Review: Major Minor’s Majestic March (Nintendo Wii)

Major Minor’s Majestic March
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: NanaOn-Sha
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: 04/01/2009

While Guitar Hero and Rock Band rake in mountains of cash today, the music game scene wasn’t always so available or … “normal.” Early music game efforts were always cast as niche in nature and this situation wasn’t any different in 1997 when Masaya Matsuura stepped on to the scene to pioneer the genre with the iconic Parappa the Rapper (even though his company got its true start in the genre with the little-known title Tuninglue in 1996). With my first tastes of Parappa and Tsunenari Yada’s Bust a Groove, the late “Ëœ90s marked a turn where rhythm gaming became my all-time favorite genre of video games, so it’s no surprise any time a Matsuura-san project is announced, my attention is immediately perked. Without an original music game release from Matsuura and artistic talent Rodney Greenblat in the U.S. since 2002 (NanaOn-Sha’s 2003 Mojib Ribbon never released outside of Japan), the duo garnered a lot of attention when it announced the development of Major Minor’s Majestic March.

The title fits into a lineage of quirky and original titles produced by NanaOn-Sha, moving on from the rapping and jamming of gangster dogs and punk lambs to bring players into a whole new music game universe. Opting for motion controls and taking charge instead of button tapping and following the leader, Major Minor’s Majestic March takes both the company and players into a whole new territory. Unfortunately, while the game exudes originality and charm, in the end, it can’t overcome the lack of depth and uninspired controls that plagues this title.

True to the Matsuura-Greenblat team up, Major Minor’s Majestic March lines up a crazy host of anamorphic characters and thrusts them into a universe where music reigns supreme. Conveniently, the game’s cast lives in a town where all anyone wants to do is play instruments in a marching band, something that just doesn’t interest Major Minor, the title’s feline protagonist. However, feeling the pressure to carry on his family’s long linage of grade-A drum majors, he looks to his best friend, Tom, and a family heirloom baton for inspiration. As Major Minor begins to use the baton, the duo quickly finds the spirit of Great Great Grandma Gladiola (GGGG) inhabits the heirloom and from there, the expected, “humble beginnings to greatest drum major in the land” storyline carries out.

Unlike titles such as Parappa and Lammy, Major Minor’s storyline revolves around a very small circle of main characters. Since the only characters who ever speak are a narrator and GGGG, very few of the characters, most importantly the main character, recieve a chance to shine. The lack of interest in the characters is a huge blow to the game’s story as the plot details are shuffled through storybook-style, providing players with uninspiring stills and virtually no animation. On its own, Major Minor’s tale serves its purpose, throwing out the usual tale of hope and dedication. However, when compared to NanaOn-Sha’s previous efforts, the title lacks the quirkiness, character development and satisfying progress found in Parappa.

As expected, the single-player story is the major focus of the title. There are other modes included in the game, which allows a second player to grab a Wii remote and participate in co-op or versus modes. Those wanting to test their tempo skills have extra difficulty options available once the story mode is cleared. Progressing through the various difficulties allows players to discover more band members to add to their viewable character gallery. Players that make a career out of leading their band can also track their progress to see how many steps they’ve marched and other various statistics.

Visually, the game is true to Greenblat form, bringing his unique style to the Nintendo Wii for the first time. Not having to abide by the Parappa theme, Greenblat’s characters are able to enjoy 3-D rendering this time around and the results are enjoyable for the most part. Major Minor is one of the most colorful games you’ll play outside of Katamari, making it a real attention grabber. Through the course of the story, players will see a number of quirky environments such as a track and field stadium filled with insects, a live factory, a neon-lit downtown city at New Year’s Eve and Major Minor sometimes even finds himself underwater. While the title does has a vivid and unique look, a lack of variety in the game’s characters and simple animations drag the game’s visuals down quite a bit when in motion.

As expected, the game’s true shine comes from its deep audio. In marching band tradition, the game is filled with medleys comprised of familiar material from composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, John Phillip Sousa, Julius Ernst Wilhelm Fucik and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky along with a few traditional compositions, original scores and … Herbie Hancock’s Rockit. Although modern well-known artists won’t be found in Major Minor, the selections are as true to the source as you can get outside of college fight songs and sports anthems.

The true execution of the game’s audio, however, comes along with the game play mechanic of band recruitment. While in most stages, Major Minor only starts with Tom and his brothers stroking out on the drums. The player is then tasked with adding more members to the band as he marches. While the compositions begin with bare-bones sound, by adding in a variety of different instruments and bolstering the member count, the music produced by the band differs according to the variety and number of instruments involved at that point in time. With a full band and proper performance, players will be guiding a professional sounding procession; however, a small band with poor performance will produce a weak-sounding whimper.

