Wii Music: Toy, Instrument, or Musical Tool?

“We have this firm belief that the more you chew, the more flavor you get.” Nintendo Representative JC Rodrigo told me at Nintendo’s Fall Media event in early October, “There’s a lot of different levels and depth to a game. Take Wii Music for example, Kids can pick it up and get the instant gratification of ‘Oh, I get it, It’s a piano,’ but for guys that are really into music, it’s about arranging ridiculous stuff.” For some Nintendo fans, ridiculous is indeed the word that comes to mind.  Since it’s introduction at E3 earlier this year, Wii Music has been criticized for being too simple, too limiting, and for not being a game.  I didn’t know what to think, but I wanted to give the enthusiastic JC Rodrigo a chance to show me what Wii Music was all about.

“You have pitch bends, different ways to augment sounds, there’s a lot of different levels the game can be taken, but you have to be into it, you have to actually want to search them out. They’ll be there for you, but you have to seek them out and it’s only going to be the hardcore guys who will reach that far.  The more you chew, the more you get.”

JC continued to emphasize that Wii Music was like a book that shouldn’t be judged by it’s cover, Wii Music was more than a simple toy.  Picking up the controller, I was a little uncertain exactly how to play.  Shaking the remote and pressing buttons simply made noise, JC told me “to make music, you have to have an Idea.”  Taking up the controller, JC moved his virtual violin bow with the familiar beat of “Super Mario Bros,” causing the familiar song to flow from the TV.  Gameplay is based on tempo, simply shaking the controller wont do, you need to move with the beat.  Altering his beat, he showed me that you could coax the game into creating flourishes and alternative notes, telling me Wii Music could do more if you were “…into what Wii Music’s about, which is being creative.”

If Wii Music is about being creative, it begs the question: can one really be creative with Wii Music? One of the most common complaints about Wii Music is that you can’t fail. The game is programmed to make everything “sound good,” if you can’t play a bad note, can you really be creative?  Maybe. JC told me how Wii Music decides what notes are used to “fill in” your improvisation. He told me to imagine four or five parallel lines, representing possible notes.  Imagine one line is darker than the others, the dark line is how the song is traditionally played while the other lines represent possible deviations.  When the player adds an extra note, the game will choose from one of the non-darkened lines to decide what to play.  This “new note” can be any note within the same musical key as the notes preceding and following the improvised one.  When I heard this, something clicked in my head – Wii Music is like a Harmonica.   Anybody with an idea can play a harmonica and sound “okay,” not so much because it’s an easy instrument to play, but because every note on a harmonica is in they same key.  This means every note on the instrument sounds “good” next to any other note on the instrument.  The big difference between Wii Music and the Harmonica is that Wii Music chooses that same-key note for you, whereas the harmonica still leaves the choice to the player – it’s this distinction that keeps Wii Music grounded in toyland when it could be a musical tool, or even an instrument in its own right.

Hearing JC describe how Wii Music worked validated the game’s musical theory for me, but the game seemed one feature short of a home run.  Walking the line between playing an instrument and composing a song, Wii Music failed to go all the way on the latter – a song composition mode akin to what can be found in Mario Paint would have given Wii Music infinite replay value.  Despite the fun idea of arranging new versions of familiar songs by mixing notes and changing instruments, the player is limited to the songs that come on the disc.  I expressed my concerns to JC. “I really wanted that to happen, where you can get to a deeper level where you can actually pick out a note, but at that point …you might as well just play a real instrument!” he said.

Still concerned, I pushed the issue a little further, and JC explained.  “I think that song lists are great. I’m a huge fan of guitar hero and rock band. I love those, but the only qualm I have about that is you have to play what’s there – so you have to keep adding new songs to keep it fresh.” He went on to explain why a song in Wii Music goes farther than a song in other music titles. “If you’re not being told what to play and how to play it, one song can be thousands of combinations.”  When asked about the possibility of adding new songs in the future through downloadable content, JC gave a big smile and answered with a traditional “No comment! No comment right now.”

Wii Music releases in the US today, October 20th, 2008.  JC Rodrigo suggested that to see Wii Music’s real value, you had to look past the surface.  Infendo’s Japanese Correspondent Namoi Rubin picked up a copy last week, so keep an eye out for her impressions, as well as Kyle and David’s reviews in next week’s podcast, to see what, if anything, is hiding under Wii Music’s simplistic exterior.


  1. Well, now I just have to try the thing, just to see what all the (good and bad) fuss is all about. With reviews very high, mediocre and low, it seems like the only way to pass judgement on it is to play it.

