Sunday, July 5, 2015

VGR Major Minor's Majestic March

Last time I said was our last dip into the PaRappa series, but technically there's one last final game that is, sort of, part of the series.

How about leading a marching band?

You Gotta Believe these PaRappa-related reviews!

VGR: Major Minor's Majestic March (aka メジャマジ・マーチ/Mejamaji Māchi in Japan) or simply MMMM
From NanaOn-Sha/Square Enix/Majesco Entertainment
Played on Wii
Also available on / 

Type Musical game
Year 2009

Almost an entire decade went by, and we never received any PaRappa game. Meanwhile an entire genre of music games followed the PSX classic. And nowadays it's no surprise to see the likes of Guitar Hero or Rock Band top the sales.

But long before those, it all started with a pretty obscure niche title. A fun little Japanese game PaRappa the Rapper back on the original Playstation.

Masaya Matsuura and his team at NanaOn-Sha can be considered the fathers of this musical gaming genre. It all dates back to PaRappa which established the foundations of this rythm-based gameplay still used to this day.

Back when Majesco Entertainment announced Maatsuura would be teaming up with American
artist Rodney Greenblat, I couldn't believe it. Both had an equally big impact on those games which composed the original PaRappa, its PS2 sequel and the equally awesome guitar sequel/spinoff game UmJammer Lammy.

The game is titled Major Minor's Majestic March, and it's an exclusive Wii title.

This time the whole objective of the game revolves around this virtual band. Performing in different parades around the world of PaRappa revisited after all these years.

With the combined forces of Matsuura and Greenblat we were sure to get this unique musical world back. Great music and art direction. Did we?

The game takes place in Greenblat's signature cartoony world. This world filled with anthropomorphic cartoon animals, plants and other objects (and a few odd humans here and there). The story is told via these still pictures, giving Major Minor's Majestic March a sort of storytale feel.

Our (mysterious) narrator does all the voices with the exception of the "Grandma".

Our main character is Major Minor. He always dreamed to lead a marching band like all of his family ancestors. But he never had much rhythm. And he doesn't even have a marching baton! That is until he got his hands on this old gold baton designed after his great grandmother, Great Great Grandma Gladiola (or GGGG for short). With his friend Tom they headed to the big city.

Suddenly GGGG came to life! She will guide and teach Major Minor to make his dream a reality and lead him into these different colorful parades all over March Town!

The goal of this game is to perform these big parades and get a lot of musicians joining Major Minor's quest to lead the greatest marching band ever!

The style and the tone is pretty similar to the PaRappa games. In fact the story mirrors it pretty simply in the big lines. Instead of going "I gotta believe!" or "the guitar is my mind", Major Minor has his own chant "March March, Keep on Marching!!". The silly dialogues are back. The quirky colored world is familiar. All the characters clearly designed by Rodney Greenblat. But somehow something seems missing...

MMMM was specifically designed with the Wii in mind. That's right, the entire game controls with "Wii remote waggles".

The basics are pretty easy to understand. You always start a march by pressing the button A to begin. Then shake the Wiimote up and down, like the character on screen, to keep the tempo, and there you go.

The Wiimote for your drum major's baton, it's actually pretty clever.

Then it's all about keeping your pace and picking things up as you go along, the character walks all by himself like a music game on-rails. To recruit new members shake into their direction, to pick items and power-ups do the same - but avoid traps! If you go too fast or too slow the members of the band will have some trouble following you - pictured on the bottom of the screen. If they get upset they can fall off or just quit your team. If you lose everyone, it's Game Over!

The only issue is with the controls - the Wiimote is far from being the most precise controller out there. It is a bit tricky to get the tempo right. You gave to be careful not to shake the controller too slow, nor too fast.

It can get quite difficult to anticipate things, you might pass most stages by chance on the first few tries. It's just not precise enough, this was long before the days of the Wiimote Plus... But don't worry, like some recent Nintendo games, if you fail too many times the game will actually play for you, you will only need to worry about other band members while the rhythm adjusts automatically.

There are about 8 different locations or stages, each with its own theme/music. Each stage covering about 25 popular marching band songs in medleys specially composed for the game. You can also collect up to 15 different instrument players, all sorts of percussions, woodwinds, etc. Not all band members will be available at first, through your ranking new ones will be unlocked for the later plays.

The objective of the levels is to maintain your rhythm so you will get a good score. The music will sound differently depending on the members you get to join you.

MMMM is clearly aimed at the younger crowd, moreso than PaRappa way back when. The game is filled with bright colors and loud sounds. The story is also much more childish. I expected it to take a different turn when a bad guy popped up in the plot, but he was quickly dismissed aside.

It's a pretty easy game. You must adapt your speed to what is going on on screen. If the band starts moving uphill you need to adapt and slow down the tempo for this difficult segment. If it goes downhill, allow the music to speed up. Underwater, slow down.

Once completed the story, you can try the harder difficulty, or try the more challenging mode. In the end you will unlock "the Narrator" as a playable character.

Finally there's also a pretty dodgy 2-player mode, but it basically consists on trying to get better scores than one another in a competitive versus or instead play each a part of the gameplay (keeping the rhythm or getting band members), which is shaky at best.

The visuals are a bit on the cheap side, art style aside. The game simply looks like a 32/64-bit era game. Sure, it's colorful but the animation are really stiffs. The backgrounds are nice and all but they simply lack any life. And like the gameplay, the levels get pretty repetitive after a while. The characters simply look blocky, these models don't translate Rodney Greenblat's cartoony artstyle as well as 2D-characters.

There was a lot of talent behind the game. And the marching band simulator concept was interesting enough. But the game just lacks polish or some actual spark to it. It's not that bad. But it feels generic. And the simplistic controls and lack of any real replay value doesn't help it either...

Overall, Major Minor's Majestic March is a cute but forgettable little game. It's simply not as good as the earlier PaRappa/UmJammer Lammy games. In my eyes it's closer to PaRappa 2 (which was... just decent). 

MMMM is clearly aimed at a younger audience. It's more childish and limited. The gameplay is not as tight and precise. The visuals are fun and quirky but not on par with modern titles. 

I'd Give it a Try if you're a fan or like music games in general. It's a better experience with friends than all by yourself. It gets really repetitive really fast. But it shouldn't take long to complete.

Despite all its flaws, it's not that awful a game. But the still ended selling pretty poorly due to some pretty harsh early reviews. It's actually fun. But don't come in expecting something as great and unique as the original PSX-era titles...

I give it:
1.5 / 3 PaRappas!

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