(Not Quite) Game Time With Mister Raroo logo [Mister Raroo continues his exploration of “non-games,” this time with an examination of the oft-maligned Wii Music. Raroo believes that anyone with the slightest bit of musical knowledge, a touch of rhythm, and plenty of creativity should think twice before they dismiss Wii Music. It may not be software that all gamers can appreciate, but it may also be worth another look.]

Not Just For Band Nerds

When I was growing up, I played the trumpet. I did so through junior high, but got out of band by the time I entered high school because I was too embarrassed to join the marching band and take the field during halftime at football games. Remembering the jeers the band received from spectators, I think I might have made the right choice. I wasn’t one of the “cool” kids in high school, but I also wasn’t one of the “losers,” which sadly most of the band kids were. They had a tendency to get picked on and teased by the other students, which was something I was more than happy to avoid.

Still, I have some great memories from being in band. Many bandleaders think it is fun to have the kids play “Tequila,” and mine was no different. Of course, being junior high kids, some of us boys took this as an opportunity to display our lack of maturity, and we’d always yell “Pussy!” instead of “Tequila!” It was usually drowned out in the crowd, but every now and then I swear our bandleader would raise an eyebrow, trying to figure out if he actually heard what he thought he just did.

And, despite not keeping up with band, I continued to be involved with music. Like many high school kids, I started expanding my musical palate by listening to new bands, especially those that weren't played ad nauseum on the radio. My friend Jon and I got really into experimental music and death metal, and we’d get together and jam with a drummer named Travis. Jon was a better musician than me, but our styles melded well and we always had a blast.

My love for music continued into college, where I took up the guitar and would regularly rock out with some of the other guys in my dorm, much to the disappointment of students who wanted to study. I became exposed to even more intriguing types of music, and my musical tastes eventually expanded to include almost every genre. I loved scouring music stores in hopes of a rare find.

Raroo Recording Music at HomeI decided to save up for some home recording equipment and began creating songs and albums of my own. I never managed to do much with my music, let alone have any of it professionally released or recognized, but I had a great time all the same. I even got in touch with musicians and bands from all over the world, and since it was during the days before online music sharing was a possibility, we’d trade tapes of our music by mail. It was so fun to open my mailbox and find a new album waiting for me.

Even to this day, music is a continual part of my life. Though my busy days and many obligations don’t afford me much time to record my own music, I’m still constantly creating and singing my own silly songs as I go about my daily routines. My son Kaz seems to have a deep appreciation for music, too, and he’s routinely bobbing his head in shockingly-good rhythm to whatever music is on the television or radio. And, when he was just a newborn, one of the ways I’d get him to fall asleep was by doing “Beats” on his back, drumming out rhythms until he dozed off.

Needless to say, with such a strong love for music, one of my favorite video game genres over the years has been music games. More specifically, I’ve liked music games that are of a more esoteric nature. Perhaps this is due to my own eclectic musical tastes, but games like Parappa the Rapper and Gitaroo Man have always seemed more interesting to me than the likes of Guitar Hero and Beatmania. In other words, I like music games where the atmosphere is colorful, lighthearted, and perhaps even a little childish.

It’s no surprise, then, that I’m really captivated by Wii Music. With its bright, cheerful, and family-friendly presentation, Wii Music seems like it’d be right up my alley… and it is! But what I didn’t expect was that Wii Music is a substantially deeper experience than I figured it would be—so much so that I feel that perhaps the reason it has reviewed and sold rather poorly is because it requires a sense of musicality that many other music games don’t call for.

Double Take

Most people already know that Wii Music isn’t necessarily a game. But what most people don’t know is that Wii Music is gloriously fun. Sadly, Wii Music has been given an unfair rap by most gamers, many of whom drew their conclusions about the title long before it even made its way to store shelves. While it's not for everyone, Wii Music is a fairly incredible piece of software that is worth another examination.

Confused Wii Music PlayerHowever, anyone looking to delve into the world of Wii Music should keep a few things in mind. First, there really is no direction other than what you choose. Unlike a game such as Guitar Hero, Wii Music doesn’t require you to play certain notes at certain times. Rather, you have full creative freedom to play along to the music in any way you see fit. This seems to be something most gamers I know can’t wrap their heads around. “I don’t get it. What am I supposed to do?”

Second, your mileage with Wii Music will vary depending on your musical and rhythmic abilities. Nintendo's Rhythm Tengoku games may get the spotlight in terms of being titles in which rhythm is required to excel, but I’d argue Wii Music is perhaps even more demanding when it comes to players needing to know not only how to stay on beat, but where to place their notes.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning once more that Wii Music is not a “proper” game! Nintendo has a long history of creating toys, both in traditional and software form, and Wii Music is no different. You don’t have to do anything in Wii Music except let your imagination run wild. Sure, you can play along to the suggested notes for each song, but the real fun comes in experimenting with instrument arrangements, note placement, and putting your own spin on the sounds. Coloring outside the lines is not only allowed, it’s almost required.

