Sunday, November 2, 2008

Wii Music (Wii) Review

Our first review this lovely November is a controversial title of the most controversial nature! It's controversial because it has the hardcore gamer upset! Oh no! Let's see how bad this game, Wii Music, really is.

B-But I'm a hardcore gamer! I'm not supposed to like this!

At E3 2006, in the grand stage of the Kodak Theater, Shigeru Miyamoto opened up Nintendo's press conference, conducting an imaginary orchestra. However, instead of a traditional conductor's baton, he wielded a Wii remote. This was the very first display of the final of Nintendo's big four casual titles, Wii Music. Fast forward three years later and at the same theater that Wii Music was introduced to the world, it would be demonstrated for the very first time.... and boy, was it a horrible showing. This left a very bad taste in the mouths of gamers, and rightfully so. What was shown was essentially four folks, Miyamoto included, shaking and gesturing with the Wii remote in a random fashion while MIDI music played. That's it? It took three years to develop that? By that time, many wrote the game off completely. "It's trash. It's shovelware. Nintendo has abandoned us." Now while some chose to completely ignore any new videos and presentations or decided that the new information was garbage no matter what, others watched later clips, becoming increasingly intrigued by the demonstrations after the botched E3 conference. Now that the game is out, the verdict will be in. Will Wii Music be music to your ears, or will it kill the very fabric of gaming as we know it?!

Arsenio Hall leads the death of gaming.

Let's throw some myths out the window immediately, shall we? Wii Music should not be compared to Rock Band or Guitar Hero at all. Those two series focus on appropriate button presses or strikes at the right time, and you're scored based off your performance. Wii Music is much different in its approach. It's more about jamming alone or with friends and creating music-- either completely utilizing improvisational tricks off a given melody or giving a well-known piece of music your own flavor. At no point during jamming does the game say "you suck, game over, end yourself" like most gamers are accustomed to. It's up to your own ear whether or not you were good or not. Your performance does not judge you: you judge your performance. The second myth I'd like to dispel comes from the ill-conceived E3 2008 demonstration. It seemed to many, myself included, that all you did to play a song was randomly waggle, and the song automatically played. This is not so. However, you can waggle all you want if that's how you want to play. It's your opportunity to understand Wii Music, waggle it away like so many reviewers if you wish, or you can actually try to play some actual music.

To further elaborate on that point, Wii Music boots up and introduces you to the muppet-like maestro, Sebastian Tute, who serves as the guide into the magical and musical world of Wii Music. He immediately introduces the four main ways of playing the various instruments. For things like piano or drums, you use both the Wii remote and nunchuk to strike notes or beats. There's also alternations on that. For instance, holding the analog stick when playing the piano unleashes a pleasing glissando-- a great flourish for the end of pieces or musical phrases. The second form of control is guitar. You hold the nunchuk up like the neck of a guitar and strum with the Wii remote. This is the only posture that didn't work 100% correctly. Sometimes when strumming, I'd play more than one note at a time. I corrected this by striking down gently as if I were playing the piano. It was cheating, but my performance was much greater for it, all right? The third control method is that of the violin. Same thing as the guitar, but instead of gesturing like you're holding the Wii remote and nunchuk as if you're playing in a band with Sebastian Bach, you hold the controls like you're playing in an orchestra for Johann Sebastian Bach. That is, you hold the nunchuk out from your body and on the same height as your neck, and you use the Wii remote to bow left and right to play. Finally, the trumpet-style control only needs the Wii remote to play. You hold it up to your face like you're playing the actual instrument, and use the 1 and 2 buttons to play notes. Don't worry, you don't have to blow unless you're fantasizing about something else. Holding the Wii remote at a high and low angle determines the volume of your playing.

There are ten venues for your music to take center stage on.

After playing Tute's tutorial to introduce players to Wii Music, it's off to the Jam Session mode where the majority of one's time will be invested into. At the very start there's but a few songs to play with the one used in the majority of Sebastian's lessons being Twinkle Twinkle Little Star-- obviously used since it's a piece that everyone should know. After all, Mozart composed 12 variations of said song, so he must have known something we don't, right? The track selection at first is minimal, but by playing more lessons, creating songs, jamming, and such, more tunes will be unlocked-- up to an admirable fifty songs. These songs range from public domain, folk songs, pop tunes, and even some Nintendo tracks, too. It's the same thing with instruments, too. There are a modest sampling to choose from at first, but as you progress, more unlock including mix-tables, NES sound effects, mouth harp, and more to spice up your musical creations.

