Major Minor's Majestic March

Tempo of Doom.

Even though I wasn't born until nearly 40 years after the end of World War II, whenever I hear the Colonel Bogey March I can't help but sing the song about how Hitler's only got one ball. And I wonder, does it still have any resonance with the younger generation? Do they recognise it? Is it still sung in playgrounds, or would they think I've just written down something unnecessarily crude about one of the 20th century's greatest monsters - if they even know who Hitler is? Well, whatever they think, the fact I remember gives the second stage of Major Minor's Majestic March a very lewd and subversive feel.

Nor is that the limit of Major Minor's lewdness for dirty-minded players. As much as it shames me to be the first (and therefore, the dirtiest-minded) journalist to mention this, a game in which you have to jerk the Wii remote continuously up and down - making sure you never lose the rhythm lest you fail at what you're trying to do - is just asking for trouble. Don't believe me? Well, imagine playing Major Minor's Majestic March on a crowded show floor while a nearby PR cheers you on thus: "yeah, that's it! Little bit faster... Oh! Slow it down a little... you're getting to the end. Now speed up a bit, make everyone happy... yeah!"

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The game includes an indicator that makes sure you always know which of your animals are happy.

But enough of that. Major Minor's Majestic March is really only as rude as you think it is, even if when you do it too much you get sore arms. The core reason to get excited about it is that it's the first collaboration of NanaOn-Sha's creative genius Masaya Matsuura and artist Rodney Alan Greenblat since 2001's largely forgotten PaRappa the Rapper 2. And what does that mean? A return to the crazy designs and storylines of the seminal rhythm-action titles. Most rhythm games we play now hearken back only to PaRappa's beat-matching gameplay, so we're definitely overdue for another rhythm game with a story, and on the basis of the stage decorations I've seen so far - from a bizarre beach full of strange sealife to a forest clearing where an impromptu wedding is held - Major Minor's Majestic March is unlikely to disappoint.

And while it's easy to joke about how playing Major Minor's Majestic March looks to others, there is an underlying game system that is incredibly clever. You don't actually spend all your time jerking the remote up and down in time; as Major Minor traverses the levels (at a speed you set with the tempo of your shaking) he passes animals on his left and right, and if you shake your remote in time with the music towards an animal just as it turns around, they'll join your marching band.

The clever thing is that as you do this you change three factors: the difficulty, your score, and how your marching band sounds. You can traverse the level only picking up the animals that the game requires you to (they're designated by a medal, and if you fail to collect them it's game over, though you are given multiple tries). If you want to go for the high scores you'll have to try and grab every animal you see, and if you want to personalise your version of the tune being played you'll have to carefully select the animals you pick up - pigs play the trombone, for example, while cats prefer the jazzy saxophone.

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NanaOn-Sha know that your arms are going to get tired, so they've included rest stops that you can set off by shaking your Wii remote (in time!) at whistles.

The difficulty comes into play as each animal has a different speed. Pigs are slow while cats are fast, and if you end up with a large group of both, the tempo at which both will be happy becomes very exacting, and as a result you quickly find animals deserting your marching band like it's a sinking ship - which at one point during the beach level it actually is.

The game has some more forgiving aspects, though. Major Minor is able to pick up jelly beans and other power ups by swinging the remote left or right when the opportunity comes, and jelly beans in particular will help you regain your rhythm in times of need by allowing Major Minor to take over for you and set the correct tempo (particularly useful when your marching band is heading up or down hills, as these can upset your animals' natural speeds).

The scoring system hasn't been solidified yet, and in the build I played you only gained points for animals joining, not for keeping them for a length of time. The developers are likely to add this complexity - along with more obstacles along the lines of the bizarre "eggplant fox" who keeps trying to join Major Minor's marching band - to make sure the game doesn't get stale. Of course, like many of NanaOn-Sha's titles it's still going to be a short trip, with only seven levels confirmed. There is going to be local multiplayer for versus marching in split-screen, but there has been no possible downloadable content mentioned, which is a real shame.

The thing about Major Minor's Majestic March, though, is that even if you look incredibly perverse while playing it, the combination of marching band music and the Wii remote controls means it really does feel like being in a marching band, and is so heavily dependent on tempo that it's one of the truest "rhythm action" titles we can think of. Even if the experience is going to be short, the results are likely to be more than good enough to make it worthwhile.

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