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Publisher Nintendo’s own master creator Shigeru Miyamoto proudly declares that the company’s “play along with the band” offering Wii Music isn’t really a video game, so much as it is an interactive toy. He’s right, too. And that’s exactly what makes Wii Music tough for a devoted gaming site like GamesRadar to review and bewildering for a seasoned gamer to play.
Fundamentally, it’s similar to any other rhythm game. A song plays, and you pantomime playing one of about 60 different instruments – ranging from guitar and harmonica to video game-y blips and animal sounds - using one of four basic control schemes. For a flute or horn you hold the remote horizontally and press buttons, for a guitar you hold some buttons and make a strumming gesture, drums turn the nunchuk and remote into sticks and the balance board into a kick pedal, and violin resembles guitar with different hand positions. Every other instrument is a variation of one of these schemes.
This brings us to the biggest, most disappointing way Wii Music resembles a toy more than a game: Its open-ended, rule-lacking simplicity. You literally can’t lose. No matter how you shake, waggle, tap, or swing the remote and nunchuk, you won’t hit a wrong note. Even if you’re inappropriately speed-picking your way through a reggae version of Yankee Doodle, the Wii just chooses notes that would fit into the song and plays them. Granted, you’ll get more points for staying in time with the music, but there’s still very little real sense of accomplishment, reward or progression. Finishing a song doesn’t feel like victory. It actually borders on pointless. You’ve got to dig deeper to find satisfaction.
That’s a tall order, because everything here is aggressively lukewarm. The song list is almost tragic; it starts with public domain blather like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, then mixes in generations-old licensed pop from the likes of early Madonna and the Monkees – not exactly rockin’. There are six Nintendo themes: Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros, F-Zero (Mute City), Animal Crossing, Wii Sports and Wii Music, but not all of these qualify as highlights.
Then there’s the sub-par audio quality itself – there’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that the actual sounds many of these instruments make are low quality samples. Compare this to the fact that the recent Metallica actually sounded better in Guitar Hero than it did on CD, and the difference becomes apparent.
Even the four minigames seem like an afterthought. The simplistic drum tutor is okay, but Mii Masestro, in which you “conduct” an orchestra, is an aimless snore. Not to be outdone is Bells, a game in which up to four players all cooperate to ring up to two bells each (basically, it’s like sawing a guitar hero controller into four pieces and playing one song) - is so sluggish it’s practically uneventful. Lastly, Pitch Perfect, in which you hear a note, then decide which of four Miis just played it again, is only really a challenge if you’re completely tone deaf.
The best bit for us is the free-form “jam” mode. It enables you to record your performances (in fact, you can record each part of the song individually, until it’s you playing every part) and then either tweak the arrangement or upload the whole thing to friends via the internet. This is the part we feel has the most promise, and hope it’s expanded for the eventual sequel.
So what are we left with? A music game with such a strong auto-pilot that you don’t usually do much, and what you do doesn’t really matter or look or sound all that cool. It’s a fair party game - there’s a certain novelty charm to seeing a roomful of people gyrating and gesticulating along to the music. And we appreciate the chance to play songs with different instruments and arrangements – Happy Birthday to You really does sound better as a jazz song with kung-fu yells tossed in – and share our performances. But once this novelty wears off, there’s not a lot of longevity here. That makes Wii Music an offering best left to the mainstream market, where the players are less discerning.
Oct 30, 2008