  2. While I’m probably going to pass on it (not much for music games), it looks like a fun game.

  3. I don’t think that even Super Smash Brothers Brawl got this much attention. I don’t see what the big deal is. Either you will like it or you won’t (pretty much like every other game out there).
    I know I’m going to hold off from any opinions to I actually get a chance to try it myself. None of the 534 (or so) reviews, blogs, articles, etc… is going to influence me until I actually get to try it.

  4. Just like any musical instrument, anybody can make sounds out of it. It takes something else (an Idea as JC puts it) to make music. Here are some of his videos showing how Wii Music can be more musical than the other music/rhythm games out there:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOx3G2AAFUI (skip to 4:30 for the good stuff)


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VemTng1c6vk (Zelda theme with a dog, cat and cheerleader)

  5. I kinda agree with Joshdad here. Even people who LOVE the game aren’t as obsessed with it as its detractors. What’s the deal?

  6. The only ones I have any trust for anymore point out the technical flaws:


  7. I saw a pretty cool commercial for it while watching the Terminator, Sarah Connor Chronicles yesterday.

  8. I disagree farlander. That review was more like an anti-Nintendo editorial than a review of Wii Music. Which is sorta the same thing as IGN’s, except these Crispy Gamer fellas found a way to be more pretentious, which is a feat.

    It’s one thing to dog on a game in a review, but review the GAME, not how much Nintendo does this or that or give strategy on when it should have been released or any of your fan-crazed expectations that have been “missed” by this title. Because any moron with a keyboard can type that. I learned nothing from that review except he doesn’t like the songlist and Nintendo is “out of touch.” Whatever the hell that means in today’s game world.

  9. I think people will find more abilities to create original music with this program then they can see the potential for this early in the game.
    This article was good except for one problem.
    This program is not a toy just because it isnt mario paint.
    It is a tool and you can make a song sound bad.
    Besides, what sounds good is subjective so you definitely always have reason to keep trying.

    The potential for creativity is in one line Rodrigo said: If you’re not being told what to play and how to play it, one song can be thousands of combinations.”

    Wii Music will let you replace all six parts of all of the songs with any instrument you want, played in any way you want.
    Even within the same notes you have enough flexibility to create a sound that is nothing like the original song. I can guarantee that when people start working with the full power of the game, they will start creating songs that will be your own, sounding nothing like the original.

    Also, all these comments about how people might as well play real instruments.
    You may be made of money but i know that even a guitar can cost more then Wii Music on its own. Theres so much creativity in Wii Music that one person cannot just play an instrument and get the same effect compared to the plethora of options they have with Wii Music.
    Its great when a person can play a real instrument, but what if you want to play more then just a guitar, or a drum set. What if you want to try your hand at a whole song but dont have that many instruments or people to play with you, etc…

    Besides, Wii Music is meant more then just as a music game for experts, but for people who do not have such creativity that current instrument players have.
    So that these novices can have the ability to understand the joys of music creation.
    Its also made to teach children the basics of music/rhythm. Nintendo has already started showing the game in schools.
    Its range is much broader then even as an open market game. NIntendo will push this as a teaching tool also.

  10. Nice, in-depth thoughts on Wii Music, Sean.

    Personally, I don’t have the guts to purchase this title. That’s why we have Kyle, and a few others doing a review 🙂

  11. waltermh:

    I should have been clearer – I leave Wii Music in the category of toy not because it’s “not mario paint,” but more specifically because of what JC Rodrigo said. When he said “One song can be thosands of combinations,” the emphasis was on combinations, thousands of combinations of one song, not thousands of songs. Ultimately, you are still playing WITH music rather than PLAYING music, and there is nothing wrong with that. Wii Music is fun, but it’s not an instrument, and its not a tool. It’s a toy – a game, which is what it is intended to be. While I think a song creation mode would have added unlimited replay value, it’s not a deal-breaker for most gamers, and Nintendo had more reasons to leave it out than put it in.

  12. From what I understand of WiiMusic, it is actually much closer to creating music than guitar hero or any of its clones. In WiiMusic you seem to actually be learning about Music, and how different keys and notes and rhythms can all work together to create songs.
    I get a kick when people say that they are playing music on Guitar Hero. No, all you are doing is pushing buttons that the screen tells you to push at the right time (I realize that the buttons represent the actual notes, but it still just pushing buttons). Playing Guitar Hero will not teach you how to play the guitar. You aren’t learning about music, you are simply playing Simon says with a set of keys.
    Of the two, I would say that WiiMusic is much closer to being a real musical experience than Guitar Hero could ever be.

