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December 20, 2013

Wii Music

Hurray, it's Christmas in five days! As you certainly know, I'm a big fan of music. I'm also a big fan of music inspired by video games, or, Heck, music that serve as score in video games. I'm less a fan of Christmas music, but that's mostly because many songs keep airing on the radio channels since the 1st of December, and they're repeated until I get sick of them. But that doesn't mean I'm not in the Christmas mood! The most aired Christmas songs anger me, but I enjoy the ones we don't hear as much. And besides, there's plenty of good Christmas TV specials and Christmas movies to enjoy. Want to make me a Christmas gift? Subscribe to the blog's Facebook page! That would be the greatest thing you can do for me, dear reader!

But now, I'm straying from the point.

Since I love music so much... and since I didn't have time to think up a little Christmas story to post on the blog... well, I decided: Why not spend the Holidays making reviews of my musical games? Okay, I have three: Wii Music, Just Dance 3, and Rock Band 3 DS. As you can see, I had plenty of choice... Well, why not begin by the lesser one of the bunch?

It's not an insult to Wii Music, except... unlike the Just Dance series, which bases itself on making you exercise and gain rewards according to your talent, and the Rock Band series, which just... um... ROCKS, Wii Music just seems like the least great one of the trio. So, hey, why not start by that one? You'll see what I mean as I explain the details of the game.

Well, he looks like a composer, at least...
When you start the game, you're barely introduced to any logos or such. Instead, you're greeted by a guy who looks like a composer that came out of the eighteenth century. Or nineteenth. And it's not even a guy, it's a Mii. And it's not even a Mii; this guy has a face with a mouth that works like the Canadians in South Park, and his overall body shape is a lot weirder than that of Miis. Why, you ask? Because he isn't a Mii; he's a Tute. Those are... I guess they're special, puppet-like Miis who specialize in music. Before you can even play by yourself, this Tute, named Sebastian will lead you through the many ways to play this game. What, we have to learn stuff? Aw man, my university semester ended four days ago! I'm done with learning until January!

Joke aside, though, Sebastian teaches you how to play the instruments in this game. Easy, easy lesson. To play drums, just beat to the rhythm with the Wiimote and the Nunchuk. To play any kind of flute instrument (and some others), hold the Wiimote at your mouth's height, and press the 1 and 2 buttons. To play guitar, hold the Nunhuk near your elbow and shake the Wiimote up and down. You can also press C to play chords and Z to play a flat note. Last but not least, to play violin, you must press the C and Z buttons on the Nunchuk while you move the Wiimote back and forth as to imitate a viola's bow. That's all for the first lesson. However, as you might have guessed, this game sure isn't THAT simple! Hell no! Now, you must learn to play the instruments to follow the beat of the songs!

I suggest you click this image to get the larger version and see
the four main positions to play this game.

What? You can't create 100% original music in this game? Yeah, that's kind of sad. But actually, it's not that big a surprise. It would be too complicated to program it so that you can get all the possible notes. Instead, you can play a large selection of songs. However, before you can even do that, the Tute must still teach you how to play. It's simple, really. A partition appears near the top of the screen. A blue bar moves left to right on the rhythm of the song. There are black notes scattered on the partition. Whenever the blue bar hits a note, you do the movement required by the instrument you're playing to make a note appear. The black note will be replaced by a blue one. So, basically, all you have to do in this game... is follow a single partition, with just having to hit the notes at the right time? It's like an easy version of Guitar Hero!

No, it's actually more complex than that. If you don't hit the notes at the right time, the wrong note will be heard. If you hit the note right on, the note will play correctly. In other words, if you make too many mistakes, or if your beat is wrong, you will not sound like you're missing bits and pieces of the song (as does Guitar Hero, which stops the sound on the song when you make a mistake and turns it back on when you hit a next note correctly)... you'll instead sound like you can't play. Amazing, isn't it? However, something nice has been added to this game; if you become good enough on a song, you might actually be able to change it to your will; add more notes, to change the tempo, as an example.

