NextGen Player Reader Review: Wii Music

Guest Post: Blaine Barber

Much has been written, mostly negative, about Wii Music in the few short weeks since its launch. I would venture to guess that this is probably one of the most controversial games to be released in quite some time. In the prevailing reviews, however, we seldom get down to what, from a gaming perspective, Wii Music is.

First off, there are several different "styles" of play in Wii Music. You can use buttons for horns, waggle actions for Bass, etc. It has to be said, that the Wii is the only console that can easily offer all of the features in use for the input. Please consider this - while you are playing an instrument you can change both the rhythm and the volume of that instrument. You can also slightly affect the pitch of some instruments (bending notes on guitar) or change the note somewhat implicitly (using the B button on trumpet). You cannot, however, choose any of the notes that the game is playing. Rather, they are offered up for you to discover as you bang, press, and shake your controllers. The takeaway here is that the input system is complex and unique to the Wii, but also limited in how it can change the game. With Wii Music the feedback is, for the most part, aural rather than visual. I often find myself wandering around the room with my eyes closed trying to find some hidden line of music in the game. Uniquely, the visual portion of the game is of little importance while you are playing.

With regards to objectives, the most basic objective of the game would be to complete a song using all six parts (2 percussion, 1 Bass, 1 chord, 1 harmony, 1 melody) hitting all of the correct rhythms. Doing this, however, would be like playing Super Mario Bros. 3 without trying to hit every block and discover all the hidden 1ups. According to Miyamoto, to make a great game there must be secrets there for you to discover. With Wii Music this is achieved by providing supplemental notes, chords, harmonies and rhythms that can be hit when NOT following the sheet music. All of these notes make up your environment in the game. It is a musical landscape. Sometimes you will find a path here that leads somewhere... other times, not so much. No one said this game was easy - oh wait, a lot of people said that. I think they're wrong.

Now, we come to the most controversial element of Wii Music - the rewards. This is the main area where the game departs not only from typical games but also from many Miyamoto classics. Following common perceptions on gaming, in order to achieve the ultimate reward in Wii Music one would have to complete each level (song) in the game. The twist is that the game will not tell you if you have completed a song successfully. This makes sense, however, because it is impossible for a game to grade a performance based on its aesthetic qualities. Remember, your goal is to go beyond the written music. The only way to judge how well you did on the song is through your own judgment and your interaction with others. This, I think, is the stroke of genius behind Wii Music. This is where the videos are an absolute necessity in judging the success of the performance. They can be traded back and forth amongst your friends or be posted on-line for all to see (if you have the stomach for it). The videos are both your reward and your tool for judging how well you did in the game. It's a rather interesting reward system. It is this reward system that was referred to as being "absurd" in the Gametrailers video review. I'm not sure that I agree.

So when we study Wii Music in depth, we can come to the following conclusions:
The Reward system (songs and videos) and the gameplay feedback system (primarily sound rather than graphics) are unique and in fact fitting to the experience.

For the most part, this game is not an educational tool except for very young children who are just beginning to grasp the basic concepts of rhythm and tone - no proper music theory is provided with the game.

This game is not a tool for improvising - at least not in a complete sense - because we cannot choose our own notes or chord progressions.
If we come to accept what the game is not, and we understand it for what it is, we have much more respect for the game - which is the purpose of this "review". Whether the game is a success is up to the individual player and his or her ability to make the somewhat elementary song list come to life. It is for certain, though, that as an attempt to change some of the core elements of the traditional console gaming experience, Wii Music is studied and precise in its objectives - and it makes perfect sense.