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Game Review

Wii Music is pretty cool. Not quantum physics-level cool, mind you. Closer to the funny, kitschy cool of that little dog on TV that adds numbers together and taps out the answer with his paw. With both, you can't help but smile when you see it. When my teen daughter first saw me playing through a Wii Music piano improv, for instance, she laughed and gave the game the same assessment she bestowed upon that canine mathematician: "That's awesome!"

This, of course, is Nintendo's take on the popular rhythm/music genre. But if you're wanting a button by button, song by song comparison of this title with games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, forget it. Because this is a horse—dog—of a completely different color. In fact, forget the colors altogether. Wii Music drops all the colored buttons and plastic guitar and drum controllers that you've come to expect. Instead you're asked to rhythmically wave, strum and punch a few buttons on the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in four basic control methods that allow you to eventually play over 60 different instruments. (Be thankful you don't have to fork out the cash for all those add-ons!)

The Beat Goes On
Here's how it works: For percussive instruments such as pianos and drums, players simply waggle the controllers up and down in time with a song as your Mii character onscreen plays out the notes. This is the purest of rhythm games, no scrolling fret boards or multicolored blips to match. If you can tap out a beat you're a musician.

Guitars, ukuleles and such are played by holding the Nunchuk as you would the neck of the instrument and then moving the accompanying remote in a strumming motion. For violins and cellos the remote becomes the bow. And wind instruments just require pointing the remote at your face and alternately punching two buttons.

It's simple enough that even the youngest bandmate can pick things up quickly. And those with a creative slant can spice the tune up with their own style by including chords in their play, changing up rhythms, adding accent notes, holding certain notes, tossing in glissandos and pitch variations—the list goes on. It all comes down to how you shake that controller in combo with a few very simple button nudges.

Harmonious Hits
Once you get the knack of things, you can jump into a song with little game-generated individuals called "Tutes," or you can ask up to three other family members and friends to join in. If you like how the tune turns out then feel free to watch it again or record a video and keep it for posterity. (Or share the masterpiece with online friends.)

The list of over 40 songs you can either initially pick from or unlock is cheery and family-friendly. They're lumped into three different categories: "Popular" songs range from The Monkees' Daydream Believer to Wham's Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go to Vangelis' Chariots of Fire. Add to that kind of lineup "classic" titles such as Beethoven's Ode to Joy and "traditional" tunes such as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Yankee Doodle and you've got a varied mix of music without all the rock 'n' roll sleaze, swagger and angst that other rhythm game songlists usually pack. And for those more comfortable behind a baton than a banjo, players can also pick up their remote and conduct an orchestra of their favorite Miis through such fare as Bizet's Carmen or even the Nintendo fan fave The Legend of Zelda theme.

My personal favorite of all the games activities is the Instrumental Improv. In this section you start off on your own, banging out a seemingly random series of notes on the instrument of your choice. Once you land on a rhythm you like, the Tutes grab drums, bass and harmony, and they jump in to help you jam to your newest composition. It's a very creative and intuitive game mechanic that can sometimes shock you with its stylistic outcome. Who knew you were a jazz genius?

But then again, who knew a mutt could do math?

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