Wii Music is without doubt the trickiest game to review that Nintendo has released. The problems are numerous, with the game seemingly too complex for kids, too simple for experts, not educational enough for wannabe musicians and not enough of a game for everyone else. You could say Wii Music is the culmination of the work Nintendo has been doing with the Wii and DS. Having tried so hard to make games for everyone, could Wii Music be a game for no one?
The goal in Wii Music seems to be to have a good time, at the expense of everything else. Whatever you do, you're never told that you did something wrong or given any negative comments at all. You could play a completely out of tune piece of music that would make most people's ears bleed, yet the only person that rates your work is you. You can score each performance out of 100, so if you really love something you've done it doesn't matter if the rest of the sane world thinks it sounds like something a baby would bash out on one of those horrid My First keyboards.
Things start well enough, with your pint-sized musical tutor (who sounds a tad like Mario in our opinion) giving you the lowdown on how to play each of the four main styles. Instruments like the piano and drums see you pretending to play the piano or drum kit by bashing away with downward motions with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Guitar-like instruments see you holding the Nunchuck high with your left hand while you jam away with the Wii Remote, as if your hand was strumming the strings. The Violin method sees the Nunchuck become the neck and the Wii Remote the bow, while the Trumpet method uses just the Wii Remote and the 1 and 2 buttons, with the orientation of the Remote determining the volume.
As well as the basic motions, which take a little time to fully grasp, you can press various buttons and move the Nunchuck's analogue stick to produce different sounds. All this is eventually taught to you by your tutor, and in doing so you unlock new tunes to play in the Jam mode, either choosing the song and instrument yourself or going straight in to what the game suggests. You can even take each part of a song in turn, eventually recording them all to produce a piece of music that appears to have been played by a band. This is something that's quite hardcore though, and we can't see many people willing to invest the time to do so.
Listening back to and watching your performances is also possible, with the game supporting Wii Music Videos, which are essentially saved replays. In keeping with the music vibe you're able to crudely design your album cover art and even share music with friends. Just hope your friends are better musicians than us, as we wouldn't wish our interpretation on the included nursery rhymes, classical music and pop tunes on our worst enemies. To say we butchered most of them would be putting it lightly.
This is where the game's problems lie. To get any good at the game (and by good we mean able to produce something that sounds like music, not a cacophony of seemingly unrelated noise) takes some serious time. Our problem is that the game offers little reward for investing this amount of time. There's little in the way of learning outside of the basics, so you're not likely to gain much other than the ability to play a pretend musical instrument fairly well. Complete music newcomers will get even less, as the game fails to explain the core principles, such a pitch, assuming you already know what these things are.
Mini-games could have saved Wii Music and given it a broader party game appeal, but it falls down here, too. Of the three included games, only the Guitar Hero for beginners bell chiming comes close to being anything like a real game, with the orchestra mode feeling woefully clumsy and the quiz-like Pitch Perfect being all over the place in terms of difficulty. The idea of Pitch Perfect is to test your understanding of pitch by picking out the note that's highest, lowest or the odd one out, or even picking two that combine to make the sound that's being played by the test speaker. There's no explanation of pitch or how notes are combined, so beginners won't really understand what they're doing, even if they grasp the game.
You'd assume that Wii Music would come alive when played with friends, but it only really works if your friends have already become dab hands at the game beforehand. Our efforts at playing even the most basic nursery rhymes with friends (gamers and non-gamers alike) proved to be an experience to forget, with the game struggling to make anything nice out of our jamming. The included drum mode, which includes support for the Wii Balance Board, is a nice addition and something you could spend a lot of time with, but we can't help but think it would have been better had the game been made to support Nintendo's upcoming Wii Motion + controller add-on.
It's hard to hate a game that doesn't do anything particularly badly, but Wii Music also fails to do anything especially well. By trying to make a game that appeals to everyone Nintendo has ended up in a strange halfway house, neither appealing to complete novices who want to pretend to play good music or learn about the basics, or to experts who will find it overly simple. The game aspect is limited to the three mini-games, and these will only last a short while. We're sure a small group of people will find Wii Music to be the best music game ever made, jamming with friends for months to come, but we just can't see it.