Nintendo has a tin ear for music games. The latest, “Wii Music,” from its “Touch Generations” series, can’t carry a tune beyond “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
The game opens a lot like “Wii Fit.” You are greeted by a Jim Henson-esque puppet with an 18th century powdered wig. Speaking in a cute, Italian-sounding babble, he shows you the instrument positions for the Wii Remote. The game has three basic stances with 50-plus instruments. Most use both the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk; bob your hands up and down to play pianos and keyboards, shake for maracas and cowbells, strum for strings and so on.
All drum-type instruments use either the Wii Remote and Nunchuk or both in combination with the Wii Balance Board. “Air drums” are more frustratingly counter-intuitive than any actual drum set, especially with the Balance Board. You must hold varying combinations of Nunchuk and Wii Remote buttons while pressing the right and left halves of the board with your feet to reach all the drums.
The wind instruments are simple and intuitive. Flip the Wii Remote around and play using the “1” and “2” buttons while moving it up and down like a saxophone to alter the pitch and volume.
Despite the huge variety of instruments, including joke items like the cat and dog suits, rap hands and cheerleader pompoms, they all feel similar, particularly those that use identical Wii Remote positions.
There isn’t much beyond nursery rhymes like “Frére Jacques” and you can’t even control the songs. That is, when you “play” your chosen instrument, you simply move your hands to the tune, but you don’t actually create the notes — the game generates them automatically in the right pitch, tone and beat. You can only add minor garnishments with extra strums or taps per beat, but if the song isn’t pre-programmed to accept that combination, it will simply register as a flat note and the song will play out of rhythm. This setup may have worked if the game had cues and a scoring system, but Nintendo expects players to freestyle, defeating that purpose with structured composition.
The most creative mode is “Custom Jam” multiplayer. You and your friends can assemble your Miis into a band and create arrangements for any of the songs. For instance, you can switch out piano tones for something crazy like the cat suit’s meows, or make an orchestra of 8-bit beeps and boops using “NES Flutes.” With some variety, a traditional song will sound completely new.
There is a music mini-game section, but it is clearly an afterthought. In “Mii Maestro,” you conduct songs using the Wii Remote as a baton. It only lets you play about five tunes, and the controls are virtually broken: Try to add any flourishes and the game misreads your motions, stopping the song. There are no cues, so it’s impossible to determine how to improve your score. Similar problems exist in the other two mini-games and when combined they only require about an hour of playing time to complete.
Audio, strangely enough, was Nintendo’s last priority. The game uses highly compressed digitized sound, because the music had to be in MIDI format to accommodate the myriad instruments. In this way, the game can generate the same note from each instrument with infinite combinations, which would have been impossible with pre-recorded music. Still, the sound comes out sounding garbled and monotone, a far cry from some of the MIDI renditions of the same songs already circulating the Internet.
Nintendo should have faced the music and priced this toy appropriately. With static, bare-bones backgrounds and no aesthetic flourishes, there is nothing to justify the $50 price tag. It has some characteristic Nintendo charm, but ultimately feels like a lazy rehearsal. After a few hours of noise-making, you’ll be wondering when the real concert is going to start.