Despite being a musician myself, I tend to find rhythm games rather difficult. Sure, I managed to master what is probably the pioneer of instrument-based rhythm games, Guitar Hero, but that skillset unfortunately didn’t extend to anything else that followed. Heck, my skills of a pianist makes me embarrassed to play the Switch’s own Deemo due to how much I suck at it.
But then there’s Trombone Champ. A game that is not only difficult to play well, but one that actually thrives on it. Playing a trombone isn’t an easy task, and this game knows it. But that’s fine too, because playing a trombone badly is actually really, really funny.
BLOW THAT BIG TROMBONE
On the surface, Trombone Champ seems very much like any other rhythm game you’ve played before. Using a virtual instrument, in this case the titular trombone (what else did you think it was going to be?), the goal is to hit a series of notes at the right time as they pass by.
Unlike other games where you hit a series of buttons, this game only really has one to worry about: the toot button, which is assigned to whatever trigger button you like the most. Whilst tooting won’t prove to be too much of a problem, the real challenge involves achieving the right pitch and holding the note for as long as required. As with a real trombone, some notes require a sliding motion during an extended toot so you’ll need to shift the pitch appropriately. Changing pitch can be done by using either the gyro, IR camera, or analogue stick of the joy-con, depending on your preference. They’re all rather intuitive, even if each method also contains their own drawbacks too.
Tilt controls are probably the easiest way to play as it simply requires you to angle the controller up and down to adjust your pitch. The game will automatically centre the position at the start of the song, but you can also use the Y button in order to recalibrate it too. It’s clear that this is the game’s intended control function as it all works rather well for the most part, although I did find that more complicated songs can lead to the gyro messing up forcing you to either recalibrate it or just try and work around it. Recalibrating during the song will no doubt result in missed notes, meaning that those going for the coveted S ranks may find themselves frustrated when the gyro starts to mess up.
The IR sensor, on the other hand, avoids these issues but is also a far more difficult way. With the right joy-con in one hand, you’ll need to press the toot button as the other hand moves back and forth to alter the trombone’s pitch. It offers a great sense of immersion due to how much it mimics a real-life trombone, but the curves of your hand makes it so that notes aren’t particularly stable. That being said, this function will also allow creative types to create their own LABO trombones with ease, and I’ll no doubt give that a shot myself at some point to make the ultimate Trombone Champ experience.
The final method, using the analogue sticks is designed purely for those who are averse to any kind of motion control and it works pretty much as you’d expect: pitch changes depending on the inputted direction, but moving fast and accurately enough is so laughably difficult that you probably don’t want to bother with it. It feels very much like those old light-gun games that offered controller support for those without the peripheral, and is equally as unsatisfying. It’s there if you really want to play the game that way, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it.
Regardless of the option that you choose, they’re all rather intuitive to use and can be picked up in seconds. Hitting a series of notes without fail will rack up a multiplier, which will eventually lead to a champ bonus that starts making everything flash until you break your combo. Unfortunately I did get some note stuttering at times, normally when this bonus activated, which led to some unfair cock-ups but this is something that can hopefully be rectified in a future patch.
But then, mistakes aren’t too much of an issue as that’s also the main appeal of the game. Unlike Guitar Hero, which encourages you to strive for perfection, Trombone Champ doesn’t really care all that much. It’s very lenient with what it considers to be a ‘hit’ and how it ranks your performance. It expects you not to be able to hit the notes perfectly and for it to sound ridiculous, and the game thrives on it. After all, this is a game where your Mii-like trombonist wildly flails about as you butcher God Save the King using a green trombone that farts.
Whilst we’re on the subject of the music, there are just short of 50 songs for you to play which includes national anthems, serious classical and jazz tunes, and weird stuff such as a remix of Happy Birthday. They largely consist of songs in the public domain, but it’s hard to argue with many of the choices either. There are a few obnoxiously difficult tunes here designed for expert Trombone Champ players, but the others seem to offer a level of difficulty that challenges you whilst also seeming achievable. The developers have also stated that more tracks will be added in the future, including a couple that are currently exclusive to PC players at present, so hopefully the track-list becomes even stronger further down the line.
Whilst playing songs will make up the bulk of the game, that’s not all there is. There are a variety of extras that develop on the game’s narrative and eventually leads to a rather bonkers conclusion. It’s hidden away enough in the alternate modes to make you feel like you’re uncovering the game’s secrets, but it’s also not too obtuse to find either. Let’s just say it involves demons, baboons, and lots of poop. Saying too much about it will spoil the discovery process, but it’s definitely worth searching for as it will help you unlock a plethora of stuff.
Multiplayer support is also included for up to four players, where you compete against each other simultaneously to rack up the highest score. Each person has a different coloured pointer along the left side of the screen for you to control and it can be hard to follow, but it all adds to the stupid fun that the game offers. It’s not exactly the most innovative multiplayer in a rhythm game, but it works.
Trombone Champ may very well be the best rhythm game on the Switch. Sure, it has some minor issues, such as the occasional stuttering, but it’s still good enough to provide many hours of entertainment for its cheap price. With more content coming down the line, this is not a game you will want to miss out on.