Impressive, isn't it?
Of course, that's not the only thing you'll have to learn in this game. What, there's more? Well, actually it's quite simple. Each time you play a song, you can actually do each part. Yep, two percussion parts, one bass part, one chord, one harmony and one melody. You can pick the instrument each time, and as a result you can get lots and lots of different combinations. You can make it sound great, but you can also make it sound absolutely horrible. Trust me. I don't have the musical ear. That, or I tend to mix instruments that have no reason to be together... Another thing to learn is that when you're playing a song, you can change a lot of elements. You can change the speed of the song: you can slide a cursor on five different speeds, the regular speed being always the middle one. If the song is too slow, you can speed it up; if, on the contrary, you can't follow even on the regular speed, maybe you should slow it down at first. You also have the choice between TWELVE different styles, always the same styles with the same instruments, except for the original version of the song. Those styles are there to help you choose a pre-made musical arrangement. As I said earlier, if you try making musical arrangements yourself, it could sound kind of bad. The styles range from rock to reggae to march, Hawaiian and Latino.

By the way, have I mentioned that you play this game with your Mii? Before starting a song, you can pick the Mii you'll play with. Also, whenever you're done playing one instrument for a song, you can switch to another Mii in order to not only make one very fine song, but also your own bands! Sorta. Let's say you want to create an imaginary band; make a Mii for each character, and voilà! On the other hand, if you want the same Mii for each part, you'll end up with six doppelgangers playing a tune. It can be very funny.

Once you've done all the parts in the song, you can decide to record a video of your last performance with an instrument; Sebastian Tute will then ask you to rate your song (on a scale from 0 to 100), and then create a jacket for your “CD”. Then, the CD will be recorded inside the game, and then you have to watch it again. That's kind of unnecessary, since you've already seen it; luckily, you can skip it. All the performances you decide to record are kept in a video library inside the game. Thanks to the Wii's Connect24, you can send and receive performances from your friends who also have Wii Music.

If you thought the Tute had taught you everything by this point, THINK AGAIN. Just when it seemed like he was done teaching you how to play, he tells you that you can also perfect your training in all the musical styles. Eeyep, to achieve 100% completion in this game, you have to also complete the jam lessons for the many styles... Hurrah. Can't we just get to the core of the game already? That is, PLAYING MUSIC? Actually, completing the Rock and Pop lessons is how you unlock most of the final instruments and songs. At least you don't have to do too many of them...

As for playing music? Well, you can! I mean, those additional lessons are actually completely optional, and the only reason to do them is if you're a completionist and want to do everything in the game. Other than that, you really don't need to do those to enjoy Wii Music.

Main menu. You can improvise there!
You can now select the Jam Session. You're brought to three choic- Oh hey, you can play with the instruments when you go to this menu! Awesome! ...As I was starting to say, you're brought to three choices. Instrument Improv, Quick Jam, Custom Jam. When you pick Instrument Improv, you select a Mii, and after that you're brought to a screen where you can improvise a tune with an instrument. This mode is really awesome, because you can play all the instruments you've unlocked so far. You can improvise with them on the selection screen, but you can also choose to “Jam With Tutes”. You'll be alone in a black void, so keep playing your instrument in any way; the Tutes will appear, one at a time, and play music following your rhythm. Somehow, no matter which instrument you've picked, they manage to make it sound nice. As for the instruments...

Believe it or not, there's a total of SIXTY instruments in this game. Most are available from the start, and some appear as you complete a few advanced jam lessons. Want a list of all the instruments? Let me take a deep breath... You have access to Piano, Galactic Piano, Toy Piano, Harpsicord, Harp, Dulcimer, Marimba, Vibraphone, Steel Drums, Handbells, Dog Suit, Cat Suit (not kidding), Timpani, Rapper (again, not kidding), Acoustic Guitar, Ukulele, Electric Guitar, Galactic Guitar, Banjo, Sitar, Shamisen, Jaw Harp, Electric Bass, Upright Bass, Galactic Bass, Trumpet, Galactic Horn, Saxophone, Clarinet, Recorder, Accordion, Bagpipe, NES Horn (for a nice retro sound), Singer (to sing like a Rabbid), Tuba, Flute, Harmonica, Violin, Cello, Basic Drums, Rock Drums, Jazz Drums, Latin Drums, Reggae Drums, Ballad Drums, Galactic Drums, Marching Snare, Bass Drum, Taiko Drum, Congas, Galactic Congas, Djembe Drums, Timbales, Maracas, Tambourine, Bells, Castanets, Cowbell, Hand Clap, Beatboxer, Black Belt and Cheerleader (still not joking), Guiro, Cuica, Whistle and DJ Turntables... … … … …Phew! Give me a second to catch my breath.



