Wii Music - WII - Review
The Guitar Hero craze has inspired everyone. Though Nintendo had dabbled in music games and music-related content before (the most notable being the Mario Paint composer), it wasn’t until E3 2006 that the console manufacturer hinted that it would be entering the music genre. Touting its new Wii platform, Nintendo gave attendees the chance to play a conducting game that was tentatively titled Wii Music. During the demo, players were required to wave the Wii remote as if they were conducting a real orchestra.
For the next 24 months, Nintendo didn’t say much about its Wii Music demo. Would it ever become a full-fledged game? The announcement finally came at E3 08, and with it, the surprise that Wii Music would include more than a conducting mini-game – it would also feature several different instruments that could be played with just the remote and Nunchuk. At the time it appeared that Nintendo had achieved a new level of musical innovation.
Then the demonstrations began. Select representatives (and one hired musician) walked up on the stage of the Nintendo press conference and began to wave their arms around without any sense of direction. The on-screen characters – comprised of nothing more than Miis – moved haphazardly with each player’s motion. But the most puzzling thing of all was that the game didn’t seem to have an objective. Upon going hands-on for the first time, no goal could be found. You could shake the controllers aimlessly and make music just the same, as the beats are pre-programmed. It seemed that the tempo was the only part of the music that could be influenced (the faster you shake the controllers, the faster the music plays).
Fortunately, that was only a demo. Wii Music was still five months away from release, giving Nintendo plenty of time to add some game to their toy. But is that the direction the developers wound up taking, or is Nintendo’s major musical debut little more than a tech demo?
They say you can’t judge a game by its E3 demo. Most of the time, they would be right. But that is not the case with Wii Music, whose Jam Session mode is no different from the July demo. There are more instruments present (banjo, steel drums, handbells, ukulele, acoustic guitar, saxophone and the NES Horn, to name a few), but the mechanics haven’t changed.
With both controllers in hand, players can flail about to emit whatever sound the game is pre-programmed to produce. Ideally, you’ll hold your hands to form the instrument in question, such as a guitar (left hand up, holding the Nunchuk like the neck of a guitar; right hand down, strumming the Wii remote) or violin (palm of left hand face up; right hand sways back and forth).
Players can tap the minus button to bring up a typical music game bar where notes scroll across, but it doesn’t have much of a purpose. The game begins by saying that you don’t need to worry about your performance, instead urging players to rock on without a care in the world. For any lost soul intimidated by Guitar Hero, this might very well be the best thing since doggie chew toys that squeak (which, by all accounts, are far too basic for humans – even those frightened by guitar controllers). But it doesn’t do anything for the rest of us, who don’t need a $250 game console and a $50 game to make noise. There are Playskool and Fisher-Price toys that’ll take care of that at less than half the cost.
Wii Music is almost commendable for the way it allows players to expand on the base sound of any song. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (a tune I’m sure most gamers are dying to hear) is the first you’ll get to play. With the tempo under your command, you can jam on the piano (shake the remote and Nunchuk alternately to press the keys successively or shake them together to press two keys simultaneously) to create a sound that is nothing like Twinkle. To get that Little Star sound just right, you’ll have to wave the remotes as slowly and as insipidly as the song demands. But that wouldn’t be much fun, now would it?
Rock Band and Guitar Hero players may come to Wii Music expecting a cornucopia of magnificent music. What they’ll find is a collection of tracks whose names mean nothing. The soundtrack is made up of music you know by heart thanks to their frequent TV ad appearances (a luxury car commercial comes to mind – and maybe one for dog food) but are not recognizable by name alone. Reportedly, many of the tracks are public domain, meaning they’re free to use. That would explain why ad agencies love them. But Nintendo did go the extra mi— not the extra mile, but a couple of yards, you could say – by adding some of its own music (including a weird version of the theme from Super Mario Bros.) as well as some licensed pieces, such as “Daydream Believer” by The Monkees.
