Dec. 3, 2008 -- If you're in search of a fun family game that's big on creativity and collaboration, Nintendo's Wii Music is for you. Similar to Wii Sports and Wii Fit, the latest Wii game tries to create a gaming experience of its own.
Those who want a traditional music game (that catapults you to rock star status and then scores your Eddie Vedder imitation) might want to look for other options.
But if you're the sort of person who marches to a different drummer -- or just wants an opportunity to play outside the lines -- this game gives you maximum room to rock out to your own beats.
Where traditional music video games ("Rock Band" or "Guitar Hero," for instance) challenge you to play each song exactly as it is written and then rate you on how well you do, Wii Music actually rewards you for wandering away from the written music.
If you miss a few notes, or throw in a few extras, the game automatically steps in to fill-in the gaps with fun riffs and harmonious bridges.
As an experienced gamer who was hoping for a competitive rush, I was disappointed at first to learn that Wii Music is for a more casual gamer looking for a simple-to-play music experience. But once I recalibrated my expectations and got to know the game better, I found Wii Music to be fun and unique.
Since it doesn't require any awkward peripherals or plastic instruments, I was excited to try out a musical instrument-type game that actually fit in my cramped apartment. But, before I could even start playing the game, I had to, unfortunately, update my Wii software.
The game finally booted, but before I could continue, I had to endure another delay -- a very lengthy tutorial process led by a Wii character fashioned after a Baroque-period composer.
By the time I landed on the main carousel of options (Lessons, Jams, Videos, Games), I was losing steam.
However, my friend and I chose to "Quick Jam" and were given the trumpet and electric guitar to play "O Christmas Tree." Once we started playing, we realized that jamming to "O Christmas Tree" was a bit anti-climactic. (Other songs included mainstream -- though not particularly modern -- hits, like "Every Breath You Take" and "The Entertainer.") We also missed receiving a score at the end of our performance -- a signature feature of other music video games.
But we checked out the "Lessons" option and amused ourselves with the many exotic instruments, from the sitar and ukulele to the vibraphone and bagpipes. (Of course, staples like the guitar, drums, violin and horns are available, too.)
To play the various instruments, you use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to mimic the real-life actions that generate sound from the instruments. The motion-sensing controllers can tell how quickly and intensely you're playing the notes.
Once we found the "Games" section, we hit our stride. My friend and I enjoyed struggling through "Handbell Harmony," in which your goal is to play timely notes and receive a high performance score. The other games in the section, which included a conducting game that challenges you to wave the Wiimote like a baton to a piece of music, were also entertaining.
For those who really want to indulge their creative alter egos, Wii Music lets you mix and match songs and genres. For example, a simple "O Christmas Tree" can become a heavy metal howl.
After you've finished your masterpiece, the game lets you send your "music video" to others who have Wii Music. They can listen, tweak your piece and then send it back to you.
If you're a hard-core gamer who really just wants to unleash your inner rock star, Wii Music's social and improvisational features probably won't appeal to you. But for a general audience willing to spend $49.99 for a musical creative outlet, this game could be a winner.