The defining quality of the most successful games for the Wii has been broad accessibility — anybody can start playing and have fun, regardless of their skill level. “Wii Music” is the first mass market-targeted Wii title from Nintendo to fall short of that goal. It’s easy to make noise with any of the game’s 66 instruments, but difficult for groups to play songs that sound much better than a cacophonous racket. While it is a good way for individuals to learn different musical styles, “Wii Music” lacks the simplicity and vicarious thrills of “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band,” and likely won’t attract nearly as many groupies.
Traditionally, rhythm videogames have focused on hitting the right note at the right time. In “Wii Music,” it’s impossible to hit a wrong note. Players move the Wii-mote just as if they were playing their onscreen avatar’s instrument — hitting piano keys, strumming a guitar, blowing a trumpet, and so on — and “Wii Music” players the appropriate notes in the song selected from the game’s 50 tracks.
The problem is that performing in a tempo that makes any sense takes precise knowledge of the part within the song that one is playing. “Wii Music” attempts to compensate by turning extra notes into a more complex arrangement. When one person is playing alone, with the game’s computer-controlled “tutes” as back-up, these on-the-fly arrangements sound OK and players can amuse themselves by changing their tempo and listening to the results.
When up to four friends jam together, however, “Wii Music” gets chaotic. Each player picks one of six parts — melody, harmony, percussion, etc. — and their own instrument. With all four instruments pumping out of the speakers equally, it’s near impossible for any one person to concentrate on what they’re doing, let alone coordinate their playing into something that actually sounds like a song.
The only solution Nintendo provides is a guide that that shows the timing each player should follow to play the song as it’s traditionally recorded. But that makes the game so simplistic, and the resulting arrangement so ordinary, that there’s hardly any point in playing.
In addition to the standard instruments one would expect in a band, there are some unusual ones, like a marimba, ukulele, and cowbell, as well as the truly bizarre like a dog suit, cat suit, or cheerleader. Playing the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” to the sounds of a dog barking, cheerleader screaming and a sitar strumming makes “Wii Music” feel like something out of a David Lynch movie.
The majority of “Wii Music’s” songs are either public domain classics like “Frere Jacques” and “La Bamba” or theme songs to Nintendo games. There are 14 licensed tracks, most of which are Motown or pop classics that won’t offend anyone, such as “I’ll Be There” and “The Loco-Motion.” More annoying than the lack of any remotely hip music, however, is the fact that every instrument is reproduced in the game via a synthesizer, so that even perfectly executed songs sound no better than something one could make on a PC.
Individuals can use the game’s training sessions to learn the building blocks of a variety of genres from classical to jazz to Hawaiian. They’re well done, but move “Wii Music” into territory where one would probably be better off just taking real-world lessons.
There are three different musical minigames, one of which requires players to distinguish between different pitches, and another — by far the most fun of the bunch — that uses the Wii-mote as a baton to conduct an orchestra. In the third, players ring handbells in time with notes that scroll by on an interface that’s taken directly from “Guitar Hero” and serves as a reminder of how much better that game is than this one.