bshirk's Wii Music (Wii) review

If you enjoyed shaking your rattle as a baby, you'll like this.

Lately, the word Nintendo has almost become synonymous with thinking outside of the box.  First they released Wii Sports to the glee of consumers, which played a major role in increasing the size of the casual market.  Next came Wii Fit, which also sold like hotcakes despite having a ninety dollar price tag.  These unique gameplay concepts appealed to people, because they could partake in non-strenuous physical activity in the comfort of their home.  Pick up and play games have become increasingly popular, and Wii Music has been designed in the same mold.  Unlike the previous two games however, Wii Music fails to deliver an experience that will captivate most consumers.  The marketing behind Wii Music will likely trick your average consumer, but the gameplay behind it will probably disappoint most people once they get their hands on it.  Swinging a racket in Wii Tennis was a lot of fun, because it felt similar to the real thing without being overly complex, but Wii Music's gameplay feels as if it were made for those not yet ready to enter grade school, even though it is an experience made for everyone. 

Admittedly, the concept behind Wii Music is a good one--the game claims to have 60 playable instruments, but in reality, that isn't entirely true.  While there are 60 instruments, there are only four control methods, so you are basically playing the same four instruments the entire game.  Sure, they sound slightly different--close to their real life counterparts with a diminished sound quality, but using them feels the same.  One of these control methods has you holding the instrument like a recorder--you hold the instrument close to your face and alternate pressing the 1 and 2 buttons.  You'll do this for most wind and brass instruments included in the game.  The next control method has you playing

guitar-like instruments by holding the Wii-nunchuk steady in your left hand, while moving the Wii-mote up and down as if you were strumming a guitar.  Unlike the recorder-like control, this doesn't feel much like the real thing.  The third control method has you playing instruments such as the piano and drums by moving your left and right hands up and down as if you were hitting a drum.  Many of the instruments use this control method, so eventually this gets tiresome.  I often felt like I was a baby throwing a tantrum.  Actually, if I was a baby, I probably would throw one because of the boring, repetitive gameplay.  Finally, the fourth control method has you holding your left hand steady while moving your right hand horizontally and simultaneously pressing the B button.  This movement is meant to simulate moving a bow across the string as you would with a violin or cello.  These four methods are decent during your first thirty minutes playing Wii Music, but they quickly grow old, and don't give you the feeling that you're playing real instruments.

Not only are the control methods flawed and unoriginal, but the core gameplay is lacking as well.  Unlike Guitar Hero and Rockband, there aren't scores or ways of capturing how well you play.  In jam sessions, where you can play with up to four people, there are note charts you can look at, which tell you the optimal places to play the notes, but you are also encouraged to use improvisation to give the pieces you play a unique flair.  This is a cool feature, but your pieces will never sound as good as you hope, due to the low quality sound in Wii Music.  It would be nice if the pieces featured CD quality sound, but I suppose that won't be a huge issue to kids just looking to have fun.  Still, the game definitely feels lacking since it doesn't really have a system in place to help you perform the pieces the way they were meant to sound.  Like other reviews have said, Wii Music is really more of a toy than a game.  There aren't many objectives to complete, and the gameplay is extremely simplistic for the most part.

Wii Music does have its merits however.  While the song list doesn't feature pieces that are popular today, it features many well known American classics, as well as world music.  I heard many of these songs as a kid, and it was cool to experience them again despite the poor quality audio.  Wii Music contains very little video game music: the Mario theme, Zelda theme, Mute City from F-Zero, and a couple Animal Crossing songs.  Well, it also includes the Wii Sports and Wii Music themes, but to me they just sound like elevator music.  It would have been great if more Nintendo songs were included, but the song list is still a good selection for general audiences for the most part.  Wii Music has many famous songs such as Ode to Joy, Minuet in G Minor, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Yankee Doodle, and The Loco-Motion.  There are also international songs like Frere Jacques and Sakura.  The fifty included songs will keep you busy for awhile, but it is a chore unlocking them.  You have to go through many tedious "training" modes as well as watch many saved videos of your performances in jam sessions.  Even when you unlock all the songs, the repetitive nature of the game will quickly set in due to the lack of gameplay goals.

