Kusoge isn’t merely about bad games. I mean, it is. Kusoge is literally a Japanese portmanteau of “crap game.” However, it’s a term of affection. What would the world be without crap games? I shudder to think.
Muscle March is an example of this. When I first saw its Japanese trailer, my thought was “I need this.” Then it actually somehow got localized for WiiWare, and I quickly forgot it existed until the Wii Shop was about to shut down. The buzz around Muscle March seemed to die the instant people actually played it. As bonkers as its central theme and as sugar-charged as its energy, it all wears off fast.
Muscle March was initially conceived as an arcade game, and it shows. When I was in Japan, I played a game where you had to shut your bickering family up by slamming your hands down on a tea table controller. After a short while, you had to flip the table to do as much damage to the immediate area as possible. I was great at it! However, while it’s great for working out your frustrations, there isn’t a lot to it. And that’s sort of what modern Japanese arcade games have become, and that’s what Muscle March is.
First, you select your character, all of which have a bodybuilder’s physique. They’re buff, I guess, but have you seen these guns? I call them Super Soakers because they are quite efficient at making everyone in the vicinity wet.
Someone has stolen all the protein powder, and it’s your job to get it back. You start off by sprinting behind them in a conga line of other musclebound juicers, and you need to survive long enough to catch up. What’s threatening your existence? Walls. Luckily, the forerunner is flexing their way through them, and all you need to do is mimic their pose with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.
You may have just rolled your eyes at the mention of motion controls. I can’t say I blame you. Muscle March is maybe about what you’d expect in that regard: they work, but they’re not optimal. You don’t have to fully flex out the motions; small movements work. The controllers essentially just need to be tilted slightly to make the four poses. The controls are reasonably responsive, but I can guarantee it’s going to let you down, especially when things get frantic.
There are three levels, and each is broken into three progressively harder stages. There’s the city, feudal Japan, and a space station. They’re all amusing in their own way. While I think it’s funniest to have muscle bodies disrupting the mundane lives of the salarymen, having to recover your protein powder from Oda Nobunaga isn’t without its appeal.
The presentation is rather adjacent to Katamari Damacy. There are a lot of rainbows and twitchy still images that pan in and out. Its attempts to grab your attention with its weirdness might be somewhat tiresome, but honestly, it still appeals to me. That’s probably a good thing because, unlike Katamari, the humor is all Muscle March has going for it.
The gameplay is so shallow that your toe hair won’t get wet. There are four poses to get you through obstacles, and that’s it. No power-ups add strategy, and the other muscle-bound protein addicts are just there so you can mimic their poses in the earlier parts of a stage. The skill ceiling is low enough to sand off your scalp. Can you get a hold of the motion controls? Then the rest is just being able to read the game, which can be difficult with all the chaos that happens.
The music is good, but again, it’s a lot like Katamari: Japanese pop songs about nonsense. But, I mean, I love Katamari’s soundtrack. I used to have multiple versions of its track on my iPod back when we were allowed to own music. It probably helps that Namco-Bandai made both games, so the quality is comparable.
The issue that you’ll run into quickly is that there isn’t a lot of content. The three levels are it, and most of your time is going to be spent grappling with the third stage of each. In my playthrough, I had seen everything in under a half-hour. Add to this the fact that there is very little replay value, and there isn’t much to chew on. There is a multi-player “endless” mode for four players. Still, I imagine this is something you pull up to say “check this out,” then stop after a few rounds. I don’t know what your parties are like. Actually, I don’t really know what any parties are like.
Even though Muscle March isn’t great, the depths of my despair are limitless when I think of how it’s no longer available following the closure of the Wii Shopping Channel. If it were up to me, all games would be persistently available, but Muscle March is more deserving than most. Whether or not you view it as a derivative of games like Katamari Damacy, there’s obviously a lot of imagination and love woven into its programming and art. Whether or not a game like that succeeds, it deserves to live on. I mean, there are quite a few games that deserve more than a quiet, obscure death, but I can’t advocate for all of them. Right away, I mean.
Your first thought may be that it’s a good fit for the Switch since the Joycons mimic the Wii’s motion controllers, but why stop there? The original arcade game was designed for two joysticks, so there’s no reason that wouldn’t work on any modern controller. Come on Namco-Bandai. Milk these muscular teets.