I love the concept of Musaic Box but I hate the implementation so much that I want to travel back in time and murder its mother to ensure it will never be born.
That this game is a 2009 Independent Games Festival finalist twice over is an affront to every other game in that privileged family.
Musaic Box stars off by welding together two disparate types of gameplay - because that's always a good idea. You'll start off in a traditional hidden object game, where you have to locate small scraps of music hidden in the background. Mousing over objects gives you some clues but it's faster and more satisfying to just go clicking everywhere like a maniac. I say more satisfying, because if you wait for even a second the game will start giving you "helpful hints" - like showing you your target before you've even had a chance to try for yourself.
Once you've found a few pieces of music, you'll be taken to the musaic box. Musaic is a portmanteau of "music" and "mosaic", which someone probably thought was a charming piece of wordplay, but you'll soon come to associate it only with the deeper levels of pain.
The musaic box is the core of the game, and here you're challenged to put together eight bars of well-known music by arranging some Tetris-shaped tiles. The tiles have coloured symbols on them, representing firstly which instruments the tile will cause to play, and secondly giving you a graphical hint as to what notes might be played by that instrument.
This is the idea I love. A puzzle game about arranging instrumental tracks to create quality music is gold to the core; done well, it could be the next Guitar Hero.
Musaic Box doesn't so much fumble that ball as it does chop off its own hands to prevent any possibility of competence. It's terrible. First up, the musical arrangements are abhorrent. I would rather gargle nails than listen to another piece of what it chooses to call music. Relatively inoffensive tracks like "Yankee Doodle" are butchered beyond belief, and classic music such as "Blue Danube" is wrung dry of all grace and soul. Once the puzzles start getting tricky you'll be listening to these atonal monstrosities multiple times, and it's like a kind of torture you'd previously never imagined the laws of space/time would allow.
Partly because of these misguided musical manglings, the puzzles get unnecessarily weaselly. Early outings give you a "guide track" so you can hear what the song should sound like, but later they dispense with this. The theory behind throwing away the guide is that certain puzzle layouts only permit one correct solution, and you can therefore solve the puzzle without needing to listen. The problem is that that just isn't true - "When The Saints Go Marching In", for example, has a dozen or so legal tile configurations, and knowing the song won't help you because you're listening not for how the song normally goes, but how it goes in this game, which bears little to no relationship to anything you might have previously heard.
Musaic Box really takes the cake. Not only is it the worst hidden object game I've played this year (and I've played a half-dozen or so), but it's also the worst music-based game and the worst puzzle game. That's a very special trifecta, but it's not one deserving of commendation.
If you don't believe that an Independent Games Festival finalist can be so appalling, please feel free to head over to Big Fish Games, install their repulsive download client, and try it out for yourself. It's about 70 MB and you get an hour of play for free before they'll try and extort money for the full version.
I don't think any amount of showering can make me clean again.