April 20, 2009

Major Minor's Majestic March

Author: Kirby Y of Game-Boyz.com

Music games have become all the rage these days. From the likes of Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Lips, Sing It!, and DDR, developers have managed to let diehard gamers play as a band, belt out tunes like a rock star, or dance like mad to the beat. I find it somewhat amazing how many ways one can take music and make an interactive game out of it. Well Majesco Entertainment has created a new interactive music based game, but this one does not include a disc filled with the latest top 40 songs. Major Minor’s Majestic March has been released to the masses and gamers will find themselves marching, yes I said marching, to various marching band tunes in an effort to lead the band. I first experienced this game in July 2008 at E3 and I was intrigued to say the least. So now that the final retail copies are in stores, how does this latest spin in the music/interactive genre play? Well keep reading to find out.

A lot of music based games don’t have much of a story, but Major Minor’s Majestic March does have a bit of one to explain why you do what you have to do. A young boy, Major Minor, lives in Marchtown. This small town is one where Drum Majors are adored and Major Minor wants nothing more then to be to worlds greatest Drum Major. However there is one small problem, he needs band members and instruments to start a marching band. After inheriting the ‘Magic Baton’ from his great grandmother he starts his quest to gather what he needs to put together a marching band and make his drive to be the best Drum Major in the world.

Major Minor's Majestic March is created by the same team that created the PaRappa the Rappa franchise that got its start on the original PlayStation. I remember my time with the very first game in that series. It was original, quirky and something fresh and new. Well this new IP follows the same path as it is something new and definitely has a unique feel and look to it. Who knew that a game based on marching bands would actually see the light of day on our current generation of consoles?

Given that Major Minor's Majestic March is an interactive marching band game, it seems only fit that it be released on the Wii. Your Wii Remote is your ‘Magic Baton’. This is used to keep tempo during your adventure. You will spend a lot of time moving it up and down in your efforts to maintain the tempo of your hodge-podge collection of band members.

So I am sure a lot of you are thinking it sounds silly to just stand there and shake your Wii Remote up and down all game. Well that is not all you do in this game. As you march through the games various levels you need to add band members to your marching band. As you march along you will pass various animals who line the path you are following (the game plays on rails so the path is pre-determined). You need to continue shaking your Wii Remote to the beat and then shake the Wii Remote towards the animal you want to add, all the while still maintaining your rhythmic shaking. This will enable you to put together a pretty good, and even large, marching band.

Sounds simple eh? Well in some ways it is, but there is a lot more to this game then you may expect. As you march along you control three facets of the game that influence how it plays. Along with your inevitable score, you also control the difficulty and sound of your band. How does this work you ask? Well, the game has a bear minimum of band members (animals) that you need to add to finish each section. Failure to do so is game over and you will need to re-try. However, to score high in Major Minor's Majestic March you need to collect as many animals as you can, however this makes the game trickier. You see, each animal has its own marching speed. For example, pigs are slower while cats are quite fast. So should you add too many of one animal, you may find yourself at a speed that does not do it for you. Of course as you add a mix of animals, the tempo can be quite varied and it can make for some crazy rhythm inducing game sessions. Finally, each animal also has their own instrument too, so you can ‘tune’ the sound of the track you are marching too as well. See, I told you it was not as simple as it sounded.

To spice this up somewhat, NanaOn-Sha has put various obstacles in your way. You will have to use your whistle to manage your band when these obstacles appear. Such things as train tracks, suspension bridges, and even political rallies will challenge your marching and timing skills. You will also find various power ups along the various marching routes. These can come in handy when you need them. One such power up allows your band to correct the tempo should you be ‘out of beat’ so to speak. This can become critical as you might be struggling along your preset path when you come across a hill or one of the above mentioned obstacles. Of course to grab the power-ups along your route you must swing the Wii Remote to beat as you move it to the left or right to grab it.

