Miyamoto has lost his marbles; Wii Music is offensively boring

LOS ANGELES — The theme of Nintendo’s E3 press conference this week was “smiles on people’s faces.” It’s a good theme, and one Nintendo (and select third-parties) have largely delivered on so far. Unfortunately, the upcoming Wii Music does anything but put smiles on faces, that is if said faces are older than three years of age.

In a sterile white demo room, with lots of air conditioning to counter stinky journalists who are forced to move limbs while playing video games, I was treated to an hour long demo of Wii Music among other more enjoyable first-party games (i.e. Wii Sports Resort and Mario Super Sluggers quickly come to mind).

But calling Wii Music a game is a stretch. A long one. There is no possible way to fail here. Consequently, there is no possible way to win and no sense of achievement. Players merely move around Wii Remotes and Nunchucks however they please, and push whatever buttons they choose to sound a pre-selected note when they want. There is little strategy, other than to try and follow the seemingly standard 4/4 time, but you don’t even have to do that.

This, my friends, is the definition of failed fun and zero smiles. Much like abstract jazz (and Miyamoto’s own performance on Tuesday), the midi music sounds sloppy, unorganized, and repellent — like a garage band not worth listening to. Simply put, Wii Music, in its current form, is neither pleasing to play or listen to.

And yet by their description, Nintendo has intended Wii Music for everyone. But it’s not. My two and a half year old might have fun for a little while because she just likes to shimmy around. But even she can appreciate the basic strategy, responsibility, and accomplishment that comes from taking care of her digital puppy in Nintendogs.

So there is little, if anything, to be found in playing Wii Music if you’re conservatively over the age of three or four, and most of that demographic doesn’t play or buy video games (read: a commercial failure to boot). But maybe the impressive-looking drum mode can salvage the game, right?

It doesn’t — at least for this author who doubles as a part-time drummer. The hits, which require the balance board for high-hat and kick pedals, are only somewhat responsive. And rather than detecting actual air drumming, Wii Music uses button modifiers to play different drums such as toms. The effect feels unnatural, but perhaps non-drummers might enjoy the simulation.

Now, I’m being facetious and irreverent with my preview headline. Make no mistake; one or two bad eggs by Miyamoto doesn’t negate dozens of golden ones over the years. But the celebrated designer is really off the mark on Wii Music, though I believe his intentions are good. Regardless, less skillful players (not to mention learned ones) will be better served playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band on the most basic of difficulties. And I suspect many will, and the daring Wii Music ones will sour on their console after buying the game and expecting a good time.

Contrary to what recent “the sky if falling” opinion suggests, there are numerous party and core games coming to Wii this year, with more to be announced. You just have to look for them. But I’m sad to report that Wii Music isn’t one of them.

So avoid this stinker upon release this holiday at all costs. Not since the Virtual Boy has Nintendo endorsed such a misguided product.