So it’s finally here. The game that Nintendo of America has pushed mercilessly for the latter half of 2008, stating that they “still had games coming out” in an attempt to assure the hardcore Nintendo fans that they weren’t going to be left high and dry after most of the “big” releases had already come out. Now, some people could say that Wii Music had one of the worst debuts in E3 history, and the awful promoting and marketing on Nintendo’s half certainly hasn’t helped the situation for trying to interest gamers. So what exactly is Wii Music, anyways? Is it a game? A music sim? Only Miyamoto truly knows what the thought process behind this title was.
In any case, Wii Music is going to surprise a lot of people. At least, the people who “get” it. When you first start up, you go through a simple and surprisingly enjoyable tutorial for figuring out how you play a few instruments, as well as what each of the different modes do. I hate tutorials, and have expressed my disdain for them in other articles I’ve written. However, I didn’t think this one was so bad in the end. What you’re left to afterwards mainly consists of the Jam mode and a bunch of different minigames.
Jam mode is the meat and bones of Wii Music, where you do what you bought the game for: play music. Here you choose between the Quick Jam, Custom Jam, and Improv types. Quick Jam just gives you a style, a song, and an instrument randomly, whereas the Custom Jam let’s you choose the song, the stage, and all the instruments. You can also customize the tempo, the style, and a few other options, such as the ability to add or remove certain parts of the song entirely. You can save some of your Custom Jam songs as videos and share them on WiiConnect24, though you’re limited to just three songs.
The Improv mode is the most different, and perhaps my favorite of the 3. It basically allows you to play whatever you want, however you want, and the game will slowly add in more members of the band that will follow your tempo. It’s fun to just start doing a beat with drums or a vibraphone and letting the CPU do the rest of the work.
The other main portion of Wii Music, the varied minigames, are what you need to play to unlock different songs. The drum minigame is interesting because it supports the Balance Board for pedals, allowing a more realistic way to play. It’s still fairly basic, but the option is a nice touch for people who have Wii Fit. Mii Maestro essentially uses the Wiimote for conducting an orchestra, allowing you to control the tempo of the song. Handbell Harmony randomly assigns the player to a different portion of a song that uses handbells exclusively, and the game is actually very enjoyable, playing somewhat similar to how Donkey Konga did, only with the Wiimote and Nunchuck instead. Finally, Pitch Perfect is just a guessing game for choosing the correct note that was played. Overall, Mii Maestro and Handbell Harmony seem to be the only ones of the four that are worthwhile, especially since the drum and Pitch Perfect games are just lacking in interactivity.
There are two other modes in the game that I haven’t mentioned, but they are of fleeting importance. In the Lesson mode, you complete different lessons to unlock more instruments, but it really just consists of more tutorials. You will have to play them all at some point to unlock the rest of the instruments, but generally you’ll be sticking to the Jam mode. The other mode is Videos, where you can see your saved videos from different sessions in Jam mode. While an interesting feature, it’s kind of pointless to have the entire video saved in my opinion, since most people will just want to hear their songs.
Controlling each instrument feels different enough in Wii Music that you don’t control everything in the same manner. You can spaz out if you want, but you won’t get the sound you want (unless you want it to sound totally offbeat and sporadic). With over 60 instruments to choose from, there’s also no shortage of getting what you want to hear. There’s even some strange choices, like a dog barking or the NES horn. The only criticism I have with the instruments themselves is that they sound very generic sometimes, and the quality just doesn’t seem to be the best it could have been.
Now, the song list is something of interest for a lot of people; after all, it is Wii Music. There are quite a few songs that are public domain, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and La Bamba, which is somewhat disappointing but understandable. These seem to be catered towards the younger crowd, since most kids know Yankee Doodle. Then you have the licensed songs, which appeal to the older players. This includes Material Girl by Madonna, Woman by John Lennon, and Every Breath You take by The Police. Finally, there’s a set of Nintendo songs, such as The Legend of Zelda theme, F-Zero’s Mute City, and of course, the Super Mario Bros. theme. I was happy to find quite a few songs I like in the end, and I think the shotgun approach Nintendo took will make most people satisfied, though I still think there are far too many public domain songs. Should they do another entry in the series, I hope that the old licensed songs from this version stick around, which wasn’t the case with the transition of Donkey Konga and Donkey Konga 2.
So that’s really it. The game is fairly barebones, and for the $50 price point you expect there to be more. This game should be budget-priced, perhaps around $20 under their Touch Generations line (I still don’t know why the Touch Generations line includes Wii games). Some might call Wii Music a waste of time, but in reality you need to understand what Nintendo was going for. It’s fun and basic. It’s not trying to be Guitar Hero or Rock Band, and really it does its own thing. I was incredibly skeptical before playing Wii Music, but it’s won me over with a more unique attempt at the music game genre, and is certainly worth a look for any Wii owner that is searching for something to pick up this holiday season.