Shigeru Miyamoto stands behind Wii Music. In an interview with GameSpot, the Nintendo stalwart said, “A lot of people start off in cover bands, but people can only go so far in a cover band. It’s only when people start creating their own music and sharing it with others that they really grow.” Such is the premise behind his latest creation, Wii Music. At this point though, Miyamoto’s comments are a façade of glass-half-full optimism, an attempt to cut his losses rather than admit defeat.
Like a proud parent, Miyamoto’s support of Wii Music is more or less grounded in his own sentimental attachment and wrapped in a sense of personal success and self-realizing genius, rather than being grounded in true world-changing innovation. The Nintendo-exclusive attempts to answer the overwhelming success of the multi-platform success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Unfortunately, though, this latest music machine is little more than a childish romp, poorly conceived and poorly executed.
A friend of mine recently commented that with the wild success of games like Rock Band, we were going to see an influx of kids picking up actual guitars. I argued the exact opposite: With the onset of these games, we’re more likely to see people going out to “concerts” to see people play Guitar Hero on ridiculous skill levels. This is mostly due to how realistic video games are becoming and how integrated and tactile they are now. And while Wii Music is being billed as a way to make your own compositions, very little about this game inspires realism. Nothing is more symbolic of this than the prevalence of your system’s Miis throughout the game—it might seem like you’re doing something, but it’s really just a cheap imitation.
True to Miyamoto’s words though, Wii Music is different than the music simulations of today’s market insofar as you’re not playing note-for-note covers of your favorite songs. The game is based on a few motions with the Wiimote and Nunchuck that are taught in an opening tutorial by a Napoleonic instructor. To play the piano, you swing your arms up and down; to play the guitar, extend the Nunchuck to where the fretboard would be and you strum with the Wiimote. The other playing types are similarly parochial and hollow. From here, playing different notes is a function either completely out of your control (as you smash your imaginary keyboard, the game simply plays different notes) or of intermittently pressing two buttons interchangeably (playing the guitar you’re given only two different buttons to press, but the notes just keep changing).
It’s because of this mindless “composition” that Miyamoto has played up so vehemently in Wii Music that the game feels like much more of a rhythm machine than a music machine. Where Miyamoto says you’re creating music, you’re actually just creating varying rhythms, stringing together eighth and sixteenth notes, mashing them into calculated rests in songs that have already been composed. You’re not so much making your own music as bastardizing that of someone else.
The game does present an opportunity to play every part of a given song on the “Custom Jam” feature and save it to be sent to friends. This is the closest the game comes to actually allowing you to create your own music. The main problem is, without the ability to play any note you want, the game is simply taking the rhythm you produce and putting it as succinctly as possible into the already established melody/bass/rhythm parts. Imagine Beyonce or Mariah Carey singing the national anthem and doing a bunch of unnecessary runs and arpeggios. That’s basically what you’re doing with Wii Music.
The rest of the game, which is more or less just a collection of mini-games, encapsulates just about everything else you could think of. There’s a game called “Perfect Pitch” where you hurry through 10 rounds of finding the Miis making the same sound, different sounds, matching harmonies, etc. It’s a fun exercise at first and one that is somewhat captivating if only for your desire to have the high score, but it’s ultimately little more than a half an hour’s worth of fun. There’s also a mini-game in which you play Chistmas bells to a number of songs, having to play on time and in rhythm (each player is assigned two notes, Wiimote and Nunchuck, and must ring their bell as it scrolls along like a Guitar Hero note). And there’s a chance to play conductor and lead your own symphony of Miis by waving your arms in beat with a song, a practice that is frustratingly inaccurate and inconsistent.
In the end, Wii Music epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the Nintendo Wii: It’s overbearingly childish, hit-and-miss with its motion controls, and often poorly conceived. This game could almost certainly be a good teaching tool for showing young children rhythm patterns, but that’s exactly what hardcore Wii gamers have come to fear. The ability to play your own beats (the percussion instruments are typically the most realistic and offer the most deviation) is enjoyable but the actual creation of new music is short-lived and somewhat falsified. When there are legitimate options on the market for a more realistic musical experience, Wii Music flounders in their success. Maybe someone should tell Miyamoto that some people actually do make it big in cover bands.