Of course, the Instrument Improv doesn't force you to play one of the songs in the game. Just play, and if you choose to add the Tutes, you can judge on whether or not the result sounds nice. After Instrument Improv, you can choose Quick Jam, which will select a song, a location and a music genre for you, after which all you've got to do is play the part. However, Custom Jam makes you choose absolutely everything: The song, the instruments, the style, the speed... absolutely everything.

Now that I think of it, what are the styles in this game? There's 12 main styles: Default, Rock, Pop, March, Jazz, Classical, Hawaiian, Reggae, Latin, Tango, Japanese and Electronic. Which one of these sounds better for each song is your choice. However, when you try a song for the first time, maybe you should keep it to default, as it's he regular instrumental arrangement.

You can also choose between ten different locations to play your music. An Electro Stage (which shows pixelated pictures of video games when you play a video game song), the Music Mountain, a Live Club, a Sweet Stage (A GIANT CAKE! Sounds like a lie...), Beachside Drive (you're playing on the back of a truck!), Harmony High-Rise (in an apartment building), a Galactic Voyage (…IN SPACE!), a Concert Hall, the Park Square, and finally a Music Room. In each of those, your Miis that are not playing music will be watching, nodding their heads to the beat, or just pass by. That's a very nice touch.

And now... the songs. My God, there's so many songs in this game. Fifty, to be precise. They are separated in four categories: Classical Music, Traditional Music, Popular Music, and Game Music. Give me time to name them all.
Classical: Ode to Joy, Bridal Chorus, Swan Lake, From The New World, Minuet in D Major, A Little Night Music, The Blue Danube, Carmen.
Traditional: American Patrol, The Entertainer, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Do-Re-Mi, My Grandfather's Clock, Happy Birthday To You, Yankee Doodle, Frère Jacques, Sur le Pont d'Avignon, The Flea Waltz, Turkey In The Straw, Oh My Darling Clementine, Scarborough Fair, Long Long Ago, Little Hans, O Christmas Tree, From Santurtzi to Bilbao, Sakura Sakura, Troika, La Bamba, Over The Waves, La Cucaracha.
Popular: Daydream Believer, Sukiyaki, Jingle Bell Rock, Please Mr. Postman, The Loco-Motion, Woman, Every Breath You Take (look at the video), September, Material Girl, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, I'll Be There, I've Never Been To Me, Chariots of Fire.
Game: The Legend of Zelda, F-Zero – Mute City Theme, Super Mario Bros, Animal Crossing, Animal Crossing – K.K. Blues, Wii Sports, Wii Music.

I was kind of hoping there would be more Nintendo songs, as the selection of video game songs here is kind of lame, but the popular songs are all good and quite fun to play. The classical songs aren't half bad, unless you hate classical music. And was there such a need to include that many traditional songs? Eh, just nitpicking on that one. Though, it would have been awesome to play the Gourmet Race song in this game. Have you heard the heavy metal version? (P.S. Just in case you never heard it, here's the link.)

What else can we do in this game? Seems like there's enough stuff already, right? Well, nope! There's more! There's a mini-game section! However, there's only three main mini-games. Let me explain them.
-Mii Maestro: Your Mii is the maestro holding the wand, the one who leads the orchestra. You have to do the right movements at the right moment, and all the musicians in the orchestra will follow your commands. All you have to do is move the Wiimote at the right speed and make swift movements for a note to be played. It's funny because all your other Miis are part of the orchestra; can you spot their positions? You can play five different songs in this mini-game. When a song ends, you get a score on 100 according to your performance.
-Handbell Harmony: You are given a duo of handbells and placed with three Tutes. You must ring your bell – either the left one with the Wiimote or the right one with the Nunchuk – when the correspondingly-colored notes hit the bar at the end. Once again, there's a small selection of songs, and when the mini-game ends you're given a score to measure your performance.
-Pitch Perfect: This mini-game is made of eight smaller mini-games. Each mini-game is made of three smaller mini-games. Confused yet? Well, the mini-games get more difficult as you progress. All these mini-games will give you challenges such as detecting the one who played the wrong note, finding who played a different note of the others, and so on. It might take you maybe an hour to complete all these.

