As a family game, Wii Music was actually pretty decent. The ability to “play along” as you desired without having to worry about having pitch or rhythm was a great, low-stress way to just have fun with music, which I feel was really the point. But as a music game, it didn’t do so well. Wii Music’s small library limited playability, as you can only play around with a song in so many ways before you’ve explored most of the limited options. The game starts with an abysmal five songs, with an additional 45 needing to be unlocked. 50 songs in total is not awful for a music game (the first Guitar Hero had 47, the first Rock Band had 58, the first console Dance Dance Revolution had an astonishing 11).
But lacking the competitive replayability of many music games, Wii Music needed a stronger library, especially during the time it was released, competing with the strong sellers Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour. That Nintendo never thought to take advantage of the online buying they had for so many other games and release purchasable DLC packs baffles me. Was developing new tracks for Wii Music so difficult that it wasn’t worth the money it would make? Were they never invested enough in making Wii Music more than mediocre? Here’s a few songs I feel like would’ve breathed some life into this neglected game.
“Scales and Arpeggios” (from Disney’s The Aristocats)
Wii Music provides a number of tutorial levels to get you used to the controls and also teach you a bit about music. Most of these are done with a tutorial song, “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music. “Do Re Mi” is a good choice because it itself is about learning music, but it’s also the only choice. There are really only so many times you can play “Do Re Mi” before you’re ready to hurl your nunchuck at the wall. “Scales and Arpeggios”, while not as well known as “Do Re Mi”, is a good alternate about learning music that would’ve worked well to break up the monotony.
The 1812 Overture (Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky)
Wii Music comes with a pretty full orchestra. What better way to show that off than with a grand classical piece? I am always of the opinion that music games can do no wrong by shoring up on classical works. As a work in the public domain, it would’ve cost nothing but time and the actual recording to put it in, and it’s well-known. Look me in the eye and tell me the kids this game was aimed at wouldn’t have had fun with the big drum hits at the end. (It’s okay, that’s why the Wiimotes have straps.)
“Viva la Vida” (Coldplay)
For a game designed for the whole family, there isn’t really much of anything inbetween “toddler” and “parent”. The most recent pop song in the game is from 1984, completely skipping both the millennials and most of Gen X as well. “Vida la Viva” came out in May of 2008, only five months prior to the game itself, which would’ve made it a prime choice for an early DLC, jumping on it while it’s relevant. It’s distinctive, features orchestral string and percussion instruments (right up Wii Music’s alley) and isn’t objectionable for the kids to listen to, either.
“Easy Breezy” (Hikaru Utada)
For a game made in Japan, there is surprisingly little music by Japanese artists. Discounting the video game music, there is actually more music in this game from Mexico than from Japan. As one of the few Japanese pop performers with an US album release, Hikaru Utada has name recognition outside nerd circles, so one of her singles off her English-language album would be a solid choice. (Of course, with “Simple and Clean” and “Sanctuary”, the theme pieces of the first two Kingdom Hearts games, she also has name recognition inside nerd circles.)
“Don’t Stop Believin’” (Journey)
Oh come ON, guys. Y’all left out one of the greatest and most famous karaoke songs known to the English-speaking sphere? Sure, the licensing rights would’ve been a pain, but if Harmonix can do it, so can you. Notoriety aside, it hits all the checkmarks of having a grand, yet distinct multi-instrument accompaniment.
“Jingle Bells” (James Lord Pierpont)
The bell mini-game is actually really fun, especially when you get a group together to play. The fact that the mini-game only contained one song, “Carol of the Bells,” undermined its genius. Okay, so it’s not easy to come up with songs famous for bells, but it feels like so much wasted potential to come up with that game and then not give us at least a choice of what to play. “Jingle Bells,” being slower paced and less complex, would’ve provided an “easy mode” for the kids who want to have fun ringing bells. But really, this mini-game could’ve used another dozen songs. Give me all the bell songs.
“(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” (Bill Haley & His Comets)
I liked the choice to include a fair bit of classic rock in Wii Music. Even though some of it is 60 years old or more, there’s still a lot of it that’s popular with the younger generations, as demonstrated by the releases on Rock Band from groups like The Doors or Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Rock Around the Clock” is not only a very well known song (Rolling Stone’s “Top 500 Songs of All Time,” anyone?), it also gives the game some missing 1950s coverage, and it’s just fun. As a bonus, it also captures the feelings of the kids that just want to play Wii Music for hours and hours, singing along and making music. (The follow-up DLC release: “(Last Night) I Couldn’t Get to Sleep At All” by The 5th Dimension, for the parents.)
“Battle! Wild Pokemon” (Junichi Masuda)
The video game music selection of Wii Music is actually pretty solid, featuring main themes from both the Mario and Legend of Zelda franchises. So it’s actually a bit weird that the third member of their franchise triforce, Pokemon, somehow got skipped over. The wild encounter battle music is Pokemon’s equivalent to Mario’s World 1-1 theme or Zelda’s overworld theme–exciting, distinctive, and immediately identifiable with the franchise. And as Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions has demonstrated, it goes great with an orchestra.
Just make something up
Why not? Wii Music is all about exploration and creativity. This would’ve been a great time for the Wii development team to take a few of the unused pieces from other projects they have laying around and give them some new life, or to compose a few pieces especially for Wii Music. Most games that lean in on using pre-existing music do so because you’re competing on how closely you can follow that music. There is no scoring for Wii Music, no game over. You can’t mess up, which makes it a perfect setup for songs that you have no previous knowledge of. Discover something new, kids.
I love music games, especially ones that let me play along with songs I already know. Wii Music’s lackluster reception and subsequent fading into obscurity bums me out, not only as a music game fan, but as a waste of potential. Rather than piggyback onto the competitive play-along mechanics of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, Wii Music tried to do something new: letting people make music on their own terms, without judgement. A small music library wasn’t the thing that killed Wii Music, but it was one nail in its coffin. I would’ve liked to see that nail pried up by committing just a bit more to expanding the small library it lived in.
Longtime writer, temporary office minion, and nerd of all trades, tiakall is a fan of lengthy subordinate clauses and the Oxford comma. She enjoys plants, cats, puns of varying quality, and making cannibal jokes before it was cool.