To play a jam session, you first choose the song, performance venue-- which there are ten after all is said and done, and lastly, the part of the song you want to play. There's melody, harmony, chords, bass, and two percussion parts-- a total of six musicians in all at a time which three other real-life players can join you as (great fun, by the way). You can add and remove parts, choose the tempo of the song, change instruments, and so forth. Then comes the actual performance. Contrary to popular belief, there's some creative freedom involved here. Now, you can opt to have the musical-flow guide on the screen which is a simplified sheet of music with no pitch values, just when the notes come in. You can follow that to get the feel of the piece, or you can just improvise the entire piece, adding or removing notes here and there as you play to perform an entirely different sounding melody than given. You have no means of setting the pitch of each note you play, but each improvised note is set so you won't be off-key.

Choose a part. Hey... that writing? Totally Danish.

After the song ends, you can select to watch a replay of your performance, change instruments, or record a video. By changing instruments, you can actually select a different part to play which will combine with your previous play session to create a brand new performance. You can do this for all six parts, so you playing the melody on acoustic guitar, then playing harmony of harmonica, then playing chords on banjo, followed by playing percussion on drums, and finally playing rapper for bass will all add up to a very unique performance by you to watch. At the tale end, you can record your hard work into a music video, make a cover for your new album by placing your Miis along a jacket, changing the frame and background, and then allowing friends both close and nearby to watch your videos. The Nintendo Wi-Fi connection which uses your Wii friend code allows you to share your work with other musicians worldwide. A really cool thing to do is something called overdubbing. You can add your own performances to a video sent by a friend, and send it back. You can keep exchanging the video with each others' new performances to create an entirely new video. It's very cool, and it's as if you're virtually playing with a faraway friend. What I would have liked to see in Wii Music though is the ability to jam live with folks online. This would have added even more replay value to the package.

With enough creativity and knowledge of the basics of music, you can create some very impressive variations of the fifty tracks in the game. It's really rewarding after putting an hour or two into a song to have it come out as your own pleasantly-sounding creation. It's honestly hilarious and very entertaining to put your Miis into the game, too-- especially if you have rather humorous ones. There's nothing like the Captain Falcon Five rocking out with their version of F-Zero's Mute City or the cast of Family Guy presenting their tribute to La Bamba with diabolical baby Stewie smacking the tambourine against his side.

The final touch of a jam session is concocting a jacket cover for
your new music video.

Those who insist that all you do in Wii Music is to waggle at random will most likely assert that everyone's result will sound poor. This isn't so. Wii Music is an interesting specimen because it really requires the player to have a good ear. Without that, a person is most likely to just swing their arms around without understanding melody or rhythm. Even with knowledge of that, if the same person lacks a good sense of rhythm, it will make their playing suffer greatly. In that regard, Wii Music is actually quite complex for a casual title. It may be too difficult for some players to fully explore and play something that they can be proud of if they lack a sense of good melody and rhythm. However, that's not too much of a problem since the tutorials are quite helpful, teaching the player the basics all the way to learning various musical styles like rock, pop, and classical-- each with their own rhythm and beat patterns on a given song.

To cap off Wii Music is a collection of three mini-games. Wii Maestro has you conducting an orchestra by waving the Wii remote to determine the tempo of a given piece. Wave to a crawl, and the symphony will play to a crawl. Wave like Jim Carrey on acid, and the symphony will play like Jim Carrey on acid (see: really fast). The goal is to have as steady a performance as possible. Secondly, there's Handbell Harmony which is the closest thing you'll get to something like Rock Band in Wii Music. Each of the four musicians holds two handbells each of a different color. When a colored bell cycles over the yellow line, the player with that handbell must shake the hand that holds the bell. Both of these mini-games are scored out of 100 points, and both only have five songs to play which seems like a blown opportunity to me. FInally, there's Pitch Perfect which test your tone recognition through eight individual levels with a series of ten questions each. These questions range from which Mii is playing the highest pitch to finding the pair of Miis playing the same pitch to arranging three Miis out of six that will play the given three-part harmony. These games reward new instruments as well as new songs, so not only are they fun to play but they reward the player.

If anything sucks about Wii Maestro,
it's that damn Gamespot logo.

