Review: Muscle March (Nintendo Wii)

Muscle March
Genre: Mini-Game
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 01/18/2010

As the gaming industry expands and more games are released, we’re beginning to see more and more bizarre games filter their way into the regular expected release lists. Third person shooters and RPG’s with pretty male leads only attract so much attention anymore. So if you can’t make the BEST game on the market, making the WEIRDEST might get you some press too. Muscle March takes that concept and, literally, runs with it, as the game itself is like a crossbreed of the musclebound oddity that is the Cho Aniki series and the bizarre and upbeat presentation of the Katamari Damacy franchise. Everything about the game is completely insane, from the speedo-wearing polar bear to the multi-cultural dancing musclemen (and woman) to the super-happy presentation and beyond. The resulting game is a spectacle of epic proportions. That said, no matter how strange and bizarre a game’s CONCEPT is, the game itself is nothing if the EXECUTION is flawed. No one wants to play a bad game (except me), no matter how ridiculous and over the top it might be, and even as a budget priced WiiWare download, Muscle March wouldn’t be worth the price if the gameplay sucks. On the plus side, it’s safe to say that Muscle March makes a compelling case for you to drop your five bucks on it, as it’s entertaining and plays well enough to be amusing. On the minus side, however, Muscle March doesn’t make an airtight case, and while the cracks in the product aren’t completely horrible, they hurt the game enough to make you second guess the point investment.

The story of Muscle March is simultaneously very straightforward and incredibly confusing. You pick one of a crew of multicultural bodybuilders who all hang out together and lift weights. Yup. One day, a thief comes and steals your protein powder, and instead of just running out to the local GNC and buying more, you have to chase the thief down and bring him/her/it to muscular justice. The thieves after your protein are a good bit hardier than they seem, however, and will plow through walls to avoid your wrath, leaving you to match the pattern they leave behind if you ever hope to get your protein powder back.

I… I got nothing. The story is simple, and you can grasp the concept, but it’s more absurd than a soccer racket. As far as gameplay modes are concerned, there are two: a single player mode where you go through multiple stages to retrieve your protein powder, and a multiplayer mode where players take turns trying to make it as far as possible before losing. To be fair, I really can’t think of any other mode the game could have offered, and as this is a five dollar game that’s not a bad amount of variety. That said, the gameplay modes ARE limited, and unless you have a lot of friends around to play with you’re limited to the single player mode, as the game doesn’t support online play. As well the single player mode isn’t incredibly in-depth, so if you’re looking for something a little more robust, Muscle March might not be what you want.

Muscle March is aesthetically eclectic in a manner that is as pleasing as it is bizarre, and the whole thing feels like one massive acid trip. The visuals are bright and absurd, and the game is quite colorful in both its visual palette and design. The graphics aren’t pushing the technical capabilities of the Wii to any great degree, but between the oddball backgrounds, the ridiculous cast of overly muscled characters and the pure Japanese feel of the visual design, they’re full of personality. The animations are generally fluid and the game keeps up a consistent frame rate, but it’s apparent that most of the characters are reusing the same set of animations. The game music is almost entirely super-happy dance techno with a few other Japanese-styled tracks here and there, and it works fine to keep the bizarre aesthetic going. There’s no notable voice acting in the game, sadly, so if you were hoping for some over-the-top voices to go along with the over-the-top everything else, you’re out of luck. The sound effects more than make up for this, as those that aren’t played straight (crashing into walls) are played purely for laughs (the elephant noise accompanying each time your protein powder is stolen), keeping the game from being anything other than insane.

Muscle March is incredibly simple to play, as it requires only the Wiimote and Nunchuck, and asks for no button presses of any sort. Each thief you have to chase will crash through a wall in one of four patterns (both arms up, both arms down, left arm up right arm down, and right arm up left arm down) and all you have to do is hold the Wiimote and Nunchuck to match these patterns so you fit through the wall. That’s the majority of the game right there, so as long as you have full arm mobility, you’re good. In single player mode, after your teammates are eliminated you’ll also have to rapidly move the Wiimote and Nunchuck up and down to chase down the thief at various points until you tackle them, at which point everyone dogpiles on the thief and you start the next stage. The game can be learned in seconds, but the pace speeds up as you play, lest you think that it’s going to be a walk in the park, and you’ll have to be on your toes to keep from failing out. The game is decently paced in both single player and multiplayer modes, so you won’t be overwhelmed all at once and new players will be able to learn the ropes with no problems if you want to make this into a party game.

