Nintendo is composing a different tune

At E3 we were given a brief glimpse of Wii Music, which just released yesterday, and told that the game was a strange music game with no requirements, no challenges and a bunch of random Wii Remote movements. In short, it didn’t look that interesting. My brief hands-on time with the game gave me a little hope for it, but didn’t really allow a deep look into the game, and from everything Nintendo was saying there wasn’t much depth anyway. Flash forward to yesterday and I’m sitting in a room with a group of friendly Nintendo reps in downtown Washington DC being told that Wii Music is a game with more depth than the Atlantic and yet also the shallowness of a puddle after a light rain storm.

Utterly confused yet? Good. So was I, because this is not the Wii Music I was presented with at E3, which was made clear when the fellow demonstrating the game to me found out I had played it at E3 and quickly responded with, “A lot has changed since then.” I’m not sure if that was the exact truth about the game, since it looked much the same to me, but I am sure it is the total truth about how Nintendo is presenting the game to the general public after finding out that playing to not only the casual gamers, but the hardcore is actually a good idea. So this time around I got a bit of a different experience with the game, not because the game was different, but in how it was presented to me as a gamer. From this go round I have to say that if we’re going by strict definitions of casual and hardcore, then Wii Music might be more hardcore than both Guitar Hero and Rock Band (Note to Jason: Don’t shoot me).

You can read my hands-on of the game for all the basics but what I want to point out here is what wasn’t shown or explained at E3. Wii Music isn’t about hitting notes or randomly flailing your arms, it’s about making music, and understanding the underlying concepts of how to put together good music. Sure, there aren’t any penalties for acting like an idiot and not making good music but there also isn’t any fun in it. The entire game is based around teaching how to group notes, compose music and make it meaningful. Even the training modes put you into a sort of jam session where you just play an instrument. It’s about creation not execution and there are so many variables on how you can create a song, that it’s truly mind boggling. The true hope of Wii Music is to get people to see the difference between making sounds and making music.

With this in mind, I picked up the Wii Remote and had a completely different experience with the game. Instead of trying to force myself to hit notes right and play a perfect song, I worked on making the song I wanted to hear. And it came out pretty well (I play a mean cowbell). Just like the first time I played the game, I actually had a lot of fun, but this time I understood why. This way of explaining Wii Music to people is so much smarter and I don’t know why Nintendo didn’t do it in the first place. My only theory is that, much like the Wii, there really isnt’ anything out there to compare this to. Rock Band and Guitar Hero are about hitting buttons at the right time, Wii Music is about making music by hitting buttons. I may be over-glorifying it a bit, but it really got me excited to think about making a piece of music my own and then sharing it. I wish Nintendo had the online service that the 360 does, because something like this would be amazing on there with the music video sharing service.

One last note is on the the controls themselves. At E3 it looked like random button presses controlled everything. Even with my brief hands-on it felt like I was basically flailing around. However, now that I’ve had some more time with the game, it’s clear that Nintendo has really implemented the controls into the game allowing for random flailing and deep play. For instance, when you’re playing a guitar you can simply strum the Wii Remote up and down. If you want a shorter note, you can hold down A. Want to quick pick (hit chords both on the down and up strum)? Then you hold down A and Z. How about stretching a note out and make it do that waa waa thing. Easy, hold down C and then move your nunchuk like you would on real strings. There’s more, too. The Wii Remote air guitar literally has more features and more ways to play than the plastic guitars in other music games. And instead of playing it how they played it, you can play it how you want to play it. Plus, there are over sixty more instruments. Even the cowbell has multiple tones and sounds to play around with.

In short, I came away loving the stupid game. To defend my earlier claim that this is the most hardcore of all, just think about it. Isn’t creation and variation the calling sign of the hardcore? Much like LittleBigPlanet (yes, Mike I’m relating it to LBP) the game is about creation, not execution. Sure Rock Band and Guitar Hero let you rock out and are completely and totally awesome games, but they literally guide you by the hand on every song, telling you when and where to hit notes. Wii Music takes your hand and puts an instrument in it, then walks away so you can figure it out for yourself. So get off your high horse and smack Nintendo around a bit for not presenting Wii Music the right way the first time around, and then pick up a controller and try it out. Give it it chance and it might surprise you at how much fun you have just making music.

I feel like I’m coming off way to friendly towards the game, like I have to pick out something to hate or else I sound like a corporate mouth piece. Most likely this is because anyone defending the game seems to already be on the defensive. There are concerns I had with the game. Who knows, it could get incredibly boring after an hour and twenty minutes, but I wanted to express that Wii Music is actually fun and a truly compelling idea, so I figured I’d go with the positives here and leave the complaints for the reviewers.