Outside of the game’s music, though, there is hardly anything more offered audibly. The game’s narrator appropriately reads along with the story and during game play, players will have GGGG’s grisly voice barking commands through the Wii remote’s speaker. In the end, however, musical preferences aside, Major Minor delivers during game play with quality audio that suits the situation.

Once players dive into the game play, there is little more to the game’s control than thrusting the Wii remote up and down while occasionally pointing it to the left and right. Under the surface, however, the rhythm mechanics of the title make things a little more interesting. As the drum major and leader of the band, the player begins by moving the remote up and down to establish a tempo. Once the pace is set, the procession begins and it is up to players to maintain a steady tempo to keep the band in check. The goal is in finding a happy medium because if a band member feels the tempo is too fast, they will eventually grow tired of keeping up and leave the band. On the reverse, if the tempo is too slow, they will become bored and drop from the group.

While keeping the tempo and leading the band to the finish line is the main staple of the game, players will also encounter animal friends and power-ups along the path. Each item along the path is also activated in time to the music, with a green exclamation point appearing over it as Major Minor approaches them. If the player is able to match the timing with a waggle to the left or right, they will either add another member to the band or pick up the item that appears.

Items are represented by square icons, which do not reveal the item until a split second before they can be picked up. So while there are items such as tempo-steadying jellybeans, mood-stabling sunshine and more, the game challenges players to not pick up bad items that drive band members away from the group. Also in the vein of negative items, some of the animal characters aren’t what they seem as sometimes the nefarious Eggplant Fox will disguise himself to trick players into recruiting him. If the deviant joins your band, he will purposely provide a bad performance that will drive members away unless players can find items to drive him away.

With so much going on at once, players will most likely find Major Minor’s Majestic March to be a little intimidating for their tastes and that’s a fair conclusion as the title does throw a lot at its players. Tackling the story mode, players will unlock access to harder difficulties which litter the path with more and more penalty items. This tasks players with not only the game’s steady rhythm, but also quick reflexes and details that will try to take your attention off the baton. The thought of motion controls might shy players away with the concern of inaccuracies. However, as long as you can abide to strict rhythm windows, the controls actually work quite well as I experienced very few inaccuracies through my Major Minor romps.

Seeing very forgiving timing windows in current music games, many players might be taken aback by the accuracy required in the game’s waggling and, as such, this might put the game just out of the reach of the more casual and younger crowd the game’s presentation is most likely to attract. Players can get a little help in co-op where one player controls the tempo and the other recruits. Story progression is strictly limited to one player though. When you boil the game’s premise down, though, Major Minor is nothing more than waving your arm up and down repeatedly for a couple of minutes at a time. Even though mini-segments such as calling halts and doing waggling drills try to break up the marching, they still amount to little more than waggling the remote in a slightly different fashion. While you can get into the game and add a little flair into your movements, it’s no doubt the premise will be appealing to few, even with Greenblat’s signature art adorning the game.

Even if you do get sucked into the premise, however, players will quickly find there isn’t a whole lot to do in terms of the number of songs and stages offered. Similar to Parappa, Major Minor only features seven stages, and most players will be able to dive through the game’s story in less than an hour. This puts the weight of replayability on the shoulders of one’s desire to shoot for better performances in a stage, tackling the same stages at a higher difficulty or heading into the game’s simplistic multiplayer modes. If you’re willing to do the same seven stages over there is a little replayability to be found, but the amount of goods to go back to is paltry.

Yes, there are goals to shoot for such as completing the character gallery and running a five-star performance through each stage, but chances are very few players will have the drive to stick with the game beyond the initial story progression – if they don’t become frustrated or bored with the title before even that point. Even though Major Minor’s Majestic March arguably stands as 2009’s most original title and features some satisfyingly unique visuals and music, its lack of depth, variety and appeal drag Major Minor down heavily. Deep down there actually is a small bit of fun to be had with the title, however, this will most likely only be realized by a very niche crowd of music game and/or Matsuura loyalists.



The Scores
Story/Modes: BELOW AVERAGE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: VERY GOOD
Control/Gameplay: BELOW AVERAGE
Replayability: DREADFUL
Balance: BELOW AVERAGE
Originality: INCREDIBLE
Addictiveness: AWFUL
Appeal Factor: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: BELOW AVERAGE
Final Rating: BELOW AVERAGE GAME



Short Attention Span Summary
Even though Matsuura and Greenblat have teamed up once again, players looking for a Wii title that rivals the charm and game play of Parappa the Rapper will be disappointed in NanaOn-Sha’s latest production. Music gaming purists that are keen to the Eastern style of rhythm games should be able to dive in for a game play or two, but it’s unlikely many gamers will jump at the chance to hoist a baton up and down for an hour – the incredibly short time it takes to finish the game’s main story mode. Major Minor’s Majestic March gets a hearty nod for its unique styling, appropriate music and great originality, however, its flat game play mechanics and lack of variety and replayability make it tough to wholly recommend.