Wii Music made its infamous debut at E3 2008 with a sloppy, confusing rendition of the Super Mario Bros. over world theme and an on-stage Wii Balance Board thrashing from DJ Ravi Drums. It was a frightening cocktail of hardcore and casual appeal that left many scratching their heads. With Wii Music, Nintendo is targeting the music lover who may find established gaming conventions either too difficult or too lacking in improvisation, giving Wii owners an opportunity to play as they wish, to make their own experiences with music, however unstructured they may choose it to be.
Now that we've played Wii Music for a serious length of time, has it started to make any sense? Read on to see what we loved and hated about our Wii Music jam sessions.
Custom Jamming: Reworking the Super Mario Bros. theme into an acoustic down-tempo classic or pumping it up with DJ turntables and a dulcimer somehow manages to be more fun than the sum of its parts. Some tunes work better than others, with classic Nintendo themes providing the most personal laughs, but riffing with some of the public domain tracks can be great fun.
It's *gulp!* Enjoyably Educational: Wii Music's lessons provide music making newbies with helpful insight into differences between musical styles (Latin, Hawaiian, reggae, jazz, etc.), helps explain musical terms (glissando, tremolo) and may help you with your three part harmonies. And now, we know that ratcheting percussion sound is created by a güiro, a hollowed out gourd. Handy.
Presentation: The Nintendo polish is set to ultra-glossy with Wii Music, which perfectly (and amusingly) integrates Miis into all of the game's modes. From easy-to-navigate menus to simply designed lessons to enjoyable video jacket editing, there's no lack of tender loving care applied to the game's visuals. It's not flashy, by any means, but outside of some editorial quibbles with laying down Custom Jam tracks, it just works.
There's Not Much "Game" Here: Shigeru Miyamoto may think that Wii Music is "more interesting" than a video game, but we quickly lost interest in continuing beyond the unlocking of all of the game's secrets. Outside of a few mini-games — the "Pitch Perfect" exercise is good enough and necessary to unlock the SMB theme — there's little to challenge the average gamer and less to keep them coming back. Conducting feels pointless and tiresome.
Playing The Wii Remote: Custom Jamming is fun, but the Wii Remote and Nunchuk can sap some of that fun, as its imprecision may ruin some of your better performances with off-beat notes and unintended double registers. We wound up avoiding guitar-style instruments for our arrangements because they were so inconsistent.
Lame Song Selection, Bad Instrument Sound: With the exception of "Mute City" theme from F-Zero and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" — which was surprisingly a blast to jam to — the majority of the songs included in Wii Music are tired, bland or tepidly arranged. It smacks of Donkey Konga all over again. The other reason we avoided using guitar tracks in our custom tracks was due to their hollow, atificial MIDI sound. Gimmick instruments like the Dog Suit and the Kung Fu wear out their welcome quickly.
Too Little For Too Much: At $US49.99, Wii Music has a hard time justifying its purchase price. A Wii Play-style pack in, giving us one extra Nunchuk, perhaps, to make our group jams more fully featured, would have been welcome. The meager song selection and limited modes don't help. As it stands, you may very well feel like your paying for a nicely crafted tech demo.
Wii Music is a well designed experience that likely won't appeal to fans of established music or rhythm games like Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Rovlution. Even more casual fans of those types of games will likely scoff at the title, wondering what the point is, as some of our lapsed gaming friends did. Wii Music should be thought of as a tool not a game, similar to earlier Nintendo efforts such as Electroplankton or Mario Paint and may find some value as a musical oddity, a momentary diversion.
Nintendo has created a piece of software that has brief flashes of fun, but little in the way of long-term enjoyment. In group settings, it will likely entertain for its impossible-to-fail gameplay and the resulting cacophony. Outside of morbid (or genuine) curiosity, it's hard to recommend Wii Music for anyone but the most forgiving of Wii owner or the extremely hardcore Nintendo fan who longs to rearrange well-worn Nintendo soundtrack selections.
Wii Music was developed and published by Nintendo, released on Oct. 21 for Wii. Retails for $49.99 USD. Unlocked all songs, stages and instruments, played all mini-games and completed or tested all lessons.
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