Looking back from the end of the decade, the rhythm-game market of 2002 is practically unrecognizable. This was a time before Rock Band, before Guitar Hero, before even Karaoke Revolution pushed the genre toward the actual performance of recent, popular music. In 2002, rhythm games were dominated by follow-along gameplay and quirky Japanese musical influences. The J-pop-heavy Dance Dance Revolution series was at the top of its popularity, and occasional press-the-button-in-time-with-the-music Japanese imports like Parappa the Rapper, Space Channel 5 and Gitaroo Man dotted the landscape. In each case, following along to the beat of unfamiliar Japanese-inspired music served to limit the genre’s appeal to a small niche.

Eidos’ Mad Maestro!, a budget $20 release under the company’s short-lived “Fresh Games” label, wasn’t destined to explode this niche. How could it, with a focus on classical music, one of the only musical genres even less accessible to an American audience than J-pop? But for those paying attention, it was a unique and exciting take on a young genre that has had some subtle but profound influences on its future direction.

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