Besides single and multiplayer jam sessions, Wii Music includes a variety of other modes.  If you have a Wii Balance Board, you have the option of engaging in a special drum-training session that utilizes the board.  It is fun to mess around with in  a regular jam session, but the training mode is far too difficult due to the unintuitive nature of the control set-up.  A full drum set includes many parts, so it is understandable that this mode isn't easy, but Nintendo could have made it a little more intuitive.  It is difficult to manage using your feet on the board and waving both arms in a variety of ways, while holding or depressing buttons at the same time.  Some of the motions do drastically different things depending on what button you're holding down, so it all just becomes too much to keep track of.  If you have a board, just mess around with it in jam sessions.  The other modes are less complex and are generally more enjoyable.

Handbell Harmony is an entertaining mode that has you using your rhythm skills.  In this mode, your Mii holds two different colored bells at the top of the screen.  On the main section of the screen, you'll find colored bells scrolling by, and when your colored bells enter a bell shape contained in a bar on the center of the screen, you swing your arm that is holding that color.  In this mode, you are graded on how well you do, so it is fun challenging yourself to see if you can get the correct timing when the mode is set at high tempo.

Pitch Perfect is another fun mode, but it is more in lines with music education than actual playing.  For those who have perfect pitch or have played an instrument in the past, you'll probably find this mode fairly easy.  I managed to breeze through all the lessons but one without losing, and that one loss was due to a minor mistake.  This mode could be useful to those who are new to music, but it may also be frustrating to those who lack patience.

The other two modes are fairly disappointing.  One of them, Mii Maestro, has you conducting a symphony.  To conduct, you simply lift your arm then bring it down at whatever speed you wish.  This allows you to control the tempo and volume of the orchestra.  It doesn't feel very accurate however.  I used to be in a symphony, so I have witnessed a conductor on multiple occasions, and conducting is much more complex than a simple up-and-down hand motion.  It didn't feel very accurate, and even though I knew some of the pieces and have good rhythm, I still couldn't figure out how to get a high score for some of the songs. 

The final mode is a set of lessons for various styles of music.  There are lessons for rock, jazz, reggae, classical, and Japanese music.  Each of these lessons teaches you little tricks for using certain instruments, but the techniques given are difficult to remember, and you'll quickly become bored after playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star over sixty times.  It was nice to be able to hear each instrument and learn what instruments go well together, but the way in which the techniques are taught will make you wonder why you are wasting time with this game.

Lastly, I will briefly mention Wii Music's presentation.  The presentation is similar to Wii Sports and Wii Fit--the interface is simplistic, and a minimalistic approach is used with the graphics.  This likely won't surprise anyone who has played other casual games for Wii.  I like how the interface is simple, but there are some design flaws.  For one, the musical maestro who teaches you everything is extremely annoying, and someone who observed me play this game commented that he sounded like he was speaking gibberish with Mario's voice.  He quickly becomes annoying, and at times there is far too much text.  One aspect of the presentation is impressive however--I like how you can send videos of your performances to friends online.  While sharing videos is a cool feature, it doesn't do much for Wii Music since it is such a boring game.  It is unlikely that your friends will want to yawn at your videos when they are already bored to tears by their own.

I am extremely disappointed with Nintendo's latest casual game for Wii.  As a long time supporter of the company and Shigeru Miyamoto, I was surprised at how mundane this title turned out to be.  I was definitely expecting more in the gameplay department.  There are many other casual games that are more fulfilling than Wii Music.  Nintendo has gotten lazy recently, and to keep them in check, I recommend that consumers avoid this title and make better use of their money by purchasing one of the great original games that have been released this year.  I mean come on, would you rather spend fifteen dollars for a masterpiece such as World of Goo, or spend fifty dollars on a noisemaker?

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