Making music and noise with Wii Guitar Hero World Tour’s Mii Freestyle mode

A few months back when Neversoft’s Brian Bright maintained that that Wii version of the upcoming Guitar Hero World Tour would be identical to its counterparts, I was skeptical.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” I thought at the time.

Last week, not only did I see it, but I played it. And it was still hard for me to believe. It’s almost a given that the Wii game would look inferior to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of World Tour, and that I can confirm. It doesn’t look nearly as sharp, sporting fewer visual bells and whistles than those seen on Sony’s and Microsoft’s respective consoles.

But in terms of features, something had to be missing. So I poked and I prodded Activision Blizzard reps, waiting for the inevitable punchline that would be the missing feature or mode that would set the Internet on fire. It never came. The Wii version of Guitar Hero World Tour will indeed contain all of the features and all of the modes found in other versions of the game, from the in-depth Music Studio all the way on up through downloadable content.

But there’s more: the Wii version of the title will actually contain one exclusive mode, meaning that in terms of features, it may be the version to get. That one mode that sets it apart and gives it the edge is the game’s Mii Freestyle mode, a feature designed and created exclusively for the Wii that may give Wii Music a run for its money.

Details and impressions after the jump.

World Tour’s Wii-exclusive “Mii Freestyle” mode is, when you break it down, all about “making noise.” The kinds of noise you’ll make — and how closely related to an actual musical composition it is — will be entirely up to you. “Mii Freestyle” puts up to two players — a drummer and a guitarist — into a space, letting them “jam” with one another by using the Wii remote and nunchuck, Wii drum kit, or guitar peripheral to manipulate different sounds and loops. Oh yeah, and you get to use your Miis as avatars; very exciting stuff.

On the guitar end, holding different combination of buttons and strumming will result in different kinds of sounds. For example, pressing a single button and strumming will release a predictable single note, and by picking or hammering on and off these different notes you can create single note melodies. Holding down multiple buttons in different combinations will make different chords; in my brief play time I was able to experiment quite a bit — holding down two to four note chords — all of which gave me a different sound.

Using the features of the new World Tour guitar will allow you to trigger different types of sounds as well. By tilting the guitar upwards or pointing it down, you’ll trigger a completely different set of notes, some of them predetermined loops based on your genre selection prior to entering “Mii Freeplay” (rock, metal, and blues). The guitar’s slider pad can be used to manipulate things like pitch and vibrato for different sounds, and “shredding” in World Tour’s freeplay mode was far easier than year’s worth of lessons – simply hold down the strum bar and go wild, tapping on the fret buttons.

Certainly there’s a lot of experimentation to be done here. In my short play session, it was difficult to get a real grasp on what kinds of sounds I’d trigger with different combinations, so it was pretty tricky to create or follow the opus I was hearing in my head. Still, regardless of what I played, it sounded “correct” enough that I felt like I couldn’t do much wrong. Sounding like I knew what I was doing didn’t take much thought; the game does its best to basically hold your hand, making sure you don’t “fail” at creating something that, in the basic sense, resembles actual music.

By docking the Wii remote into the drum kit shell, it’s possible to just wail on the drums as you’d expect. There’s not much hand-holding here, and it is what it is – you hit the bass pedal, you get a bass sound; smack the snare and you’ll hear a crack; etc. Your mileage may vary when it comes to playing the drums like this – if you can keep a beat on an actual kit, you should be good to go. If not, you might have fun banging on things and making sounds, but there’s no accounting for talent or skill. As an inexperienced drummer, but one who can keep basic beats, I found I was able to throw down alongside the freestyle guitar riffs of my band mate.

If you choose so, you can ditch the drum shell and simply stick with the Wii Remote and nunchuck. Playing this way it’s easier to create beats (or at least a collection of drum sounds that somewhat resembles a beat), but is also a bit more complex. Similar to Wii Music’s drum kit, making hitting motions with the remote and nunchuck will trigger different drums sounds. By pressing and holding different combinations of buttons will allow you to hit different parts of the virtual kit. The game does display an on-screen kit that will light up different areas depending on what you’re holding, so it’s possible to know what sounds you’ll be triggering.

Deciding to use the remote and nunchuck versus the shell will also reward you with a new function – the ability to create drum loops. By pressing down on the d-pad, you’ll be able to lay down different parts that will loop, allowing you to build a beat piece by piece. This will likely be a bit easier for novices, and to make it even simpler, the game will also quantize hits, keeping everything more or less in time. Pressing up on the d-pad lets you clear the loop, just in case you’ve create a looping monster of a mess that you’d rather forget.

While Mii Freeplay mode is less of a game and more of a musical “playground,” you are given statistics after a session. For example, while you’re not required to play any particular chord progression on the guitar, the game does offer up some on-screen suggestions in the form of “cards.” By playing these particular notes, you’ll complete the card in question. Beyond the post-freestyle statistics, this doesn’t appear to affect the game – you don’t earn in-game money or points. Instead, the statistics and suggestion cards are simply a way to give first-time players a purpose or a starting point.

Activision Blizzard reps stopped short of admitting that this Wii-specific mode was designed and included to appeal to the “simpler” and more casual Wii demographic (read: young children, your mom). There’s a lot of variety in terms of the sounds you can create, but there’s not a lot of depth otherwise; you can’t record your performances, unfortunately – that’s saved for the more robust music studio.

Still, I can see the wide appeal to the mode, and I had a fair amount of arguably pointless fun messing around with the different sounds. Certainly I can’t be the only person who wants to walk up to all of the electronic keyboards at Radio Shack and bang on the keys just for the hell of it, and “Mii Freestyle” looks to fulfill that need quite nicely.

It’s also refreshing to see a developer going out of their way to offer up a bit more value in a Wii port of a title, which is something we don’t see very often. And while I don’t particularly think that the mode takes advantage of any Wii-specific functionality that would make it impossible on other platforms, the mode will remain exclusive to Nintendo’s console.

Guitar Hero World Tour
for the Wii hits stores on October 26.

[Note: This should go without saying, but not all images are from the “Mii Freestyle” mode. Only the ones with the — get this — Miis.]

Nick Chester