Me & My Wii

In the living room downstairs lies a Wii. Christmas excepted, the poor thing doesn’t get much love. Every now and then I’ll switch it on and have a forlorn attempt to get it to recognise the wretched wireless network, but the Wii whirrs and makes appeasing blingly blongly noises, and then tells me to sod right off.

You see, I don’t have very many games for the Wii. In fact, I have two. One of them is Wii Sports, which is all very nice I suppose, but mainly entertaining for the just-plugged-the-console-in-for-the-first-time novelty of wanging your hands about and clobbering your girlfriend in the chops. Good, clean family fun – but hardly the stuff of six hour red eye gaming marathons.

The second game is a bit different. It is that game, brothers and sisters, that heralds the rebirth of ElectricDeathRay. Testify.

The King Over The Water

Wii Music is an oddity. When the Wii was announced, it embodied the mad, bold weirdness of Nintendo’s plans. At the E3 reveal, back when the Wii was still called the Revolution (a much better title, surely), it was Wii Sports and Wii Music that Nintendo used to show us what their console embodied. Also, Zelda, because it is Nintendo we’re talking about here.

Let’s blot out hindsight for a second, and wander back to the golden meadows of potential that we were shown back in 2006. While Microsoft and Sony were talking about storage, pretty graphics, all the usual gamer nonsense, Nintendo seemed to just go off their rocker. Mad grinning Japanese nutters waving their arms around in front of a screen. In front of graphics that would have looked a bit dodgy on a PSOne. It shook my world. Anything, surely, was possible.

Hindsight de-blotted, I seem so naïve. The Wii, excellent idea as it was, went wrong somewhere, somehow, to the extent that in the past year, I can think of exactly one Wii game which looked even mildly interesting (Red Steel 2, fact fans). Everything else? Shovelware, as far as the eye can see.

Wii Music played a part in this. What should have been a big, statement of intent launch title took years to arrive, missing out on the wide eyed breathless excitement the Wii engendered in it’s first few months, and drawing only bored cynicism in its place. This is sad, and contributed to the decline of the Wii as a platform of interest. That it failed says something about it’s flaws, but mostly? Mostly it is a hugely depressing indictment of who we are, us gamers. We didn’t buy Wii Music. Well, you didn’t. I did. Twice.

Wii Music is a magnificent thing. A game? No, not really – more a toy box, a big exciting toy box full of joy and stardust. In a world where the big games publishers reproduce the same three or four games over and over, Nintendo made something wonderful and innovative. There were no scores. No levels. No competition. Just a bunch of people sitting in a room, waving plastic rods at a screen and declaring that what I’ve Never Been To Me really needs is an electric guitar bassline, a screaming cheerleader and the Pope getting sick on the decks.

Wii Music is one of my favourite games of all time. It arrived in my life at a time when most games were getting fairly boring fairly quickly, when the joy of newness had abandoned me (and when it comes to gaming, I am something of a neophile). Most games were played for a few hours, and then forgotten. But Wii Music sounded different. It sounded genuinely exciting. I remember rushing into Lancaster to buy a copy when it launched, and loving the package – yellow and white and sparkling saxophones. It was simple. It was EXCITING. Then I got it home.

I played for a few hours and I was beginning to feel that I might have ended up with egg on my face. I’d been banging on to all my mates about how ace this game was going to be, how brilliant Miyamoto was for coming up with this idea, for making this oddball game in the middle of the noughties. They were wandering in and out of the front room as I struggled with the tutorials. They looked unimpressed. They sounded unimpressed. I felt, in the immortal words of Linus van Pelt, somewhat akin to a fool.

Wii Music doesn’t have levels. There are a few challenges in there, but Nintendo’s collective heart isn’t really in them – they are there only to appease the gamers, the gamers with their adoration of structure, of victory conditions, of doing the same thing they’ve already done hundreds of times before. It has one or two tutorials, but it doesn’t measure success like other games either. If you finish the tutorial, you’re done. You can play the most sonically offensive sounds ever invented. You can just swoosh the controller around without sense or meaning. You can sit their idly without touching the controller, actually. Success isn’t measured. But it does mean that there isn’t a way to skip through the wretched things, and they are necessary, as some of the concepts are slightly alien to geeks like me, more used as I am to lives, autosaves and (frankly) a mouse and keyboard. So I struggled through the tutorials as best I could and played a few of the crappy songs that were available at the start. I wasn’t having the best time, and I was losing my audience. Then, from nowhere, light dawned.

Swan Lake. The “Custom Jam”. I can’t remember whether these things unlocked together, or whether I just got sick of doing what the game was telling me and peeled off desperately for a last ditch experiment before returning the wretched thing, but whatever it was, the two came together, and there I was – playing bass and piano, with myself, on the back of a lorry cruising along a beach (natch). It blew my mind. I chose the instruments. I played the notes (sort of). I made a brilliant, dramatic, wonderful, sinister arrangement of a beautiful piece of music. I was thrilled, completely thrilled by the feeling of discovery, and actually rather proud of my achievement.

I looked at my Wii stats the next morning, and was slightly surprised to see that I had spent nine hours solidly playing Wii Music that night. The rest of the house came around too. Initially they had been scornful, aloof. They had mocked my invention, my musicianship – but then they had been persuaded to have a go, and soon there were senseis playing Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go on the flute. Wii Music became a shared passion, and a source of delirious, wonderful creativity – you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Scarborough Fair played slowly on a huge Japanese drum, let me tell you.

But gamer cynicism did for Wii Music. Gamers picked Guitar Hero instead, and the Wii became a platform dedicated to housewives doing yoga. We missed out, and games culture is a sadder place for the choice. In Guitar Hero, the best you can do is create a note perfect recreation of Free Bird (with reverb, if you’re feeling wild). In Wii Music, you can create something beautiful. Something peculiar and slightly silly, perhaps – but when two proud men sing a-cappella Police songs to a crowded concert hall, accompanied only by the occasional haunting note of a piano and the silent dancing of a portly ginger in a dog costume, then your heart truly will be free. As free as a bird.

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One Comment on “Me & My Wii”

  1. The Slag Says:

    I think you might be going slightly far when describing your rendition of Swan Lake as haunting.
    My version of Scarborough Fair on the cowbells however, is. Mad props to the cowbells.

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