You’re given five chances to fail before you fail the game in single player mode, though you can continue from whatever stage you failed on to keep things going. Multiplayer mode only offers you three chances to fail, but allows you to rank your performance against the other players, and speeds up the pace consistently (every five poses) to keep the challenge going constantly. There are several stages to go through in single player mode (I counted five before I simply couldn’t go any further forward), and multiplayer mode supports up to four players taking turns at a time. For the price, the game is plenty fun and entertaining, and while it’s not the most in-depth product available, it’s damn fun. Pretty much anyone can play it, and the game is absurd and amusing enough to keep you and your friends coming back for a while, if only because the experience is hilarious the first few times you jump into it.

The biggest knock against Muscle March is that the motion controls aren’t as responsive as they could be. You’ll have to find the right position to hold your arms to get the system to register your “poses”, or you’ll be plowing into walls because the Wii didn’t realize you moved your arm down in time to pass through the wall. The game doesn’t offer an option to pause that I could find either. This means that if you need to take a break (which happens after the eight time of flailing quickly to catch a thief), you’ll have to bring up the Wii menu or wait for the end of the stage. There’s simply not enough to the game to recommend it to someone who doesn’t care about the weird Japanese concept, either. That Muscle March is a five dollar game mitigates this somewhat, but the lack of online multiplayer hurts the game, as does the inability to customize any of the multiplayer options. You can’t choose a character, or impose stamina or starting speed handicaps on better players, or change anything about the mode at all, honestly. This removes a lot of the competitive interest the mode might have offered. When one player can consistently score twenty points over everyone else and there’s no way to adjust for this, what’s the point of playing against them aside from playing? For a player who likes the bizarreness of the game, this might not matter, but competitive players will be annoyed.

Also, the game is about muscular freaks posing to run through walls as they chase space aliens, robots and other assorted oddball creatures to retrieve their protein powder. A friend of mine described watching the game as an experience that made him fear for his sexuality, so if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t get the joke… well, you should probably think twice before downloading this. Just saying.

Muscle March is wacky and weird fun from Japan that more than justifies its five dollar price point if you can revel in the bizarre concept, but anyone looking for more meat (hur hur) in their games or who doesn’t get what the game is doing might want to look elsewhere. The concept is absurd, to be polite, and the colorful, insane visuals and super happy, eclectic audio only reinforce this fact. The game is exceptionally simple to play and anyone with full arm mobility can pick the game up and play it in seconds. There’s a decent amount of depth to the single player mode, and the single and multiplayer modes offer up a solid, balanced challenge for one to four players, making this a fun solo or party game. The controls aren’t as responsive as they could be, however, and you might have to fiddle with your arm positioning before you hit the sweet spot where the game recognizes your movements and responds correctly every time. Further, there’s a distinct lack of depth to the multiplayer modes, the single player mode can become tiring and offers few ways to take a break, and if the bizarre concept does nothing for you you’re going to put the game down inside of an hour. Muscle March is an outlandish and fun game if you can get into the concept, and its flaws shouldn’t be off-putting if you find the idea of the game hilarious, but anyone not impressed by the concept can safely pass it by.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: GREAT
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: GOOD

FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary:
Muscle March is a simple to play single and multiplayer game featuring muscular dudes flexing to dance techno while chasing down aliens who stole their protein powder. Your reaction to that sentence should pretty much tell you whether or not the game is worth your five bucks. The game is absurd in its presentation, from the bizarre story to the vibrant and wacky graphics to the upbeat and weird audio and beyond. The game amounts to moving your arms up and down to pass through walls, and anyone with working arms can learn to play it in no time, making it great for casual gamers. The game is well balanced, fun for everyone and generally amusing if you can accept or embrace the bizarre presentation, and it makes a strong argument for your five bucks. The controls can take some fiddling to really get a handle on, as you’ll have to find the right position to keep your arms in to make the system register your poses properly. The multiplayer is somewhat limited, also, as there is no online play and you can’t pick characters or handicap players at all. Finally, if the first statement in the summary made you cringe or shrug in apathy the game isn’t going to entertain you for any longer than an hour or so. For five dollars Muscle March is laugh out loud fun for everyone, so long as you can accept its flaws and the concept amuses you, but if either of those elements makes you think twice you might want to save your cash.

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