Wii Music is the first music game. Rock Band and Guitar Hero? Those are song games. Those are games made by music aficionados who like songs. Specifically, rock songs. Wii Music was made by composers - Nintendo's men of music gathered together and put in charge. And so they made a game about what they know: how music works.
Wii Music is an arrangement sim. It is not an instrument simulator. Yes, flicking the remote to play the different guitars imitates strumming, but only a lunatic would equate presses of 1 and 2 with the contortion required to fart a song from the bagpipes. This isn't a bad thing, it just means anyone can do it. Which means Wii Music can get on with the business at hand: being an arrangement sim.
Songs can be 'made' in that six strands - melody, rhythm, chords, bass and two percussion slots - can be layered. Changing the instruments in the slots alters the shape of the song. The Super Mario Bros theme played by four accordions has Gallic charm; four Miis in cat suits will transform it into a twisted MIDI pet shop. This alone is great fun. Like a mad musical scientist you add parts to your aural potion. Violin? No, cello. Now a drop of snare drum and... KAZAM! The tune is made.
That is Wii Music at its broadest. Let's take it down a level. Hit the note timings and the correct note will play. Improvise in between those notes and the game inserts notes that will technically 'work' in the given musical surroundings. Add flourishes by pressing A or B (instrument-specific effects too varied to list here) and each note earns a little bit of character. Fundamentally the tune will always be Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, but by arranging it from instruments down to single note sounds it becomes yours.
Pleased with the tune? Burn it to virtual CD, complete with an album cover crafted by positioning your Mii band members on set backgrounds. The competition to recreate famous covers begins here. If it wasn't for the lack of bare-chested Miis we'd have the perfect Nevermind. Send the tune over WiiConnect24 and friends can listen or hack up the tune to improve it. You scratch my Bach, I'll scratch yours, if you will.
Want the game to be more? It can be more. Wii Music's tutorials don't stop at instrument lessons. Guided by the Muppet-like Sebastian Tute, you're taken through Wii Music functionality and general music functionality. The interface may be bright and colourful, but behind the chirpy bouncing on-screen notes (the Be-Bops) lies a full-on musical education. Rhythms that define musical styles, the relationships between certain instruments, timing changes - we felt pretty dumb playing it.
Not everyone wants to be back in school, however, and we'll concede that the music does skew young, and the transition from Through The Fire And Flames to Yankee Doodle might be asking too much. But as we said, the songs aren't important. If anything, the selection of childhood classics and broad pop hits (Material Girl, Every Breath You Take - stuff like that) are there to inspire confidence in messing with them: you can't tweak what you don't know.
The childish complaint has never curried much favour with us. Shrugging Wii Music off as a children's toy is unwise; it taps into a universal musical satisfaction that we can't, nor would want to, deny ourselves. Wii Music goes for a timeless quality: the pulsating bombast of the crescendo, the hairs on the back of neck at an awesome key change, the fun of hearing instruments communicate and work together.
Ultimately, a review in a games magazine is not going to nail what it is about music that has kept mankind enraptured ever since Ugg the caveman composed his 'Ode To Not Being Eaten By A Velociraptor' on his performance flints.
Annoyingly, Wii Music is exactly about that thing. It sounds totally pretentious, and all it takes is one passer-by to sneer at the MIDI roughness of our latest masterpiece (harpsichord and human beatbox do Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go) and the bubble bursts, but while we're in there we couldn't be happier.
Time will tell if we've got this one wrong - a game this experimental demands more time, and will get it in a feature next month - but for the time being we'll march to the beat of Wii Music's drum. And if you find yourself marching to a different drum, don't worry about it. After all, that's how music works.
At the end of the day, who can explain musical taste? Some things soar, some things crash and burn. Prepare for either, but we're in the former (band) camp.