Well, I can say I've finally covered EVERYTHING I could cover in this game. What I couldn't do was the special Free Drum section, as it requires the damn Wii Balance Board, which I don't have... Phew, this review is longer than I thought. Time to wrap this up and toss it under the tree. Heh heh.

Okay, so as you guessed, Wii Music is not a regular music game. It's not Guitar Hero. It's not Rock Band. It's not any video game in which you must hit the right notes at the right time. If you miss in those games, you'll have to be able to recover your loss by hitting other notes. Wii Music is not Just Dance or Dance Dance Revolution; Its selling point is not that you'll exercise all your muscles with it. Rather, you'll exercise your abilities as a musician. No, this game is not a regular music game. You don't have to be GOOD. There's no reward for being excellent.

What the other music video games lack in creativity, this game gives in tons and tons. Yes, there's only fifty songs. But at the same time, you can play them in twelve different styles, with more than sixty different instruments. As if that wasn't enough, you're not required to follow the normal pace of the song; you can speed it up, change it a little, add notes between the regular notes. You can make the songs even better to your ear, and no other music game can do that. You can just use the basic song and change almost EVERYTHING about it!

But what about the rest? I could say Sebastian Tute has very little personality, but he's still more present than, say, Barbara. As such, we get more glimpses of what he is beyond his simple task as mentor; he's compassionate about music, sure, but he loves to teach music to people. He is more than glad to help you understand the slight differences between each musical style and how you can use these to your advantage. When Barbara was nowhere to be seen while you learned the magic tricks in Master of Illusion, Sebastian Tute is always there, and he will even be glad to congratulate you when needed. The other Tutes have no personality, but they're just accompanying you during the song.

The fifty songs are all fine, some are better than others. However, with the vast array of things you can do with them, you can make every single one of them sound just the way you want. Some of the instruments are ridiculous, such as the karateka, the cheerleader (when you're using a male Mii, this one will crack you up), the dog and cat suits...

The 3D looks very nice, the instruments are very well-designed. The ten locations to play the songs are also detailed. Of course, the Mii will always look like Mii; you can't escape that. The beauty of this simple yet effective 3D animation is made clear when you inspect the locations to see all the details, and it's even better when you watch one play the Mii maestro game; all the Miis are programmed to play the notes, they make the movements. It's beautiful to look at.

Talking about the mini-games themselves, Mii Maestro is the best one, Handbell Harmony is okay, and Pitch Perfect... well, it felt like a music exam. Which is not to say you won't have fun with it. But it's the blandest part of this game, that's for sure.

It's fun that you can rate your own videos. It's also good that you can re-watch them at any moment in your video library. However, the best must be that you can send one to a friend through the Wii's Connect24 service. Now that's just awesome. Of course, you need to know someone who also has Wii Music, so sharing videos might not be that easy, but when you do... Oh, it must be so awesome.

Story? What story? There's no such thing as a story in this game. Why would a music game need one? I'd be the kind of guy who creates a story for a music game, but it would stay in the domain of fanfiction.

What else can I say? For the one that seemed like the lesser of my three music games, this one isn't as bad as I made it out to be. On the contrary, it's great. A pleasant surprise. If you prefer when you're just following the instructions and you're not playing the game to be creative, you can skip this game. That doesn't mean you won't enjoy it, but you won't have as much fun with it as someone who wishes to get creative with the fifty songs. And creative you can be, with all those songs and the arrangements you can create!

Well, this is Christmastime, so I'm definitely in the mood to play with music once again. Besides, with all the family reunions and holiday celebrations, I'm gonna have quite a few pounds to lose... You know what, tune in next week for my review of Just Dance 3! You're gonna LOVE it!

You gotta wonder, though, what the developers were smoking
when they thought adding a cat suit was a good idea...