Forging Your Own Path

As mentioned above, a key complaint I’ve heard from my friends who have tried Wii Music is that there didn’t seem to be any point to the experience. Herein lies Wii Music’s biggest obstacle. In an era in which gamers enjoy showing off their pseudo-musical prowess by blazing along note-for-note with music’s biggest names in Rock Band, how can poor Wii Music compete?

But look a little deeper, and gamers will find in many ways Wii Music provides an even more demanding experience. Instead of mastering challenges thrown at you, Wii Music puts the ball in the players’ hands, leaving the challenge up to them. With all of the musical creativity left to players, making songs sound good is no easy task.

Haphazard button presses and willy-nilly Wii Remote swings will not result in a final product that sounds anywhere near decent. Instead, creating worthwhile songs takes consideration and precision, with restraint being the order of the day. Playing notes and placing beats at opportune moments is far more critical than how many times one wags the controller.

In that sense, Wii Music certainly proves to have direction, it’s just that the player is given the role of leader. Creating a wall of misplaced notes and off-time beats gets old quickly, but having the foresight and rhythm to construct songs that are not only listenable, but demonstrate your own take on the material, is a challenge that will continue to compel players. With an almost endless amount of potential arrangements, Wii Music will keep inventive gamers busy for a long, long time.

Top Ten Video Countdown

While Wii Music includes a few minigames that provide for some fun side diversions, the core content of the game is in the Custom Jam option. Sure, you can jam along to randomly-selected, pre-arranged tunes, but nothing beats picking your own song, choosing what instruments to include, setting the tempo, putting in your favorite Miis, and having a go at it.

Wii Music Album CoverIn essence, the Custom Jam mode is a multi-track recorder that allows for six different instruments to be layered on top of each other. Broken down into band-specific roles such as percussion, chord, and lead, each instrument can be chosen by the player, but lazy gamers can also select from a variety of pre-arranged musical genres. So, for instance, if you want to play a Latin version of “Sakura Sakura” or a rock version of “Twinkle, Twinkle,” you can, and Wii Music will assign the instruments for you. Still, songs are best when the reins are in the hands of the players.

One of the small pleasures of Wii Music comes after you finish playing the various parts of the song and are ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. At this point the game allows you to create a custom album cover for your song, often to hilarious results. Choose a background, select a layout, place images of the musicians, and put it to press. Once your album has been created, you can kick back and watch a video of your performance.

Anyone will Friend Code Phobia will be ecstatic to know that videos can be swapped over WiiConnect24 without any Wii Music-specific code exchange required. If you’ve already registered a friend’s Wii and you both own copies of the game, Wii Music will recognize this and allow you to freely exchange videos. Not only that, but you can “remix” your pals’ videos and send them back, adding your own touches and putting in different Miis.

Not Quite Standbys

If there’s one area of Wii Music that may be worthy of some of the criticism it has received, it’s the song selection. One of the most attractive features of popular music games is that gamers can play along to pricey licensed music performed by real musicians. Wii Music, on the other hand, goes a much simpler route by including mostly license-free or lost-cost tunes. Anyone hoping for Wii Music: Metallica will be extremely disappointed.

Still, keeping in mind that Wii Music is more of a sandbox than a play-along, the included song selections are actually rather brilliant. They’re all catchy, simple in structure, short in length, and easily recognizable. In that regard, Wii Music’s songs are perfect for improvisation and rearrangement. I was able to create some very abstract versions of John Lennon’s “Mother” and Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September” that sound nothing like the originals, for instance.

Thankfully, Nintendo also included a handful of classic tunes from their past catalog of games for players to enjoy. It would’ve been nice, of course, had more vintage Nintendo tunes made the cut, but it’s almost endlessly fun to try out new arrangements, tempos, and improvisations for the main theme from “The Legend of Zelda.” I’m rather proud of a hip-hop arrangement of the song I created!

Also worth mentioning is that some of the instrument sounds are noticeably artificial. I’m going to assume that the MIDI-quality sounds are the result of Nintendo having to be able to morph all notes, beats, and sound effects so as to keep them in tune throughout the songs. Even so, when all is considered, most of the instruments sound pretty decent. Besides, most Nintendo fans will appreciate the tone of the self-explanatory NES Horn or the K.K. Slider-like singing.

Music Training in Minutes a Day!

Under Wii Music’s cute façade is a surprisingly deep learning experience for would-be musicians. Through its tutorials, players will quickly (and perhaps unknowingly) pick up some basic music theory. Maybe this musical base of Wii Music is why so many gamers are struggling to enjoy it. Most other music games require players to memorize when to hit the right notes, but Wii Music requires players to think like musicians. That is a tall order!

Guitar Hero WizardDon’t get me wrong. There are gamers who demonstrate mesmerizing dexterity by never missing a cue when games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or Dance Dance Revolution require what seems to be physically impossible. Wii Music may not call for the same level of physical prowess, but I’d argue that since it requires a different type of thinking—one that is perhaps even more musically-based—it shouldn’t be dismissed as easy or childlike. Wii Music is a demanding piece of software that taxes the minds of anyone willing to step up to its challenges.

