Wii Music, Biig Potential

Since Wii Music's release there have been a lot of mixed opinions about this game. I personally am quite impressed with the innovative qualities of this title, and secretly conspired to buy it for Christmas. Every year I have this romantic notion that I'll get my family to have some fun during the holidays with the Wii. Every year we eat too much, and are too exhausted after opening presents to think about doing anything other than going to sleep. The day after, however, Nikki and I put Wii Music in and began to explore for ourselves this source of some disagreement among video game writers.

My first brush with the naysayers came in the form of the IGN review, which gives Wii Music a feeble 5 out of 10, and bluntly warns with "Our condolences to the two-and-a-half million people who buy this game." Frankly, I don't agree with much of what is denounced in the article, and choose to disregard it. I would later find one of my favorite gaming blogs, The Brainy Gamer, to be also somewhat skeptical. Michael Abbott focuses on the question of "Why does Wii Music contain unlockables?" as the main point of contention in his writeup. His argument revolves around the lack of necessity for such a mechanism with the game's target demographic being a considerably younger audience.

That may be true, but as J.C. Rodrigo points out in the video above, this game is equally suitable for an older audience who appreciates music. I'd like to think of myself as part of that group, and I frankly don't care about the issue of unlocking content, or how little kids might perceive that attribute. That being said, I did experience a moment or two of confusion because of this feature. After first playing the small selection of instruments and songs, I soon realized that just doing that didn't unlock anything. Proceeding onto the mini-games and lessons, a few things were unlocked, but those resources were quickly exhausted as well, and I still had very little content to work with. The misunderstanding arises because the game does not initially tell you in explicit terms what you must do to unlock more content, being the recording of your jam sessions, and saving the videos.

Since most of our first attempts were pretty bad, we didn't bother saving them. I didn't think there would be a point in saving every single botched performance, and I certainly didn't want to be replaying the memories of such failures. Eventually, I got better, and decided to save it. Suddenly, the conductor pops up and says something about "oh and you should save more videos because they'll unlock more stuff!" Now he tells me! Well, better late than never I suppose.

After that it was pretty smooth sailing. The song library got bigger, the instrument repertoire did too, and lessons galore were unlocked. I started to play a bit more on my own, and learned how to use what I consider is the best part of Wii Music: over-dubbing. This subtly disguised feature is the key to the game's hidden depth and fun factor. The ability to make original arrangements of songs, in whatever musical style desired, is where the real strength of this title becomes visible.

Some time ago, The Brainy Gamer commented on Spore. Another game which got mixed reviews, some dismissed Spore for being too simple. This started a lengthy discussion, in which blogger Leigh Alexander made an excellent point about the judging of complexity and depth in games [via The Brainy Gamer]:
I have noticed lately that the primary reason some major titles -- Spore, for example -- have suffered in reviews is because they lack complexity in certain areas of the design; "complexity" is often substituted for "depth."... I wonder, from what perspective are reviewers judging complexity, in the broader sense? Are we talking about controls, the sophistication of the game mechanics, the game's length, its plot, characters, what? ... It's got me wondering -- why has simplicity become a dirty word, and why does an absence of complexity seem to translate automatically, in reviews, to a lack of depth? [link]
Seems to me that the same error has been made in a rush to judgement against Wii Music. Somehow the lack of eye-popping, adrenaline-inducing, and seizure-triggering action-mechanics has left mainstream reviewers of the game in a state of "meh." That's fine, but it doesn't mean that we all feel this way. One writer that seems to be in my camp is Stephen Totilo over at MTV's Multiplayer blog. He too felt somewhat unsure at first, but soon enough found the joys of sticking it out with Wii Music and learning it's intricacies, in a post aptly titled "I Think I Finally Get It," [link].

The bottom line is that Wii Music doesn't use the traditional mechanics of goals and rewards that we have become used to in games. There's no score, and you can't really fail. The judgement of failure is entirely yours, and in a way, so are the rewards. It's the same as why any of us should choose to play an instrument, since doing so doesn't get us tangible effects in itself. Totillo writes "This isn’t the kind of game that I see myself playing to win. But I’m driven right now by an oddly distinct goal: to make what I play sound better, and to hope against hope that I have the musical skills to keep up." What a novel idea. Play the game because it brings about enjoyment, and not on account of some masochistic reward-and-punishement mechanic (see Mighty Jill Off).

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