When I was a kid my parents brought home a strange object. It was composed of hundreds of blunt pins that slid a few centimetres out of a sheet of black metal before hitting a wall of clear plastic. The purpose of the thing was to let people create 3-D, dot matrix-style shapes by pushing their hands, faces, feet, or anything else they could think of into the bed of pins.
It blew my eight-year-old mind. For about an hour. Then it sat on our mantle collecting dust for the next decade, save on the rare occasions when visiting family or friends would notice it, pick it up, and play with it for a few minutes.
That memory was called back to me by Wii Music, a new rhythm game for Nintendo's shiny white console that lets us pretend we're playing "classic" songs (think Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Oh Christmas Tree) by shaking a controller in movements that roughly approximate those required to play the 60-odd instruments featured in the game. Keep the rhythm and the song will play perfectly. Go off-beat and the game will assume you're initiating some sort of scat/jazz solo and start filling in notes between those established by the song's traditional melody. It's pretty much impossible to screw up.
I was immediately impressed by its accessibility. Like the weird pin toy my parents purchased, any able-handed person between the ages of 1 and 100 should be able to easily interface with and eke out some amusement from Wii Music.
Unfortunately, it also shares another trait with the pin toy: It becomes monotonous all too quickly.
There are no goals. There's no scoring, no career mode, and no achievements. Aside from gradually unlocked songs and venues, there is nothing to work toward, which gives people little reason to keep playing
Of course, humans have had fun playing music without the artificial goals of a video game for millennia. But Wii Music's simplicity works against a music makers' desire for creativity. All we can do is control when our instruments make a sound; we have no power over which notes we pluck, and thus no ability to meaningfully satisfy our artistic aspiration.
Having extracted as much fun as I expect I'll ever get from Wii Music myself, the game will now find a permanent place on my game shelf. It will be pulled down only when a visitor expresses interest in it, at which point we'll all have a little fun pretending to strum mandolins, tap xylophones, and bang steel drums for a few minutes before going back to whatever it was we were doing.
The game's $50 price tag is a little steep for such basic, short-lived entertainment.