Release Date: 10/20/08
One of the reasons behind the massive success of Nintendo’s Wii console has been how well they have marketed towards those who only casually play video games, or those who might never have played a game at all. Combine that with how well the music/rhythm game business has been in the last few years and you can see how the idea for Wii Music was born.
Wii Music attempts to find it’s niche in the music video game market by making the game accessible to anyone and providing some more creativity and a wider variety of instruments, without having a bunch of plastic peripherals needed to play the game. Is this approach enough to distract people from the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games? Is it game interesting enough to draw in people who might have been turned off by the high price of the other music games?
There are only a couple of modes in Wii Music. There’s a tutorial mode where you can learn different styles of music and can also learn the basic fundamentals of gameplay. There’s a mode where you can view any video you have created, and various ways of sorting these videos.
Then there are the main two modes. There is a Games mode which allows you to choose between three separate mini-games. These games are: Mii Maestro, Handbell Harmony, and Pitch Perfect. Mii Maestro is a simple game where you act as a conductor and move your arm in time with the song in order to conduct an orchestra. With multiple player the game grades how in synch both players were. There enjoyment of this mode is pretty limited though and there are only 5 songs to play through. Handbell Harmony is probably the only mode that even resembles other rhythm games. In Handbell Harmony you will play with both the Wii remote and nunchuck, each representing a different bell that your Mii will be holding. The game will assign your character two colored bells which represent different notes on a scale. The music will start and the notes will scroll by and as they’re scrolling it’s up to you to ring the right bell at the right time that the note passes by. The mode has multiple difficulty levels and a fast scrolling mode making it one of the most challenging modes in Wii Music. This mode is even more fun with multiple players, but like Mii Maestro there is a very small selection of songs for this mode, which I thought was disappoting since I sort of enjoyed this mini-game.
The last of the mini-games is Pitch Perfect. Pitch Perfect is a quiz of sorts, broken up into eight different parts, starting with an easy section and then progressively getting more difficult. In this mini-game there are different questions that you must answer, but most of these are related to different tones. For example the game will play a tone and then you will have to guess between different Mii’s which one is playing a similar tone. It starts out easy since the tone and the Mii’s are all playing the same instrument, later when the game gives you a guitar chord and you have to find that same note between a Sitar, Piano, Bells, and Trumpet it starts getting a little more difficult. There are different questions and at the end of each group of questions the game will task you into putting a specific song in order, if you fail you have to start that group of questions all over again. I liked this mode a lot, but then again I’m a sucker for quiz style games.
The main mode of the game is Jam Session. This is really what all of Wii Music revolves around, everything else is just parsley on a dinner plate. In Jam Session you choose which part of the band you want to play between Melody, Percussion, etc. Once you choose your position then you choose an instrument. Here is where Wii Music is unique, there are a ton of different instruments to choose from. Bagpipes? Check. Sitar? Check. Xylophone? Yep. Cat Suit? Wait, wtf? Yeah, there’s a couple of weird ones thrown into the mix, like a cat suit where your actions make meow noises, and a dog suit that does the same thing but with dog sounds, and strangely enough a cheerleader outfit to add cheers to songs.
Once you’ve selected an instrument it’s time to Jam. With Wii Music you have the option to see a chart sheet with specific notes that will help you play your instrument at the right parts, but it’s optional and even if you do use it the game doesn’t penalize you for just making stuff up as you go along. Once you’ve finished playing you can choose to finish and records the song you just played with the back-up musicians, or you can change instruments and overdub into the song. Overdubbing is a large part of Wii Music. With Overdubbing you can take a song like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and play every instrument, choosing the correct instruments to turn the song from a lullaby to a Jazz song, or a rock style song. Or you can do something random like play the song with a Tuba, a Bagpipe, a Dog, and a Cat. Sure, it’s complete noise, but it’s noise you’ve created. This can also be done with multiple players, if a band requires 6 instruments to be played than you and a friend can each spend three different times playing a different instruments, If you have 3 players than you need to only do it twice, etc.
Once you’ve finished that you can record a video, then the game will show you your little music video and then you choose from a limited amount of options a design for a CD Jacket, and you can give yourself popularity points for the song. That’s right, there’s no failure, no grading, the only grades you can earn in this mode are grades you give yourself.
Honestly, this is where Wii Music succeeds as an interesting music experiment and fails as a video game. There’s really no doubt that there’s something sort of fun about playing the Mario Bros theme rock style, or taking a classical song and changing all of the instruments to Miis wearing barking dog costumes. It is fun to do. For a while. As a video game though, with no fail mode, no feedback to how well you are doing other than just hearing yourself make awful noise that sounds nothing like the song. You can just play random notes, give yourself the highest amount of popularity for the video, pat yourself on the back and call it a day. There’s nothing in this game that challenges you to play better, or provides anything remotely resembling a challenge at all.
