MAD MAESTRO / Eidos-Fresh Games / Playstation 2
Mad Maestro is a great concept, and one that hasn't really been seen before. It's a rhythm game a la Parappa or Beatmania, but you're conducting an orchestra instead of rapping or rocking. The game features 33 songs representing a cross-section of the most widely popular classical music, and you tap buttons in time to the music's time signature.
Unfortunately, a great concept is only half the process. The other half is executing it, and as we've seen so many times before, that's where the game stumbles. There's two major flaws to the game. The first is that it tends to give you a hand cramp from pressing the same button over and over. The second is that it requires a DualShock or similar controller with pressure-sensitive buttons, as the force with which you push the button is just as important as the timing. Aside from potentially not working with whatever controllers you have at the moment, it's also maddening to try to differentiate between a "light" and "moderate" press, and frankly to me just feels completely random. I think the game would have been immensely better just sticking to "hard" and "soft" with no middle setting.
The game serves up a lot of forgiving stretches where you simply mash the button as hard as possible for a good number of bars, which allows you to recover from your mistakes and muddle through the level (albeit with a bad ranking.) One thing that I did like about it was that the button cues are centered on the screen, so you can at least peripherally see the antics going on in the background, which is a common fault of rhythm games such as Parappa - you're locked onto some bar at the top of the screen and can't enjoy anything else going on.
Despite the sometimes fun and silly hijinx, however, most of the characters are uninteresting, especially your avatar Takt the conductor. The music is also surprisingly muted, sounding like someone's grandma listening to a public radio performance with their tea rather than the (often quite LOUD) experience of actually being at a concert. Most of the song selection is on the rousing side, too, so this is a bizarre design choice.
Overall I get the sense that this concept was a few years ahead of its time and just too poorly suited to the controller it decided to work with. Released now on the Wii it might fare a bit better with Wiimote controls. Apparently in Japan, the game came with a unique baton controller, and I'd love to see how that changes the experience. The game is still fairly playable on the whole, but as is it's only recommended if you really love quirky music games and have to see as many as possible.
* Gameplay Video