Unlock the door
January 12, 2009
A colleague whose office is next to mine mentioned a few weeks ago that he intended to buy Wii Music for his family to play over the holidays. I saw him this afternoon and asked if he was enjoying the game. "Yes," he replied, "but there's one thing about it I really hate. You can't play all the instruments (66 total) or all the songs (52 total) right away. You must unlock them first."
Then came the head-scratcher: "Why does Wii Music contain unlockables?"
Good question. My colleague is a longtime gamer. He appreciates the progression-reward mechanism in games dating back to the arcade era. He has no objections to end-stage boss battles or "use the tools you've earned" dungeon adventures. It's not a philosophical objection; it's a practical one.
Why should a casual game - designed and promoted as the ultimate user-friendly music toy by its creators - require the player to complete a series of lessons, gateway songs, and minigames in order to unlock all its content? Put more simply, why should a guy be forced to play through a game first himself in order to open up the content his kid wants to play right away?
I suppose one might argue Wii Music isn't really a kids game, and some of its advanced features are more likely to appeal to adults. Fair enough. But I can tell you from first-hand experience, none of that matters to an impatient kid who just wants to load up a game and have fun playing it. Offering a grand total of 5 songs at the beginning, with lots of visual teasers suggesting all the instruments and songs you can't play (and insisting the way around this barrier is to take "lessons") - that's a real non-starter for a small child. Later we can address patience, diligence, and the benefits of hard work. But not before 1st grade.
Did I misunderstand Nintendo's intentions with this game? Back in November I watched the (undeniably charming) Nintendo-produced promo video below and recommended that my colleague give it a look. Based on your own viewing of it, what might you have presumed about Wii Music?
Perhaps I'm reading it incorrectly, but that doesn't look like a game full of unlockable content. It looks like a game any child or parent can pick up, play together, and enjoy right away.
Why not simply put the decision in the player's hands? If I want a challenge, let me earn each song and instrument. But if I don't want that experience, why not offer me the option of unlocking everything at the click of a Wiimote? I don't expect or desire such an option in, say, a Castlevania game. But this is Wii Music, where I can wear a cat suit, waggle my Wiimote, and make meow sounds. C'mon, Nintendo. Unlock the door.
For a different, opposing view on this subject, you may be interested in Stephen Totilo's fine essay on Wii Music: I Think I Finally Get It - How ‘Wii Music’ Works As A (Hard) Game.