  13. Has any reviewer pointed out the similarities between Wii Music and Electroplankton? The more I read about Wii Music, the more Electroplankton comes to mind. Both had low review scores, by the way. Yet, Electroplankton was a DS sweetheart, while Wii Music is getting the thumbs down (but not from all reviewers, I must say).

    What gives?

  14. Hmmm so if you can get new music then that means their is a music editor(sequencer)! Now wait a minute I will have to try out my large bank of midi tunes from the 8 bit and 16 bit era! If they let us add songs to this thing then technically there should be an editor some where right? Now that would be some awesome DLC right there. All I would need is the editor.

  15. Run Line 10:

    The official statement regarding DLC for Wii Music was “No Comment.” While that’s not a no, it’s not a yes either. We’ll have to wait and see if any songs will be added, let alone the ability to add our own songs.

  16. I think the reason Wii Music is getting such bad press in some corners is because its being unfairly compared to Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

    Since those music games popularised the genre, ANY game that’s vagely musical gets compared to them even if (as is the case with Wii Music) the game isn’t even in the same ballpark.

    If games like Parappa or Vib Ribbon came out now, the same thing would happen.

  17. Jeff:

    And yet, hypocrite that you are, you face any criticism with “Well they’re just fanboy assholes who hate the Wii and Nintendo, WAAAAH!!!”.

    Big f’ing surprise. Don’t bother to address technical issues and glitches, the points about how Miyamoto misled everyone with that IMPOSSIBLE TO REPLICATE showing that he did, or the sounds not being in sync, or the quality of the music being a joke. No, it’s all about hating Nintendo, so screw them all! The pretentious bastards!

    Let me guess, you never looked at any other reviews on the site? Because they’re hardly the corporate suck-ups that IGN and Gamespot are, which is why I usually only take my reviews from CG. They’ve given plenty of credit to Nintendo, but since they don’t worship at the altar of Wii, they’re pretentious… riiiiiiiiight. Just keep drinkin the kool-aid, man, I’m sure it’s delicious.

  18. One more thing, Jeff:

    If you really want to know why so many disillusioned fans of Nintendo (eg – guys like me who’re 30+ and grew up with the NES) are now so-called “hardcore” and “fanboy” gamers baggin on Nintendo, it’s not because they still make games geared towards little kids or the ultra-casual market – it’s because THAT’S ALL THEY MAKE!

    Keeping their 20+ year old handful of 1st party titles (Mario, Zelda and Metroid) around for this long does NOT negate this, it actually just proves they can’t move on. The rest of us grew up, and expect our media to grow with us.

    Have fun with “Cooking Mama” and the rest of the f’ing shovelware.

  19. Not like all those awful reviews will matter.
    The people who will buy Wii Music won’t read them and will enjoy a good product regardless of what the ‘hardcore’ think.

    I’ve been waiting for this reckoning of the self-wanking developers, the pretentious and stupid gamer-first-journalist-second gaming press and the decimation of the lazy, risk-averse publishing houses who resort to watering down games into lame formulas badly copying 1000 times the few gems that still get made.

    It’s about time gaming gets wrestled out of the greasy, sweaty hands of the never-satisfied “hardcore”.

  20. Anonymous:

    As opposed to the hundreds of worthless shovelware titles produced by 3rd party developers?

    Judging by your ridiculous tone, especially in that last sentence, I’d go out on a limb and guess that you gave up trying to be a “hardcore” gamer because you just suck too damn bad at every game you try.

    Honestly, no one buys all this crap coming out for the Wii, just a handful of titles that are tried and true – watered down and copied 1000 times, as you would put it – and I’d guess the nostalgic bit of VC-ware. As for the consoles themselves? Yeah, artificially limited supply, the lowest price of anything (DING to parents of young kids), and a gimmicky couple of tech demos to grab the attention of anyone ADHD enough to follow.

    There, I matched your tone and reasoning skills. Wasn’t that fun?

  21. i bought the game today, and i must say first hand that it is fun so far. call me in a week and i’ll tell you how much depth. one thing is for sure, i definitely can see myself having more fun with this than guitar hero. the reason? this game is about creativity. you can be very creative in this game, and create your own music videos which is pretty cool. i feel like with guitar hero, which i have played is completely the opposite. even though it is a music game, there is very little creativity. it truly is a glorified simon says game, but to be fair it is a good game. so one game, requires you to be creative musically while the other requires you to be a robot with precision. there in lies the main difference between the music games. some people say wii music is simple. now if your mindset is that all music games should follow the format of a guitar hero, then yes it is simple. but if you dig into the game, play, experiment, then you will find depth in wii music. but not everyone has that type of personality.

  22. if anyone has bought and played electroplankton for DS, the mentality and approach of wii music is very similar.

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