In Search of Gameplay
Wii Music may dedicate itself to being the easiest game (toy) ever created, but there are a few mini modes that, if nothing else, provide a slight difficulty.
Wii Maestro: This shake-heavy conducting game (based on the 2006 Wii Music tech demo) is not as easy as it looks. You have to shake the remote in tune with the pace of the music, which first requires you to know the song pretty well, and second requires that you shake the remote consistently (no sudden tempo changes). Points are awarded at the end of each stage, and then … that’s it. You’re given a new song every time you play (up until all the songs are unlocked, of course). This is a decent novelty for certain, but it doesn’t provide any long-term gameplay value.
Handbell Harmony: Shake the controllers (each equaling one bell) as the bell icons scroll across the screen. Fun for about two minutes.
Pitch Perfect: Eight stages of amusing sound-guessing. You’ll have to rearrange Miis to re-create the pattern of a song, decipher who has the lowest pitch (this could be any musician using any instrument), arrange the musicians from lowest pitch to highest pitch, and solve other (but similar) problems to win. While not at all a game-seller – Pitch Perfect could have been designed as a free Web game and no one would know the difference – this mini-game will hold your interest longer than the other two.
Drumming: This isn’t a mini-game but rather a mode where you can play the drums (and receive lessons) using a virtual kit. The Wii Balance Board is supported and apparently required since I couldn’t get this mode to start without turning on the board. Once turned on, the board lets you control the bass drum and hi-hat pedal while the remote and Nunchuk handle everything else.
If you could raise your hands and drum toward the screen, hitting everything in real-time, this would be amazing. But the Wii remote is not currently capable of doing this, hence the Wii MotionPlus adaptor due next year. Unfortunately for Wii Music, which was obviously developed before the MotionPlus was finalized, this game has to rely on old-school technology to pull off something Rock Band and Guitar Hero are doing with expensive peripherals.
Thus, you’ll have to push on the D-pad and thumbstick to move your virtual hands over to the virtual tom, cymbal, snare or any other portion of the kit. That would almost be tolerable if the drum mechanics were accurate. They aren’t. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t mimic the kind of performance you get – even something as simple as a drum roll – from a real or video-game (Rock Band/Guitar Hero) drum kit.
On the bright side, the drum lessons – while completely useless in this game – provide some very good advice. If you’re willing to stick out the monotonous presentation and awkward aerial mechanics (you’re drumming on air), you might learn a thing or two about playing this instrument.
Review Scoring Details for Wii Music
Not as much of a game as it is an expanded version of the Wii Music tech demo unveiled two years ago. Nintendo could have led the pack by including more instruments than any other music game. Wii Music falls behind, however, for not offering enough in the way of actual gameplay. You'll shake and shake without feeling like you've accomplished much of anything, or that you even have control over the instruments you are trying to play.
Wii Music is supposed to be the cool musical "toy" that anyone can play, but with Miis and weak backgrounds filling out the visuals, this won't be a game that turns heads.
You'd think that having Nintendo themes and familiar tracks would be enough to make Wii Music a musical hit. Unfortunately, the songs are either lame, irrelevant, or a poor version of a classic.
I was tempted to enter the word "None" in the space above.
It seemed like a promising idea two years ago, but the finished product does not live up to the standards set by Wii's first year.
Wii Music was supposed to be the music game for social gathers. So what happened? When playing with friends, you're guaranteed to hear one of them complain about the lack of gameplay, the soundtrack or the graphics, thus making the multiplayer experience less tolerable than playing it solo.
Nintendo may have had the best intentions with Wii Music. Their aim to create software anyone can pick up and play is shared by most publishers within the game industry. But there are limits to how simple a game can be before it stops being fun. That leaves Wii Music in a tough position. Nintendo fans will rent it for kicks (or just because it's a Nintendo game and they're curious), but it is destined to disappoint the mainstream player who is impressed by the game's cool TV spot.