Review: Wii Music

  • by Dave Rudden
  • October 20, 2008 00:00 AM PST

Don't go into Wii Music expecting it to be the second coming of Guitar Hero or Rock Band. In fact, it's almost the opposite. Instead of demanding extreme accuracy, Wii Music encourages creativity. On the other hand, its learning curve is much deeper. It might not have the same pick-up-and-play charm as titles like Wii Sports and Wii Fit, but you may just dig the beat of this different drummer if you put in the practice time.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Like playing real music, playing Wii Music can result in some amazing, original moments of creativity... if you can put in the time and effort. Is that what Wii gamers want, though?

Unlike the company's previous console and handheld forays, where every new game ended in a "64" or "Advance," Nintendo saves the "Wii" prefix for special occasions. Games like Wii Fit and Wii Sports all share sort of a similar premise--catering to the casual with pick-up-and-play mechanics while presenting new gameplay experiences meant to pique the interest of the hardcore. Wii Music, on paper, should be able to have the same sort of reach as the aforementioned titles... I mean, what's more universal than music?

Instrumental-Wii

At the forefront of Wii Music is its extremely diverse assortment of instruments--you start out with a decent selection of a few dozen, but the final tally runs upwards of 60. Staple instruments like drums, piano, and guitar have a good four or five variations each, but there's still more than enough room for important brass, woodwind, string, and percussion instruments. There's all-American tastes ranging from jaw harp to beatboxing. International instruments like India's sitar and Japan's taiko drum are also well-represented. And then there's the just plain bizarre modes of making music, like with barking dogs and cheerleaders. All of the above can be played with just a Wii Remote and Nunchuk.

The methods of control for these various instruments are actually quite ingenious. Despite the extreme diversity of instruments, there are really only four different ways you'll be using your Wii Remote and Nunchuk to play them. Guitar-style instruments have you holding the Nunchuk as you would the neck, strumming the Wii Remote as you would a pick. With string instruments like the violin, you do almost the same thing except you need to press a button to make noise. Woodwind and brass instruments have you holding the Wii Remote vertically and pressing the 1 or 2 button. For drums, pianos, and most of the bizarre modes of making music, simply swinging the Wii Remote and Nunchuk up and down will produce music. Drums can be spiced up with the addition of the Wii Balance Board, which adds the ability to play the hi-hat and floor kick drum to the standard set. Some instruments feel more real than others, and while everything lacks the tactile feedback present in Guitar Hero and Rock Band, its easier to pretend you're playing a violin by closely mimicking its motions than say, a saxophone by pressing buttons on a controller.

A Mixed Tape

Wii Music's most predominant mode is the Jam Session, wherein you pick the band, song, instruments, location, and bring it all together to create a performance.The first step is picking a tune. Wii Music has quite the eclectic song list. You've got classic songs everyone knows like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Happy Birthday". There's a few pop hits in the mix, like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Every Breath You Take". And for the Nintendo fan, you've got the classic Mario and Zelda theme songs. In my opinion, there's far too many international songs that I've never heard and have little to no interest in trying to creatively interpret--have you ever wanted to play "From Santurtzi to Bilbao" with your friends? If so, they might be Spanish folk singers from the late 1800s. Hardcore fans might be disappointed with the lack of Nintendo tunes. Besides the aforementioned songs, the only other song from the 8-and 16-bit era is the F-Zero Mute City theme, as the rest come from more modern-day titles like Animal Crossing and Wii Sports. Where's the Punch-Out theme? Kid Icarus? Heck, we play enough Mario Strikers Charged in the office... we'd love to hear that theme. The lack of Nintendo tunes is doubly offensive when you consider the fact that this game is the reason there's probably no Nintendo tunes in Rock Band or Guitar Hero (both Sony and Microsoft have allowed songs from their hit IPs God of War and Halo grace 3rd party music games).

I also have to take umbrage with the unlocking system for the songs in Wii Music. You only start out with a handful of songs (and its not the best opening set, either), and unlock the first batch by saving music videos, which isn't something you'll find the pick-up-and-play casual crowd and the memory-conscious WiiWare fiends probably won't cotton to. After that batch, further groups of songs are unlocked by taking music lessons. While they only take 20 to 30 minutes to complete and you do learn some valuable things about the game and music in general, they can be frustrating and tedious, just like a real music lesson. From there, more songs are unlocked by playing through Wii Music's minigames. While that's not a problem in and of itself, the songs chosen as unlockables via this method are perplexing. After saving handfuls of music videos and slogging through music lessons, I still couldn't find the Mario or Zelda theme songs. Turns out they were hidden in Wii Music's minigames. Hiding two songs that should have been available from the outset is just a plain bad move. Imagine if a band took their biggest hit and made it a hidden track on their latest CD or buried it away on their website. That's what it felt like to have to excavate the two most iconic Nintendo songs.

Once you find a song, you pick from a handful of cute stages, each populated with Miis and overflowing with fun background activity. After that is the most important part, where you determine how your song will ultimately end up. You'll pick one of up to six parts, using one of many instruments, apply a new style to the song if it behooves you (craving a Latin-styled Zelda, perhaps?) increase or decrease the speed, and add or remove parts. Once the song begins, its up to you to interpret it however you want. I highly recommend turning the song guide on as soon as the song starts, as it will allow you to play the instruments in time with the song. Frankly, it should have been automatically turned on--playing without it is almost like playing Guitar Hero without the note scroller. Unless you have that on or just happen to be bursting with musical skills, you're almost always assured a giant mess of musical instruments played incorrectly. If you're playing with friends, the chances of a catastrophe are made greater. For example, when playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with Reviews Editor Tae Kim and co-Features Editor Patrick Shaw, the LongHairedOffender took the song completely off track with a drumming performance that would make Animal from the Muppets look tame. If your song turns out better than Shaw's spastic drumming, you can save the performance as a music video, complete with an album cover featuring pictures of the Mii performers. You can edit the video to feature new performances and remove unwanted ones and send them to your other Wii Music-owning friends. We have no doubt, however, that we'll start seeing some of these videos hit YouTube and other video-sharing sites the second the game hits store shelves.

Comments [44]

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TheMisfit138

Wow...Nintendo's E3 disappointment has arrived. Still looks lame. Again, why Nintendo why?

Toneman

Could it be the lowest scoring 1st party Wii title yet? Still not low enough, judging from what I read.

Polyhistor

Half a star would have sufficed.

But since Nintendo's standards are so low, even useless junk like this one gets such a high score.

greensabre

Looks like a piece of trash. Why anyone would buy this game instead of Rock Band or Guitar Hero is beyond me.

BrandonGreene1989

greensabre wrote:

Looks like a piece of trash. Why anyone would buy this game instead of Rock Band or Guitar Hero is beyond me.

I think that maybe some parents would buy this for a younger kid, i mean some of the songs in Rock Band and Guitar Hero are not what parents want their kids listening to.

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