I understand that this game is aimed at a different market than Rock Band or Guitar Hero, and Wii Music is sort of a culmination of a theme that is present in other Nintendo games. There’s no real pressure to do anything in Animal Crossing, or Nintendogs, or some of more casual Nintendo games. The main difference between THOSE games and THIS game is the fact that when you do get items in Animal Crossing, or train your dog well in Nintendogs, or get a low age in Brain Age, there’s a sense of reward whether it’s a new item to collect, a new toy for your dog, or just feeling smart. There’s no sense of reward in Wii Music other than the sense that after ruining a song with the Cheerleader that the person who wrote the song is probably rolling around in their grave somewhere.
Some of that has to do with the control scheme as well. There are four different control types in Wii Music. There’s a Guitar type where you hold the nunchuck up with one hand and strum with the other hand, the Percussion type for stuff like drums, piano and bells where banging up and down with a nuchuck in one hand and the remote in the other produces notes, Flute type where you hold the remote towards your nose and then press the 1 and 2 buttons to produce notes, and the Violin type, which is like the guitar type where you have to hold the nunchuck up with one hand, though this time you slide the remote back and forth in order to produce notes. Pressing different combinations of the C/Z or A/B buttons or moving the joystick while doing these motions will alter the sound.
Except it’s not entirely comfortable or accurate. With either the guitar and piano type styles you’ll often find yourself hitting notes or keys you never meant to, it just sensed a motion twice or not at all. There’s also not really a sense you are the one creating these specific notes because the game will only register the correct note if you hit it in time with the onscreen music chart. The rest of the time a strum might be a high note, or it might be a low note, and it’s this randomness that really limits the creative freedom the Wii Music seems to be encouraging. Hey cool, I can add a bunch of extra notes to Happy Birthday To You, except I can’t control if they’re high notes or low notes so it sounds like a bunch of junk.
If you fail to hit the correct notes instead of creating a cool new version of some public domain song you end up making a song that sounds like a grade school recital. Somehow it always manages from sounding like complete garbage, but it will probably not end up sounding like the idea you have in your head. There are no vocals, and strangely for a big Wii title all of the songs appear to be public domain songs over more popular licensed music (and considering the fact that the Big N is making a truck ton of money currently this seems odd to me) but otherwise the music in the game is well represented and all of the instruments sound exactly like they should. The biggest pain in the ear of the whole game is the extremely annoying mascot for the game. Seriously, you’ll here this character’s simlish style of speaking a lot in the game, and it’s extremely annoying each time. The character sounds like Beaker from The Muppet Show, only on meth and with an annoying Italian accent. After a few hours I’ve changed my mind and instead of the Duck Hunt Dog being my most hated Nintendo mascot, it’s this…thing. Whatever it is.
The graphics are as simple as you can possibly get. The game uses Miis for all the characters, and the backgrounds are very plain, even though there’s a decent variety to them. All the instruments look good, but this isn’t a graphically challenging Wii game. It almost seems like in addition to streamlining the gameplay they decided to make the graphics as uncomplicated as possible as well. It’s just bland looking.
So there you have it, Wii Music is not the rhythm game that’s going to take the genre by storm, but it also doesn’t seem like it’s meant to be. Essentially it’s a very simple music game that allows for some creativity in how you play the songs, and between messing around with the different sounds, instruments and mini-games, there’s a pretty good amount of stuff to do in the game if you’re looking to waste some time. I feel though that the gamers who will benefit the most from this are the much younger gamers who might want a game like this where they can just screw around and make noise with. Remember when we were all young before plastic guitars and drums where something we hooked into our video game systems and instead where toys where we created such a racket that our parents questioned their own sanity? That’s what Wii Music is. It’s less of a video game and more of a toy to create noise with. If you consider it that way, then Wii Music gives you a lot of different songs and options to create noise. When you think of it as a video game is where it all starts to fall apart.
Game Modes: Mediocre
Sound: Above Average
Final Score: DECENT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Wii Music is a good example of trying too hard to capture the casual gaming market; eventually you create something that isn’t really a game at all since it has no point or objective. That’s not to say Wii Music isn’t fun, for a while it’s fun to just goof around with the different instruments and songs and the mini-games are well thought out, but once that passes there’s no reason to keep playing. I think younger kids will have a blast just pounding away with different instruments, but parents should only buy this title for their kids if they have a lot of aspirin around for when little Johnny goes into a bagpipe solo.