Critical Reception: Nintendo's Wii Music

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Wii Music, a beginner-friendly music simulation title that critics say is "far from a traditional videogame, and more akin to a tech demo or social audio experiment."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Wii Music, a beginner-friendly music simulation title that critics say is "far from a traditional videogame, and more akin to a tech demo or social audio experiment." Originally expected to be a Nintendo Wii launch title, Wii Music has received extensive revision in the months since the console's release. The final version arrives in the United States this week as a Wii Remote and Nunchuk-controlled free-form musical creation tool with an emphasis on improvisation and multiplayer play. Wii Music has received a mixed reaction from critics in its debut week, and currently averages a review score of 64 out of 100 at Jennifer Tsao gives Wii Music a grade of A- in her review at "True musicianship has taken a hit recently with all the music-based videogames captivating today's youth," she begins. "As a classically trained musician, I might take offense at this -- except that Wii Music gets it really right." "Using the Wii Remote, Nunchuk, and (optionally) Balance Board to mimic the motions of real instruments may have seemed like a bad joke when the game was first announced, but in practice, it works amazingly well," Tsao continues. "It's worth it to take the time to learn the four different instrument motions (drums, guitar, horns, and violin) because the game offers so many varied opportunities to pretend-play all of the dozens of instruments in the game." Tsao is also impressed with Wii Music's minigames. "I love how the three minigames -- Mii Maestro, Handbell Harmony, and Pitch Perfect -- challenge your rhythm and your ear in legitimately musical ways," she praises. "They're easy at first, but you have to listen closely and think about note values to succeed, especially in later levels, and it's based just enough in classical theory that those with musical training will probably find the games a bit easier." "Wii Music may have a hard time winning over the skeptics who just want to laugh at it," Tsao admits, "but give the game the chance it deserves. You just might realize it's pretty damn fun being in on the joke." GameSpy's Bryn Williams awards Wii Music 3.5 out of 5 stars. "We wondered what exactly Nintendo was trying to accomplish with this seemingly shallow, casual music project," he writes. "Now that we've spent a good deal of time with Wii Music ourselves, we're confident in saying the following: If you have young children, buy this game and enjoy it with them. It's obvious that Wii Music is firmly targeting this demographic and we have few doubts that it will be a major commercial success, especially as we're ramping up towards to the holiday season." "However," Williams warns, "it's very safe to say that gamers who prefer the likes of Rock Band, first-person shooters and Solid Snake's espionage antics will not care about Wii Music in the slightest." Williams finds that Wii Music succeeds most in its multiplayer component. "The premise is extremely simple: you can make music with anyone and everyone even if you've never even looked at an instrument in your life," he says. "We found ourselves enjoying the overall experience more when we played with our kids at home and far less when we were playing on our own. Grinding through some of the easier, basic songs was only of interest so we could unlock more songs, instruments and stages. Wii Music is definitely best enjoyed in the company of others." Gamers expecting a competitive experience along the lines of Rock Band may be disappointed, however. "Gameplay is extremely simplistic," Williams states. "You can't lose. It's not a competitive sort of game at all, and in fact, there's no right or wrong way to create your own melodies." It's this intense casual focus that makes the title difficult to recommend to a traditional video game audience. "Wii Music is an odd duck," Williams explains. "It is far from a traditional videogame, and more akin to a tech demo or social audio experiment. The fact that it is so very basic means it's completely accessible to anyone, but at the same time there's not much here to interest regular and core gamers." Over at GameDaily, reviewer Chris Buffa scores Wii Music at 5 out of 10. "What seemed like an innovative way to create music is instead a shallow and at times pointless video game that never lives up to its potential," he writes. Buffa finds that Wii Music's motion-controlled gameplay effectively simulates the act of playing an instrument. "To play guitar, for example, you hold the nunchuk as you would the instrument's neck and strum the air with the remote," he describes. "To play drums, you quickly raise and lower both controllers to smash the pads and cymbals. You don't need to mimic these poses for the game to work, but it's fun pretending to tickle the piano keys and wail on the saxophone." "Limited technology, however, prevents you from actually learning to read and follow music," Buffa continues. "All we're left with are a set of notes along the bottom of the screen that attempt to keep us in rhythm, except the game doesn't care whether we sound good or not as you'll win every time." Buffa claims that Wii Music's soundtrack also proves to be one of the title's weaker components. "Naturally, a music game is only as good as its soundtrack, and Nintendo bombed horribly," he writes. "Not only did it commit to lower quality MIDI versions, but the list is all over the place, from Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (...) to O Christmas Tree, Yankee Doodle, Material Girl, Daydream Believer and six Nintendo-themed tracks from Super Mario Bros., Animal Crossing, Wii Sports and F-Zero, among others." "Wii Music's General Producer, Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto, describes the game as a musical toy, and although he's got a point, he must also keep in mind that in an age of attention deficit gamers, toys get old quick," Buffa concludes. "There's some good stuff here. It just fails to replicate the joy that comes from playing Wii's other rockers Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour."

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