Standalone WiiWare Review: Muscle March

Namco used to be such a normal video game company and then we get The Munchables and now Muscle March — what’s going on? Well, whatever it is I hope it keeps happening because games like Muscle March make me feel that the WiiWare service captures the essence of the very dawn of console gaming when wacky ideas could be packaged up and sold to people in cartridge form.

Muscle March was originally tested as an arcade game with two giant two-way control sticks used to create moves for the in-game bodybuilders. After failing to get beyond the prototype stage it got switched to a WiiWare project and history was made!

First pick a body builder (or a Polar Bear — he’s from Norway and wears swim trunks so it’s okay) from a selection of people representing different nations sporting unusual accessories: twirly mustaches, a top hat and a rose between the teeth for the Spaniard; swim goggles and a crazy topknot for the Japanese body builder; or — best of all — a giant afro with a rubber duck sitting on top for the man from Ghana. Whilst making your selection you can view the highlighted body builder (or bear) in all their glory dancing to a Japanese pop-techno beat courtesy of some quality motion capture.

After choosing a character you need to pick a stage: City, Edo (medieval Japan), or Mirai no Futsuu (a future space city). All of the stages play the same with the differences being scenery and the thieves you need to catch. Before the game properly begins a thief is identified and the game begins. The 1st and 2nd thieves differ between stages, but the 3rd is the same for all three: a body builder wearing a skin-tight metallic blue bodysuit with a flat disc on a stalk coming from the top of his head riding on a hoverboard.

The basic set-up is that someone has stolen the protein power belonging to the body builders who then pursue the thief single-file as he races through the stage smashing through walls along the way. You’re at the back of a queue of your fellow body builders and need to match the pattern of the thief in order to follow successfully; if you fail, you’ll smash through but get slowed down. You get a total of five failures before the game ends. The people in front of you will gradually fail and bounce away — telegraphed by showing them slipping on a banana peel just prior to the event. When you’re the last one the action will get more frantic until you’re close enough to chase him down and tackle him. At that point the powder bottle will launch into the air to be caught by someone else and the action will restart with a new queue until the 3rd opponent is nabbed.

The controls are simple and entirely motion-based using both remote and nunchuk. There are four stances used: both arms up, both arms down, left up/right down and right up/left down. You perform these motions by moving the wiimote/nuchuck into the correct position. The sensitivity is good enough that motion is detected quite well, although at the endgame the 3rd thief will start changing motions before smashing through the wall and the transition from left up/right down and the opposite can take long enough that you’ll miss it just because of the signal delay. For the most part the game compensates by allowing for a split second delay right when hitting the wall, but otherwise it’s best to get into the habit of keeping both arms up or down for a quicker transition. Pattern recognition is aided a bit by having unique coloured outlines for the shapes smashed through the walls.

When you’re close enough to catch the thief the game switches from an over-the-shoulder view to side-on and you need to alternate shaking the controllers up and down to race faster and catch him. If you fail to do this there’s more frantic wall smashing until you can get another try.

If you manage to catch all three you’re treated to a scene of your character dancing with the three thieves — definitely worth working for! Helping you out are unlimited continues, but the game doesn’t get any easier so you need to ensure your reflexes are sharp!

In addition to the arcade mode there’s challenge mode where you chase a gold-suited equivalent to the end thief from the arcade game through a series of walls accelerating in speed after each series from 5kph to ??? (the best I’ve managed is 65kph). Your path is a rainbow spiralling up around a giant beanstalk through the clouds and into space — simply amazing. When playing with more than one player the same controllers are used and just handed off to the next player in line. At the end everyone’s score is rated and an aging bodybuilder with a bald head and long white beard gestures frantically at the first place winner’s position in the leaderboard (no initials and no online rankings, sorry).

The visuals are a mix of 3D for the primary characters and environment with a backdrop consisting of 2D bystanders and backgrounds — often with comedic effect (at one point in Edo you’re running through a bamboo forest only to smash through parts of it as if they were brick walls). The soundtrack is crazy sounding J-Pop/club music that speeds up as the gameplay gets faster.

The gameplay is simple and fun with a ludicrous sensibility. Thieves run the gamut from American football players to a samurai wearing a neck ruffle like an operatic Italian clown. It simply must be seen to be believed. If you have the means to get it do so!