Along with the need to collect your band members along a parade route, Major Minor's Majestic March breaks up the gameplay in the form of Drill Mode. Here your main focus is to take your marching band onto the field (e.g. halftime show at a football game) and dazzle the crowd with your marching and drill skills. You will find yourself directing your marching band to complete various formations. You will waggle your Wii Remote in specific patterns and commands while you watch your band complete their marching moves. This was a nice change as it broke up the monotony of just marching and collecting members. The neat thing about this is that the commands all still have to be done to the tempo of the music, so it is not just a case of mindlessly following the on-screen prompts. You still have to keep things in sync to the beat.

There are a total of seven different locations of you to march across. You will discover 30 original characters to join your band along with a total of over 20 different musicial instruments. From brass to woodwinds to percussion instruments all in all there is a lot of neat stuff in this game.

Not to be content with just the single player modes, there is a local multiplayer component too. You can play cooperatively with a friend in an effort to build up and maintain your band. You can also play competitively in Contest Multiplayer mode where you and a friend can compete to see who can gather the largest band as quick as possible. I found the latter somewhat amusing in short spurts and there was nothing funnier then watching me and a fellow Game-Boyz staffer moving our Wii Remotes up and down in furious fashion. It definitely garnered some strange looks and interesting comments from anyone who walked by.

Although the game is original, and the novelty of leading your own marching ban is neat, there are a few things that really hamper the overall experience. Most notable is the control. I found that I had to hold the Wii Remote in very specific manner, and any attempt to alter this was met with resistance in the form of imprecise tracking or the game telling me, through the Wii Remote’s internal speaker, that I wasn’t holding it right. Add to this that the fact that onscreen meter, which is supposed tell you how you are doing and what tempo you should be at, is actually hard to read and doesn’t do it’s job nearly as well as it should. I found myself frustrated at times as I attempted to match the tempo of the games songs or when trying to match the patterns. However when you do manage to everything in sync it can be pretty rewarding, but it is getting there that can be annoying I can only imagine younger gamers getting frustrated more often then not. Another negative Nelly is that the game can be completed in a very short time. Although there are seven levels to explore, they are not nearly as long as I hoped. I figure that younger gamers will get through this in an afternoon. That is too bad as the whole premise and art style could have lent to enjoyable experience if the game was longer.

Visually speaking Major Minor's Majestic March is simple but yet effective. The colors definitely jump of the screen and the whole thing looks like a cartoon. There are lots of things going on (e.g. moving merry-go-round, town member walking about, fish swimming) which gives each level a bit of life to it. Character design is also pretty distinctive too and I really enjoyed how developer NanaOn-Sha brought a unique look to each character. I like the fact that the style that the game adds a bit of charm that a lot of other games seem to lack. It is things like this that can make something so simple seem to stand out on it own, and Major Minor's Majestic March is one such game. The games visual approach is quite suited for the abilities of the Wii, not only in terms of its graphics abilities, but for those gamers it targets as well, the younger audience. It definitely doesn’t tax the available power of the Wii given the flat textures and simple geometry. That being said though, the overall look is solid and each level has a unique feel to it. I think that those who play this game will enjoy what the game has to offer in terms of the visual presentation.

As this game is based on the premise of marching bands, the audio plays an important role here. Majesco states that there are 20 well-known marching band songs from around of the world, each being composed into original medleys for each unique stage. I have to say that I had my doubts here, but as I ventured through the game I was amazed that some of the tunes were sowewhat familiar to me. Not that I listen to marching band music on a regular basis, but I have watched my fair share of parades or half time shows (e.g. college football) in my life, so some of these tunes I am pretty sure I had heard before. In terms of the rest of audio on the disc, everything seems to have a cartoony feel to it, which given the source material really does blend well with the game.

I am left with task of having to recommend Major Minor's Majestic March or not. The game has a original visual approach, the sound it pretty strong, and the concept of leading your own marching band is intriguing. However what pulls the games overall fun factor down is the finicky controls, short gameplay length, and its’ inability to sustain one’s attention for a long period of time. At the end of the day it is really hard to justify the price of admission for such a short experience, but given the production values that went into it you at least have to give it a try.

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