Hit the wall Guitar Hero, here comes the challenger that blows away the opposition.
When Guitar Hero was at its peak, a recurring joke focused on how entertaining it would have been if we had rhythm games that revolved on other, more outlandish instruments such as the bass tuba, castanets or bongo drums. A not-too-serious wish, of course, but who would have guessed that more than fifteen years after Harmonix's blockbuster game was launched, we'd actually get to experience something like Trombone Champ. A game that is as much of a joke as it is sheer brilliance. Indeed one of the most essential gaming experiences of the year.
For you truly haven't lived before seeing Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture utterly massacred by a goofy virtual trombonist with the musical ability of a five-year-old. The result is as often tut-tutting as fart-sounding, and Trombone Champ is thus also very hard to take very seriously. It's a game clearly intended as light-hearted entertainment. But underneath all the laughter and flamboyance is also a surprisingly competent and well-developed rhythm game that requires a well-trained, quick arm as well as a sense of rhythm, for success.
Play-wise, Trombone Champ is pleasantly simple and you easily control your wind instrument by moving the computer mouse up or down to simulate the draw, and clicking to simulate the blowing. Then it's a matter of keeping the pointer aligned with the notes streaming towards you on the screen. In short, it's very similar in layout to most other more or less well-known rhythm games on the market and is incredibly easy to get into. But at the same time so wonderfully challenging to actually master.
Unlike Guitar Hero or many of the other more famous games in the genre, Trombone Champ is not just about rhythm and timing but more about pitch and accuracy. Which adds an unexpected layer of complexity that surprisingly accurately simulates how you'd actually operate a brass instrument in real life, and it takes plenty of finesse to make your honking flow together in a smooth and natural way. More often than not, the blowing degenerates into outright parody rather than any brilliant musical interpretation.
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In total, the game offers twenty-five classic tunes to toot along to, most of which are borrowed from the public domain with a handful of original compositions from the game studio itself sprinkled into the mix. God Save the King, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, William Tell Overture, and Take Me Out to the Ball Game are just some of the many examples of bluesy tunes you'll get to enjoy, and developer Holy Wow has already mentioned that several new pieces of music will be added in the future.
Of course, there's also a plethora of bonus items to unlock in the game, ranging from trading cards depicting more or less famous musicians to new trombones and characters. The points used for this are called Toots and are earned through normal play. The better you perform with your brass player, the more Toots you collect. Trombone Champ also has a few more or less well-hidden aces up its sleeve that reveal themselves as you progress deeper into the game, and a mysterious connection between baboons and trombones that you have the opportunity to unravel.
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When it comes to the visual aspects of Trombone Champ, it's unlikely to win any awards for either technical subtlety or ground-breaking art design. But what is here is functional and with the right touch of humour to match the overall sense of silliness that pervades the game. Collage-like backgrounds with comedic elements that marry well with the music and characters reminiscent of Nintendo's Mii creations with exaggerated body dimensions and often hilarious animations.
Trombone Champ may be the internet's latest meme game with all that entails, but beyond all the fart and honk sounds, and beneath the jocular surface we find an incredibly humble experience that's impossible not to fall in love with. A small game with big aspirations in pouty packaging created by two individuals who very clearly carry a strong passion for the genre as well as the medium. Trombone Champ is by far the most charming, laugh-inducing, wonderful little gaming experience you can get this year. So take a chance, lift your trombone and honk your horn.
8 / 10
Wonderful humour. Fun and challenging gameplay. Plenty of extras.
Currently a limited selection of songs. The graphic style is very hit-or-miss.