Developer: Shanghai Gokei Japan Co.Ltd
Price: $0.99 Download on the App Store
With its enchanting rewards of music and gifts for negotiating a path, but an infuriating lack of guidance, MusicNeon serves up a delectable digital bite of quirk that may make an Apple user feel like Alice in Wonderland. Japanese creator SG Game leaves the player to figure a lot out as they go, which lends to small victories (Yay! I figured it out!) but in gameplay but can be confounding.
At its crux, MusicNeon's premise is simple: rotate the X-Ray vision tubes ninety degrees at a time by tapping them. Those rotations assist the user in creating a connection of tubes across the screen — from any "electrode" on the positive side on the left to any one on the negative side on the right. A single different note plays with the rotation of each tube, and when connected, from positive to negative, they play a brief melody. An '80's keyboard-style beat and tinny Bossa Nova offset the notes the gameplay creates.
In MusicNeon the player's goal in each level is to create as many connections as are specified in the task box at the bottom of the scoreboard. To the left, past the starting row of "eletrodes," the scoreboard looms, shaped like a cartoonish depiction of a strength meter at an old-fashioned carnival. You know, the kind with the mallet, that the bad guy always does well at and leaves the hero looking like a loser. The current level adorns the top inside of a neon green circle, time ticks away light bulb by light bulb in the column below it, points earned stack inside the column in a glowing red digital font, finished by the neon blue task box.
The neon pipes on the black background feel very art-deco, while nearly imperceptible snowflakes inexplicably float over the game board. On the right, beyond the row on the negative side that serves as the final connecting points, multicolored light bulbs twinkle and flutter slightly off of the screen. The feel is similar to one of those really hip coffeehouses or restaurants decorated by a ton of odd knick-knacks, tin signs and old movie posters on the wall and lights strung everywhere. The restaurant that serves soy lattes in kitschy, mismatched, garage sale cups and saucers. A sound effect of breaking glass when a path is complete, complimented finally by a "Level Up" that pops on the screen looking like a neon light advertising a cigarette brand, furthers the notion that MusicNeon revels in nonsense.
As gameplay progresses, new tubes are unlocked and more treasures are offered. Upon reaching level four, my "Neon Box," accessible in the main menu, housed a squiggly pipe, a knotted one, a ninety-degree bent pipe, and one shaped like a lapel ribbon to support a charity. I'd earned the squiggly one at the end of the last round. The entire "Neon Box" consists of 42 locks, which one can glean are likely the types of tubes the user has earned for gameplay. Additional little treats with point values assigned appeared on the tubes on the game board as well, including a clock, a piece of wrapped candy, candy canes, stars and more.
The instructions are the scoreboard marked by three white brackets: back to menu/level, time, scores and task. A sample piece of tubing with a white outline of a hand and the word "click" below it serves as the only additional explanation. The App Store description and a lot of time spent playing clarified some things while others remain a mystery, much like the other 38 objects in my "Neon Box." MusicNeon's ambiguity contributed to my own: should a simple game require such outside research and applied effort to figure things out, or is that part of the fun? This dry erase board scrawling rendered into an iPhone/Pod game features enough unique elements and trying tasks to pass the time effectively, and decidedly, some of the challenge is in figuring out the challenge.