. Heck I may be being a little selfish and pointing out something that no one else will notice just because it would make my life easier. When no strings are moving you can hit the play button in the top left and it will play all the strings. You can also strum across the strings and hear them all play at once. Of course, touch one string and that string vibrates and you hear that note singled out. But unlike a guitar, if I hit a single string and then quickly go and decide to strum the entire set of string before the first is done vibrating that strings attack will not register again. It is a very small thing like I said, and didn’t hinder my play, but it is something that made it feel a little clunky at times. Again, very odd specific thing I noticed that may have been fixed after I got my review copy of the game, but it is something I noticed as a bit weird at times.
I played it on a PC. It feels like a mobile game, and it is out on iOS. It looks and feels like a mobile game, no doubt. The locked in portrait mode, lack of resolution options, and gameplay feel well suited for mobile. Having a few more options on the PC would be nice. With that in mind though, I liked the idea of sitting at my desk with my nice headphones, really focusing in. I find that in mobile games I have a harder time focusing on small details, especially with the audio. I think having both options is perfect for someone such as myself wanting to use the game as a small workout for my ears.
It is worth checking out for free.