This is why I believe Wii Music is failing to capture the attention and respect of many gamers, especially those without a musical bone in their bodies. Wii Music will certainly train players on the basics of music theory, but it only provides the foundation, leaving gamers with the task of building upon it. You create your own experience in Wii Music, and that is easier said than done. Unless you’re able to light a fire under your imagination, you’ll be left scratching your head as you try to decipher what the heck you should be doing.

However, for anyone with a willingness to learn more music theory and improve their rhythm and timing, Wii Music has the potential to be exceptionally entertaining. Sure, you’re more or less pantomiming to music by shaking the Wii Remote or pressing buttons, but given the appeal of so many other music games in which the core gameplay isn’t much different, that’s not Wii Music’s problem.

Instead, it’s more likely that gamers who don’t like Wii Music simply don’t have the required patience, creativity, or willingness to call their own shots. Though it certainly won’t win over anyone not responsive to its open-endedness, all gamers brave enough to take the plunge will discover that playing Wii Music can be a harmonious experience indeed.

Bonus Feature! Eight Tracks From the Musical Vault of Mister Raroo

I toyed with the idea of including some sound samples of a few choice Wii Music tracks I’ve created. However, since it's so easy to go online and find plenty of examples of Wii Music arrangements (many of which may be much better than mine!), I thought instead it would be more fun to share some of the original music I’ve recorded over the years. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting, but I’m sorry if it’s not to your liking!

The first song can be found by clicking here.
Artist: Roswell. Track: Untitled.
My friend Jon Apgar and I recorded this in 1998 using an analog 4-track. Our goal was to create video game-like music. I programmed the beats while Jon handled keyboards. The main melody is pretty catchy!

The second song can be found by clicking here.
Artist: Roswell. Track: Untitled.
This was the next evolution in the sound Jon and I explored with the first song. We used a digital 8-track recorder to capture the music. I once again handled beats as well as random weird sounds, while Jon took care of the music on top of it. Listen for a random nod of the head to Dr. Dre!

The third song can be found by clicking here.
Artist: Hydrant Inspectors. Track: "Charlemagne."
This song is yet another collaborative effort with Jon. I performed all the music on the track while Jon took care of vocal duties. Jon originally wrote the song for another music project in which his sister was the vocalist. We reworked it here with new lyrics and a souped-up tempo.

Raroo ROCK!The fourth song can be found by clicking here.
Artist: The Raroos. Track: "The Way the Raroos Rock It."
This song was recorded in 2005 for a Game Time With Mister Raroo album that we sent to subscribers of our zine. It starts off with a death metal segment then segues into hip-hop, with the lyrics covering the topic of games. This was a solo effort on my part, save for some guest vocals by Missus Raroo in the chorus.

The fifth song can be found by clicking here.
Artist: Bumbling Detective. Track: "Dr. Science."
This was another solo effort, save for guest “robotic” vocals by Missus Raroo. I believe we recorded this in 2003 or so. The “rapper” in the song is me in the guise of a character named Dr. Science. Maybe I listed to too many Kool Keith albums, but I liked to create tons of personas in my own music. The beat is pretty strange!

The sixth song can be found by clicking here.
Artist: Stuntbumble. Track: "Distress Signals."
The Dr. Science character returned in 2005, this time in a collaboration I did with rapper Stuntdouble. Stunt handled the beats and the intro rap, while I tackled the second verse and added some keyboards on top of his beats. My “rap name” for this project is The Bumbling Detective, so when we teamed up, we became Stuntbumble!

The seventh song can be found by clicking here.
Artist: Meth. Track: Untitled.
I believe this was recorded right around 2000. Once again, it was a solo effort. I included it here because it has a Super Mario Bros. sample, which of course is something every gaming-obsessed musician seems to do, but all the same I followed suit. I remember trying to line my NES directly into the digital 8-track, only to get frustrated until it dawned on me to simply sample a loop and use that!

The eighth and final song can be found by clicking here.
Artist: The Raroos. Track: "Sonic the Hedgehog!"
To wrap up this little musical tour, I chose another track from the Game Time With Mister Raroo album. It's a tongue-in-cheek punk tribute to Sonic the Hedgehog. I handled all the music and Missus Raroo and I shared vocal duties. We think this song is silly but fun!

I hope that listening to these examples from my back catalog of music recordings has been a more enjoyable than painful experience for you! As I stated before, the main focus of creating music for me was simply to have fun, but that’s what counts. And, in many ways, I think my history of creating music makes it quite clear why I find Wii Music so engaging. We may all have different musical tastes, but there’s no denying music can be exhilarating for everyone!

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. One day when he gets more time, he wants to record some new music! In the meantime, he's got the Korg DS-10 on his Christmas list. You may reach Mister Raroo at [email protected].]