|System: Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: NanaOn-Sha||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Majesco||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 2, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tony Capri
July 28, 2008 - Recently, Nintendo announced that total U.S. sales of the Wii had surpassed comparable Xbox 360 sales. The Wii is a market beast, seemingly intent on devouring the entire gaming world. At the same token, most hardcore gamers who own a Wii would be hard-pressed to list more than a handful of games for the system worth owning. So, folks are always on the lookout for something new, something unique - something fun that will make owning a Wii feel a little less like money wasted.
Enter Major Minor's Majestic March (or "M4" for those who care not to tangle their tongue). This simple concept (of the uber-quirky kind) has the gaming community all atwitter but why?
M4 in a nutshell revolves around you, the player, conducting a marching band through various fantasy inspired levels, but the devil is certainly in the details with this one. Think Katamari Damacy - if it were on rails - meets Elite Beat Agents and well, you'd still likely be confused. It's really an odd ball of an idea, but in action, M4 seems to work magic.
The premise of M4 is akin to a children's storybook, but there is surprising depth in its gameplay. You play as Major Minor, a marching-band conductor, and by wielding only the Wii remote, players will gesture up and down, in rhythm, whilst marching along a pre-determined path (or level, of which there are currently seven levels announced). Along the way, you'll pick up new band members by gesturing toward them as you pass them by. Also found on your march are items, which will aid you in keeping your troupe happy and sounding their best. Everything must be done in rhythm to the music, though as the conductor, you'll be afforded the ability to set the pace. Keep time well, and your band will gleefully march on, playing like polished pros; fall short in your rhythm, and you'll find yourself either repelled back to redo portions of a level, or you may lose band members or both.
As one might hope, the layering of your band isn't just skin deep. As you add musicians to your merry mass of marching minors, the instruments they play will be added and heard as well. And for those concerned about the constant gesturing, the game provides regular breaks throughout each of its levels. Our only concern right now is the breadth of gameplay and the length of the overall title itself. Recent peeks at various levels reveal a fun but short romp, and with only seven levels in the entire package, it might be a bit short for a game with a full, retail-price tag.
It's perhaps no surprise the music Major Minor will march to in M4 is a variety of standard marching tunes. Currently, there are about 25 songs that comprise the set list, though the music will be implemented as medleys during gameplay. As it stands, though the gameplay is fun and surprisingly challenging even for adults, it seems M4 will ultimately appeal to a fairly young audience. However, the visual style and level design are zany enough that, were the game's designers to implement some "hipper" music, M4 could end up as an avant-garde experience similar to that of the Beatle's Yellow Submarine movie. We've seen the character models and other various aspects of the game evolve quite a bit in just the few months before E3, so there's no telling where Major Minor may twirl his baton in the end.
But who is behind this massively marching operation? (MMO, get it?) M4 is being developed by a somewhat off-the-beaten-path group of game makers known as Nana On-Sha, perhaps best known for another quirky, niche title called Parappa the Rapper (PlayStation and PSP). Parappa, too, was a rhythm game, one in which PlayStation button signatures would scroll across the top of the screen, ala Taiko no Tatsujin (perhaps an even more obscure, import title), and players would have to tap the correct buttons in time with the music, all while Parappa (a rapping dog) and his paper-thin friends would hip-hop onscreen.
Much of Parappa's oddball flavor seems to be carrying over to M4, and Nana On-Sha has once again enlisted Rodney Greenblat (visual designer for Parappa the Rapper) to inject his unique visual stylings into the game. What's still unclear, however, is whether M4 will play out as a straight-on, arcade-style game or if it will have some sort of story driving it on, as in Parappa the Rapper.
When M4 first appeared, the character, Major Minor, was a regular man, but most recent appearances of the game show Minor to be something of a feline. The game isn't due out until the end of the year, so there's perhaps plenty of room for change. We hope to see at least some slight variation in the gameplay and, as mentioned previously, just more gameplay, in general.
Rhythm games are something of a curiosity. The popularity of franchises such as Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution speak volumes about players love of simply letting go, acting silly, and having a good time, though the gameplay for most of these titles falls well outside the sphere of what "hardcore" gamers generally thrive on. Major Minor's Majestic March (what a mouthful), falls somewhere outside even the rhythm-game sub-genre, The game promises to offer a really fun, arcade-like experience in fantastic settings, but who will buy it? That's perhaps the biggest unknown with Major Minor. A game such as Elite Beat Agents released to great, critical success, but sales of the game never peaked. M4 will offer marching tunes, of all things, in various candy colored worlds, and the premise of simply leading a marching band is definitely not your standard, video-game fare; it's just plain weird.
But the Wii is something of an oddity, with families still on the hunt just to find one of these highly coveted systems, and once they finally are able to purcahse one, most Wii owners spend the bulk of their time playing Wii Sports. The games that are selling successfully on the platform are surprising many long-time gamers, so Major Minor may have a shot at success. Either way, M4 seems like quite the gamble, but one with a product built on a strong foundation. Majesco (publishers of M4) and Nana On-Sha appear to be putting their best feet forward, and we'll be excited to see where Major Minor leads the band. No firm release date has yet been announced, but expect to see Major Minor's Majestic March on store shelves toward the end of this year.
CCC Freelance Writer