Sound is the most important part in a music game, obviously, and it could definitely be better in Wii Music. I'm fine with using MIDI for playback on instruments, but there should have been a higher quality used. Pianos, acoustic guitars, flutes, clarinets, strings, and percussion sound adequate, but rock guitars, brass, and others sound "absolutely dreadful" as another music critic who would be a nobody without a certain "absolutely dreadful" show would say. Sound is to melody as graphics are to harmony. The graphics are pretty good actually. The animations of the various Miis are brilliant as seen by the numerous camera views during music videos. Not only will the Miis on your Wii console be able to appear on stage or in the main menu, but they'll also hang around at the various venues, in the crowd, walking by in the distance, and bopping their heads up and down. Yes, Ganondorf and Zelda CAN coexist as they sit on a bench together listening to Turkey in the Straw.

You can time all your bandmates
to leap into the air simultaneously.
"It's not the crack making us do this-- it's the heroin!"

It's very baffling to me the reviews of Wii Music. I mean, I knew game journalism was doing poorly, but I didn't know it was this pathetic. I don't know who to blame more: the mainstream review sites or the horde of hardcore gamers which they are forced to cater to. You can see this in various Wii news stories in the comment sections on sites where the Wii is hardly covered at all. "Wii has no games", "Wii sux", "Wii is for my grandma", etc. Those are the type of gamers your review sites cater to, and we wonder why game journalism isn't taken seriously by anyone. It was never a question about reviewers not getting Wii Music. It was a question about them not ever wanting to get Wii Music. Many people made up their mind about Wii Music at E3 2008. No matter any good news or interesting demos that popped up after. "Hey, this looks pretty good..." Then you have the hardcore gamer who doesn't want to eat crow saying as they hold their hands over their ears, "lalala! I cannot hear you!" Perhaps they were just looking for a reason to damn Nintendo for ever allowing casuals to enter their hobby. It's sort of like the older child thinking his parents won't give any love to him anymore because of the new baby. It's selfish and irrational regardless as that isn't the case of hardcore games dying out. It's just a really pathetic thing that those who latch onto Wii Music being bad, a waggle-fest, and whatnot are the ones who Gamespot, IGN, and so forth cater to. Then again, I'm probably a Nintendo apologist for actually liking Wii Music...

Wii Music is a brilliant experience which some will like and some will not. Hopefully those who don't like it actually gave the game a chance unlike so many others-- unprofessional and "professional" alike. In fact, there actually is a goal to be achieved in Wii Music: to successfully rethink what a video game can be. If that's not good enough for you, another goal is playing a performance that you can have fun doing and be proud of. My time creating a version of a song was like a time trial. When you're going for a great time in a time trial, you want to perform as well as possible. If you fudge up a turn by taking it too wide or hitting the inside corner, you retry your run. Same with Wii Music. If you don't play a part as well as you had hoped, you retry your run. Like any musical instrument, if you have no skill with it, it'll be a noisemaker. Same with Wii Music. For those that are interested in music-- both professionals, students (such as myself), and the casual listener-- there's enough content and entertainment here for you to come join the band. Even if you have a feigning interest, give the game a cheap rental, keep an open mind, try it out, and perhaps you, too, will be making musical masterpieces of your own with Wii Music.

[SuperPhillip Says]

Graphics: Good use of bloom during venues, and the Mii animations are off the charts.

Gameplay: Non-stop waggling randomly that is the end of gaming as we know it.

Sound: The MIDI quality leaves a lot to be desired. Some instruments sound better than others.

Replay Value: If the core concept is intriguing to you, you'll get a lot more out of Wii Music than those who do not feel the same.

Overall: 8.5/10 - I've been infected by the Wii Music virus. Delete program. Reboot. Reboot.


SpinachPuffs said...

Nice review - though could perhaps have done without the mini rant in the middle...

To be fair, it's very hard to get decent MIDI guitar anyway - piano, percussion etc have always been miles ahead anyway (we learnt that in Computing last year :D)

My two best friends (twins) have pledged to purchase Wii Music for me as a birthday present! Less than two weeks to go!

Unknown said...

"Professionals" are allowed to troll the game as much as they want because their userbase laps it up.

I'm not letting it slide this time.

Way too much ignorance in the media and from gamers this generation. It's very disturbing and sad.

Blaine Barber said...

So nice to see a decent review of this game. It truly is inventive and fun if you have an ear for music. Superphillip: I agree with you whole heartedly. It's time for the professional reviewers to be brought down!

spinachpuffs: that's interesting info... :)