Those who grew up playing video games from the 8-bit era will likely have various of the theme tunes from those early arcade classics – including some of the Atari games now playable on the Web in HTML5 – stuck in their heads forever more. Super Mario Bros., Pokemon, Mega Man, and, of course, Tetris are all classic games with classic theme tunes. Modern video games cannot quite compete with these old-skool songs, which is perhaps why the Pianocade is such a compelling product, at least for those of us of a certain age.
The Pianocade is a synthesizer that would appear to be the perfect musical instrument for retro gamers. Not only does it look like an old arcade controller, albeit an oversized one, but it plays notes that would be more at home in the 1980s than the present day. If you're not into retro gaming, and in particular, the soundtracks they possessed, then you may want to look away now, as the feelings of nostalgia the Pianocade is capable of eliciting will be lost on you.
As a synthesizer, the Pianocade has sound hardware based on both the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and original Gameboy. This gives it a monophonic sound which means chords are out in favor of a rapid cycling through of the notes played. You hit the notes using the stylized black and white arcade buttons, while the joystick is used to manipulate the speed and pitch of your composition. The video below shows some of the features the Pianocade has to offer.
A full range of MIDI ports mean the Pianocade can also be used to control other devices, or alternatively they can be used to control the Pianocade. The device is customizable both inside and out, while the hardware, software, and firmware are all open source to allow others to add their own mods and hacks. There is already a community in place sharing these, as well as tips, tricks, and custom sounds.
While the Canadian-made Pianocade is primarily being marketed at 8-bit music enthusiasts, it could be used to create soundtracks for new mobile or social games. It is available in three different models: one octave for CAD$250 (US$254), Two octaves for CAD$325 (US$330), and an electronics-only kit for CAD$100 (US$101).