Hey, kids! Have you ever dreamed of being a professional violinist? Of feeling the stagnant air of a concert hall in your hair as you perform selections from Swan Lake with a string quartet composed entirely of your closest friends? Of screeching your way thanklessly through Ave Maria before an audience of nearly a dozen, most of whom are dozing senior citizens?
No? We didn't think so. And just to make sure you never do get any lofty ideas about the romantic life of the session violinist, Violin Paradise is here to help you cement your experience with the instrument as a really, really bad one.
Okay, in fairness, we're being deliberately harsh on the violin as an instrument. It may not receive the sort of popular respect lavished upon the guitar or the piano, but it's a beautiful and versatile instrument that can effectively set any mood, from a young couple approaching the altar to Janet Leigh being stabbed to death in a shower.
The violin can be sweet. It can be angry. It can be gentle. It can be sharp. It can be a warm spring morning or the chilliest, most cutting of winter nights. In short, you should learn it. You should study it. You should, at the very least, appreciate and respect it. And you should absolutely, positively stay away from Violin Paradise, which equates the experience of playing the instrument to sitting on the couch and jerking your wrist up and down.
At first, the game does not seem to lack for content. It offers ten different "areas" in which one can play, and each of those areas contains between five and six unlockable songs each. On top of that, each song ostensibly has four different ways of playing it. For example, one can choose to play a violin, a viola, a cello, or to be the conductor. This would seem to offer some welcome flexibility, and, when combined with the post-song scoring session, it should fuel replayability.
But replayability isn't the issue here. Playability in the first place is the issue.
The songs may of course be very different (they consist of classical music drawn from the well of public domain, understandable for a game based around string instruments), but the experience of playing them is always the same: you hold a button on the Wii Remote and shake it. Unless you're conducting, in which case you don't even need to bother with the button. Do you know the difference between a violin, a viola and a cello? If so, you're one step ahead of Violin Paradise, which treats them as interchangeable. Well done, educational music game.
Coloured prompts scroll across the screen Guitar Hero-style, and the colour of the prompt dictates which button on the Wii Remote you need to press while shaking it. There is an alternate control scheme as well, but this only relocates the required buttons to the Nunchuk, and playing that way just feels awkward considering how simple the game actually is.
In fairness, the tutorial in the game seems to suggest (we say "seems to" as it's not animated and therefore there's no way to tell) sawing the Wii Remote back and forth through the air over an invisible violin, as one would use a bow. This was a bit less responsive than just shaking it, though admittedly not by much. It did, however, look far more ridiculous, and didn't increase our enjoyment any, so mindless waggle won that round.
The experience of playing these instruments doesn't really change from song to song, and since there are only three permutations of button-presses (A, B or A+B) it's pretty easy to stay on your toes even through the most complicated passages. Playing as the conductor simplifies these songs even further, to an almost insulting degree, as all you have to do is shake the Wii Remote periodically to keep an indicator from falling too far down or rising too high on a meter on the left. While this meter is meant to represent tempo, it actually rewards you for conducting out of step with the song; if you try to shake the Wii Remote on each measure (or, heaven forbid, note) you may tip the irrelevant indicator too far upward and lose points. The best thing you can do is wait for the indicator to nearly bottom out, shake the Wii Remote once or twice, and then sit quietly and start waiting again.
It's fun! To someone. Presumably.
The ability to play through songs with up to three of your friends picking up the empty instrument slots is a promising addition, and it does lead to some interesting fun as the conductor can intentionally speed up the song to such a degree that the prompts are impossible to hit, or slow it to an irritating crawl, but aside from making your friends miserable there's not much to do here.
We do have to say something positive about the visual presentation of the game. In fact, we have to say something very positive. While it may not look like much in the screen shots, seeing this animation in action is genuinely gorgeous. The simple characters and shapes take on rich, vibrant lives of their own while classical string music plays, weaving a truly lovely visual experience into the background of each song. The animation is fantastic, and it's a welcome artistic complement to the timeless songs that play over it. In fact, the visual component of this game manages to singlehandedly elevate it from being a total failure.
The animation and the soundtrack deserves to be attached to a far superior game. Saddling them with Violin Paradise seems like artistic disrespect of the highest order, sort of like piping great opera music through a tinny speaker in the men's room of a strip club.
Violin Paradise as a game can be safely skipped, but as a visual and aural experience, it's something that we hope we'll encounter again, in another time and place, when the game has learned to take itself seriously.
Some masterful work in the art department is sadly overshadowed by a gameplay experience that consists entirely of shaking the Wii Remote and waiting for the song to end. The animation is crisp, smooth and intermittently beautiful, but it's all in service of a game that doesn't seem to want to play with you. It can't be easy to pack this dismal a gaming experience into such an appealing visual and aural package, but Violin Paradise proves that it certainly can be done.