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Wii Music plays a 'B Flat'
on 14 November 2008
I love music. I DJ, produce my own tracks, have a garage full of old keyboards (yes, I'm a saddo!) and record interesting sounds... Like alot of people, I guess music's my life, but theirs always room for fun elements to my work and play. So it came as a big surprise when I saw the Wii Music ad on TV.
OK, so this isn't trying to compete with Ableton, Logic Studio, or daftly any other software, This is Nintendo's apparent fun take on making some music on your Wii at their usual fair price. And fair do's to them! Theirs already Guitar Hero and the alike out, so how does Nintendo's approach fair?
It's a mixed bag, to say the least.
Presented under a plush card case that's very funky, it sends all the signals that this would be ideal for Christmas. Even the release date, a month ahead of the maddest time of year, suggests they want this to be a gift to which alot of people can relate to.
An induction session (similar to most of Nintendo's own Wii games) takes you through the 3 main different ways of using the Nunchuk and Wii Remote. Suffice to say, all 3 are genuinely easy to pick and make sense, using a combination of buttons and movements. Unfortunately, a little of the 'spark' is lost once you realise that you don't need to hold the Nunchuk and Remote in the exact position it tells you to, which already signals a pulling factor for a younger audience who won't think of such things. Hopefully!
Jam, Videos, Games, and Lessons make up the main menu, and each accordingly do what they say.
The Jam mode is essentially the core of the game; made up of Improvise, Custom Jam and Quick Jam. All three grasp the same idea that you are basically putting your Wii Remote/Nunchuk movements to backing music, but they offer different ways of implying this. Obviously Custom Jam and Improvise are the funnest, and allow you to 'build up' to a peak after your solo. But among all three modes, the strengths and problems lay throughout.
Lets take the Guitar as an example. Naturally, you'd expect their to be different notes being played to the different position you strum, Wrong. All the instruments for this matter are set to pre-defined note patterns, meaning you have no control over creativity, aside from picking an instrument and the song. This goes for all instruments, and even more surprising on hammer-action instruments such as the piano or vibraphone, which could have very easily incorporated varying notes to your wish. Instead, its just a wash of waving your hands about, which is indeed fun, but as I'll keep saying, it just wears off once you realise you have no control on what you want to hear.
But what about the song choice? Thankfully, a challenge element has been incorporated; you must unlock all the other songs, to which their are 50+. However, after unlocking the majority and viewing whats ahead, it's hard not to be demoralized by the lack of excitement put into the track list. Indeed, simple songs, lullabys like Twinkle Twinkle cater for younger people, and Nintendos own game songs are nice, but their are no golden oldies to which we can all relate to, or at least not heard over and over. The backing tracks themselves lack spark in their MIDI fashion, and sometimes almost drown out your own music.
Games mode offers 3 further choices; Open Orchestra, Handbell Harmony and Pitch Perfect. Open Orchestra is basically just a game in which you must play the chosen at the right tempo (timing). Hardly groundbreaking, but offers a nice little break and has some humor elements if you don't keep in time... Handbell Harmony isn't much better either either; relying on you to play 'handbells' in time with the music. Difficulty isn't so much the problem, but understanding and grasping the concept is, as it isn't clearly explained what the objective is. Finally, Pitch Perfect is an almost opposite as it's incredibly easy - your task to merely match a Note being played to which of the Mii's on the screen is copying. Nice but their are plenty of levels at least which get more tasking due to different music definitions and concepts; some of which I fear many people which become frustrated at, such as 'harmonies' where it make take someone with a genuine musical ability to pick out the sounds rather than those without.
Lessons speaks for itself, though as you begin the game for the first time, you get tutorials and you have the option of playing them on each mode anyway, as well as instructions only a button away.
Video's mode is a fantastic idea that allows you to save your song and video together, thus being able to play them back from the main menu. You are able to create your own videos after performing a piece of music, which then goes on to allow you to choose a design for your 'album cover' and arrange the characters on it. A nice concept, but it wears off after you've explored the few templates.
Throughout all the modes, the music quality is fairly descent. Some will not approve of the MIDI quality, which is indeed sub-standard given the Wii plays 750mb CD's; and it's hard imagine the production team not being able to use this all up, Then again, if all the samples were in WAV format as an example, how long would be loading times be extended? The most disappointing instrument is the guitar, which sounds more like an elastic band being flicked.
The drum mode is interesting. Hidden away unless you own the Wii Balance Board for full functionality, it was perhaps the mode I was most looking forward to - letting off some steam without the space needed for a full set-up. Unfortunately this time round, the problem doesn't occur with the level of creativity you can persue, but with functionality. While there are six different 'movements' you can make on the four different drum kits, the level of sensitivity on the Balance Board is much to high. This results in both a snare and a kick being played at the same time, because once you step on one side of the board, it registers the movement on the other side. The only way to get round this (still sitting down) is by placing your feet right on the edges of the Board. The Nunchuk and Remote registrations are OK, but again, lack precision to interpret real movements. It's safe to say modes like this are in desperate need of the Wii Motion Plus to create 1:1 simulation that would ultimately engage the person into creating real movements.
But in all honestly, the whole of Wii Music needs this functionality. Without it, you are limited to merely waving your Remote around and being told to "imagine" the instrument, as you are not actually required to hold the equipment in its correct place, which takes away some value, challenge, and indeed 'gaming' elements of this software. Combined with a disappointing lack of support for expressing your creativity, relatively poor song choice, and fairly simplistic online option, I honestly feel this is Nintendo's final straw in the market of casual gaming, as this is a concept which has been partially flawed by making it too simplistic, even for the younger gamer. I'm in no way being synical or too harsh. I love my Wii, and I love music, and I understand such concepts should not be taken too seriously. However, their is a fine line between it being too simple, and too complicated. And it has to be said, Nintendo have crossed the line too far to cater for lack of creative input.