Release Date: April 2, 2009
In the late 1990s, during the middle of the PSOne era, American artist Rodney Greenblat and the programming team at NanaOn-Sha introduced the gaming world to PaRappa The Rapper. One of the earliest known rhythm games on the market, PaRappa The Rapper told the story of one dog's quest to win the heart of a flower girl through catchy rap songs and vibrant, paper-thin 2-D art residing in a 3-D world. The game was a hit and became a blueprint for other rhythm games that wanted to incorporate storytelling with music.
The creative duo rode the wave of success with another project, UmJammer Lammy, a spiritual sequel to the original game that used rock instead of rap and focused on an all-girl band trying to make it big. After the development studio finished Vib-Ribbon for Japan, the duo teamed up once more on the PS2 for PaRappa The Rapper 2, taking the same play style as before while telling the tale of PaRappa and his quest to stop a culinary noodle takeover. With a long hiatus now over, the team has been formed once again for another rhythm game, this time on the Nintendo Wii. Major Minor's Majestic March may mark the return of a great collaborative team, but the execution of the game falls far below expectations.
Like all of the prior games from the team, the premise of Major Minor's Majestic March is both simple and whimsical. Major Minor is an inhabitant of a town that has a fondness for marching bands and places marching band leaders in very high regard. He also happens to come from a family that has a proud tradition of being very good marching band leaders, with his grandmother being considered the best of all time. Unfortunately, Major Minor's skill with the marching band baton is far below what one would expect, considering his pedigree. At his best friend's insistence, he grabs hold of his grandmother's baton, which seems to possess magical powers; as luck would have it, his grandmother's spirit is still residing within the baton. With the baton in hand and his grandmother (referred to as GGGG) helping him out, he sets off on a quest to follow his family heritage and become one of the best marching band leaders the world has ever seen.
The game consists of exactly one single-player mode and one multiplayer mode. The lone single-player mode is the story mode, where you play as Major Minor in his quest to become the best marching band leader since his grandmother. As you march along each level, you can pick up other members of the band as well as power-ups to help keep your band members happy and in tune. Each member you pick up has different instruments that he or she plays, and each person also has different tempo preferences; your job is to find just the right tempo for everyone or risk losing band members. If you make it to the end with more people than just you, your best friend, and his brothers in tow, you'll be given a score based on how many other band members you have as well as how your performance rated. The multiplayer mode is simply a carbon copy of the single-player portion, though you now have two band leaders instead of one to lead the band or compete for a top score.
The minute you start up Major Minor's Majestic March, there are three things that work against it: lack of flexibility, lack of difficulty, and game length. Although you can manipulate the tempo, the game seems to prefer one tempo style per song and punishes you for deviating from the given path. Even though you can choose which band members you want along the way (thus dictating which instruments are used for a given song), you're given exactly the same choices in exactly the same spots no matter how many times you play the level. This destroys any chance of creativity that was present in the team's previous titles, like UmJammer Lammy, which rewarded you when you followed the recommended note pattern and when your experimental freestyle tunes sounded better than the original material.
With this aspect gone, gamers will have to rely on different difficulty levels to get some challenge in their game. However, when the game begins, you can only select one difficulty level: easy. Since you have to go through easy in order to get to the normal or hard difficulty level, gamers might get bored with the title before they even attempt these difficulty levels. The story mode only contains six levels. Once you beat the game, nothing else unlocks, aside from the higher difficulty levels. Even when you beat the game at the highest difficulty level, all you unlock is a different character skin that doesn't change the game at all. Again, this is a step back from the PaRappa The Rapper games, which provided song remixes, and UnJammer Lammy, which unlocked rock/rap mash-ups when you beat the main game.
The control scheme is based on a few simple principles that don't exactly function as well as one would like. The Wii Remote handles all of the necessary actions for the game. The A button initiates marching, while the B button dispenses jelly beans that keep your band members happy. The Wiimote is held like a baton; moving it up and down simulates real baton movement, and it's used to start up the tempo and keep it going. During this time, tilting the remote to the left or right and the precise moment lets you obtain power-ups and marching band members that you'll find along the way. While the Wiimote seems to handle the up and down movements well, the tilting needs to be exaggerated for the game to understand what you're doing. Because of this lack of sensitivity, most gamers will be immediately thrown off their rhythm and stumble a bit. This lack of controller sensitivity is more pronounced in the bonus levels, which don't seem to recognize anything except for violent shakes of the remote. Considering how paramount good controls are to a rhythm game, this ends up being one of the more disappointing parts of Major Minor's Majestic March.
Longtime fans of the creative duo's graphical style will be pleased and stunned. Those looking for the classic 2-D paper cut-outs in a 3-D world will be disappointed to see that just about everything here consists of real 3-D models instead. Only the crowd is displayed in 2-D, a tease for those looking for the classic style to reappear in this game. If you can overlook that, however, you'll see that the trademark style that Rodney Greenblat is known for comes through nicely in 3-D. The environments are simple but alive in bright colors. The same goes for the character models that are bathed in bright colors and are designed in an instantly eye-catching manner. Character movement is also very fluid, and seeing all of this come through in 480p widescreen makes the game a visual delight. Those who have seen the game screenshots will worry that there might be too much emphasis placed on the HUD and not enough on the game itself. Having played it, however, the right balance seems to have been struck so that you have enough information on your band's status as well as enough screen real estate to enjoy the game visuals.
The sound is pretty interesting here. The sound effects follow the cartoon-like style well, with fumbles and power-up sounds playing loudly and with vigor. The music is of the classical variety, but you wouldn't notice unless someone told you since there is no display that tells you what you're about to play. It's a nice touch that the music actually changes depending on your tempo and who you pick up for your band. You can tell if you've picked up more brass players or more drummers without having to look at the bottom display.
Oddly enough, the voices are somewhat questionable. Unlike the previous games that have been produced, only two voices are present here: the narrator and GGGG. The narrator is decent, with her vocal style lending itself to more of a children's storybook theme than what the game seems to be playing off of. This is definitely seen with the way she handles parts where other characters are speaking. The voice for GGGG comes off as that of a stern but loving grandmother, which is perfect, considering how the story goes. However, it also comes off as muffled when it is played on-screen. It's still audible but it sounds more like it's coming from a bad audio tape than a baton. It's a little better when it comes from the Wii Remote itself, but it isn't played loud enough for anyone to notice when this happens. Beyond these voices, however, you don't get to hear anyone else, which is a shame, considering how many characters you interact with along your journey.
Major Minor's Majestic March sounded like a great game on paper. The graphical style from the past still looks good despite the transition to 3-D and the sound works. However, the finicky controls and shallow difficulty levels don't give this game much replayability at all. Despite the pedigree behind the game, rhythm game fans will be disappointed in this one.