Everyone’s talking about Trombone Champ. Not since Untitled Goose Game have I heard such enthusiastic talk about a game from friends who don’t usually talk about games. That’s because: 1) it’s a fun silly idea. 2) it’s pretty funny to miss a trombone note and squeal a minion in the middle of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Playing Trombone Champ myself, I really appreciate this. It’s a rare rhythm game where playing badly doesn’t frustrate or frustrate me, because the worst case scenario is making fart noises, and fart noises are funny.
Trombone Champ is a simple rhythm game. As the notes move along the timeline from the right, moving your mouse up and down changes the pitch of your trombone, and clicking or pressing a keyboard key blows it. So try to do it well. The musical selection is mostly old public domain songs (including Skip To My Lou, O Canada, God Save The King and a blast of Beethoven’s Fifth) with some quirky fun original songs (one is simply called Baboons!, exclamation point and all). It’s hard at first, and some songs stay hard, but that’s okay.
While Trombone Champ takes skill to master, especially on fast and complex songs, it generally wants you to progress without getting too frustrated. Even Garbage plays to great effect because it is, at heart, a comedy game – and not just because of the raucous noises). It opens with a cutscene that parodies Dark Souls and has a hidden story with secrets and mysteries and unlockables and baboons to discover. It rewards your toing with points to buy shiny music and music concept trading cards (and a surprising number of hot dogs). Loading screens offer trombone elements. Funny animations play during the songs. He wants you to discover silly things and laugh along the way.
Mistakes and failures are huge elements of most video games. Mood is greatly influenced by how you try to avoid mistakes, how failure makes you feel, and how you react to failure. Some games challenge you to rise to the challenge. Some games want you to pause and think about what went wrong. Some games are a cascade of small failures, each one prompting you to react and recover or risk more complications coming your way. Some games will try to console you with a trickle of XP for your battle pass. Some games are split into such small portions that, don’t sweat it, just start over and try again. Some even just let you undo without worry. While some rhythm games are gentler than others, I often find that the genre can be punishing in a way that I don’t like.
In games like Guitar Hero, strumming a note can cause a string strum or feedback. Play badly and people can boo, and if you play badly enough the game can end the song and throw you off the stage. And many rhythm games are so focused on high scores, amazing challenges, or perfect gameplay that small mistakes are amplified. So it’s great in Trombone Champ when I fumble a note, then the game makes a silly noise and prompts me to continue without worry. I’m excited about the silly noise. Silly noise just makes me feel good.
It is, after all, very funny when something farts.
I must warn that something about Trombone Champ is completely wrong in my eyes, hands and brain. Even after a lot of fiddling with the mouse sensitivity and input lag in the settings menu, I can’t get the timings right and my eyes start rolling within a few songs. Just like in life, I can only fart for so long before I worry that something is wrong. This is certainly my excuse for the noises that fill my office today.