Many of us who grew up with a Super Nintendo have fond memories of a little not-quite-game released early in its life cycle. Mario Paint was an illustration playground that came bundled with a—now somewhat rare—mouse and plastic mousepad that made creating pixel-based stamps and coloring in Yoshi a breeze. While the main drawing modes, interactive title screen, and random fly-swatting mini-game were all enjoyable in their own right, the true star of Mario Paint was its music creation tool: this mode let you place a variety of icons that produced unique sounds across a staff and then send Mario bounding across the notes to create a song. There was a dog that barked, a car that honked, a Yoshi that made the Yoshi “whewhu” sound. And yet, despite the simplicity, you could create complex compositions with the tool (and there are still people doing so thanks to the downloadable Mario Paint Composer).
If you’re also nostalgic for mushroom basslines and melodic tugboats, we might have the app for you: SoundForest is a music composition kit with an interface reminiscent of Mario Paint’s. You have a selection of icons available, each of which makes its own unique sound. You’re given a blank canvas split into 4/4, with up to six notes per beat. To place notes, you simply select an icon and then tap the location you want it to appear. You can play your creation at any time by tapping the bar at the top of the screen, double the tempo by tapping twice, pause at any time, or leave it running while you make changes. To add more to your song beyond the initial four measures, you simply swipe left to reveal the next set. There doesn’t appear to be any limit to song length, although a really long song might eventually prove tricky to edit.
That’s essentially it. SoundForest excels at making music composition extremely simple and easy for even the non-musically inclined (that’s us), and somehow even completely random assortments typically end up sounding interesting and even not-terrible. The interface is perfect for playing around, but the real star of the app is its many, many different icons/sounds. There are four different sets of sounds available—SoundForest, ElectroJungle, SynthSavanna, EchoOcean—with notes within each group designed to work well in harmony and sharing a common visual theme. They all lean primarily towards percussion, but the forest set has a more cymbal / standard drum feel while the ocean group is much more futuristic and synthetic. Each set contains 40 different sounds presented as adorable icons, with unique options like an owl’s hoot or a snake’s rattle providing interesting variations on the base notes and interactive responses when they are played: the owl raises his wings, the raccoon flips his tail and curls his ears, the snake dances.
SoundForest is free to download with plenty of sounds already available. To unlock all of the sounds and save files (you can save up to 18 different songs on each set), you can either watch a single ad for each individual unlock—for example, one ad to unlock the owl sound and another ad for the raccoon—or pay $1.99 to unlock everything all at once. There are some example compositions included to give you an idea of what’s possible and which can be edited freely. We’ve been having a lot of fun throwing different sounds together and making almost-decent songs, so anyone with even a hint of musical talent or Mario Paint nostalgia should enjoy this one immensely.