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Major Minor's Majestic March (Wii) artwork

Major Minor's Majestic March (Wii) review

"Major Minor's Majestic March has an impressive pedigree. Its developer NanaOn-Sha, or more specifically musician Masaya Matsuura and artist Rodney Alan Greenblat, helped shape the rhythm game genre with iconic 90's releases PaRappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy. The games stood out because of their quirky graphics, music, and plot. There was also an inherent charm to their main characters: a dog learning to bust rhymes and a lamb struggling for her grunge-guitar dreams. ..."

Major Minor's Majestic March has an impressive pedigree. Its developer NanaOn-Sha, or more specifically musician Masaya Matsuura and artist Rodney Alan Greenblat, helped shape the rhythm game genre with iconic 90's releases PaRappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy. The games stood out because of their quirky graphics, music, and plot. There was also an inherent charm to their main characters: a dog learning to bust rhymes and a lamb struggling for her grunge-guitar dreams. Not so much with a geeky cat who aspires to lead his own marching menagerie. Major Minor's Majestic March is more kiddy than crazy cool. Worse, its mechanics miss the mark in the music department. The once dynamic duo has lost their way on the Wii.

Major Minor is a young feline who desperately wishes to continue his family's legacy as elite drum majors. Fortunately for him, he has a magical baton infused with the spirit of his Great Great Grandma Gladiola. This baton can materialize instruments on demand, turning innocent bystanders into enthusiastic marching fiends. It'll transform corporate crocodiles into French horn connoisseurs. It can tame tigers to keep the beat on big bass drums. With his new powers in hand, Major Minor sets off with his buddy Tom – who is a teddy bear – to recruit the band of his dreams. The whole thing has a storybook feel to it, as Major and his friends learn valuable lessons against littering and thievery along their merry way. The narrator even sounds like a babysitter reading a bedtime fairytale.

Greenblat's artwork brings the whimsical world to life. The band marches for miles through streets bathed in bright colors. They weave through a maze of staircases in a gigantic mansion. They avoid the dangers of machinery and steam while taking their show through an operational factory. Major Minor even plunges the group underwater, where they can recruit trumpet-playing dolphins and cymbal-banging goldfish. Other band members are just as weird. Sunflowers blowing into euphonium. Cacti percussing xylophones. Butterflies tinging triangles. Mushroom monks fingering clarinets. Thirty embraceable plants and animals can eventually join the band.

To lead your misfit musicians, you hold the remote perfectly vertical, then move it up and down at a constant pace to set the rhythm of the music. That's all that's required to start the march; it couldn't be more basic. Meanwhile, the impromptu parade route is always lined with a ton a willing band members, which you recruit by swiping the baton in their direction on a certain beat. Powerups are collected in the same way. These are cards that flip over at the last second to reveal their power; for example, you can collect candy that keeps all the marchers in synch. However, you cannot just tilt the remote willy-nilly, as there are also powerdowns. These can disrupt your band's performance, or make new recruits disappear from sight. Even worse, Gladiola's harsh voice screams “Hold me properly!” from the remote's speaker if you don't stick to the rigid vertical motion. As grating as she is, you won't want her on your back.

There are two reasons why this seemingly simple scheme goes off the rails. First, there's a very narrow range of acceptable rhythm. Say you speed up and out of that zone. Instead of registering a faster rhythm, the marchers flatline to a very slow pace. Once that happens, it takes at least a few measures to jumpstart them back on track. It's very frustrating because during that period, you're not in control at all, and you have to watch and listen to the band fall apart.

The second thing is, the game encourages you to change the rhythm, almost constantly. When Major Minor leads the band uphill, he must slow down or everyone will get tired. For a downhill slant, everyone wants to go faster. In either case, there's persistent danger that the flow will disintegrate. Also, individual members of the band have their own preferred speed. Buddy Beagle, who plays the trumpet, is an energetic dog, and always wants to accelerate. Sousa Pig, though, is lugging around a heavy tuba in addition to being a porker. He needs you to keep it slow. If any member becomes too unhappy, they'll drop out of the band. Lose everyone and it's game over. There's always direct conflicts like this where there's no way to satisfy all. The game is asking you be very dynamic, but at the same time, it's not sensitive enough to accurately pick-up those changes. So many music games foster an obsessive pursuit of perfection; here it feels like there's no right way to do things.

Even discounting these problems, the style of gameplay really hurts the enjoyment of the soundtrack. We're used to connecting with the music by playing along with the melody, the most prominent and memorable part of the song. In Major Minor's Majestic March, you develop tunnel-hearing as you focus on maintaining the mechanical count of 1-2-3-4 through the entire march. Every so often, a familiar tune will force its way through. You'll hear a few bars bearing the stately dignity of the Star-Spangled Banner or the ceremony of Pomp and Circumstance. Mostly, though, it's just a background wall of sound to ignore. The only nice touch is that song characteristics change depending on the composition of the band. If you end up with a crew of only saxophone players, it'll sound airy and squawky. Lean toward the low brass, and it becomes heavy and clunky. It makes you want to fight though the difficulties and achieve a balanced tone.

Given the near impossibility of that task, I'm glad Major Minor's Majestic March is so short. The game begins with a mandatory run through the easiest difficulty setting. It's comprised of seven stages and takes about twenty minutes. It feels like an introduction, but it basically encompasses everything the game has to offer. Completion of that that unlocks a normal mode, which adds more characters and pickups along the same seven levels, and that subsequently opens up a challenge mode that repeats the process again. There are also two multiplayer settings. In co-op, players divide the responsibility of keeping the beat and recruiting new members. For a versus match, it forcibly alternates control of the band leader between the opponents; whoever collects the most recruits wins. But again, these revisit the same seven stages. Play through every mode, and the whole package might take two hours to complete. That's enough for Major Minor's Majestic March, a game that struggles to succeed at any level.

woodhouse's avatar
Community review by woodhouse (May 25, 2009)

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