A Couple Toots Too Many
Listen, you knew this was coming.
Since Guitar Hero came out in 2005, people have been making this joke until they were out of breath: When’s Flute Hero coming out? Can’t wait to play the Triangle! HYUCK-YUCK. And listen, I get it. Activision buried fans in Call of Duty-esque release dates for the franchise and ultimately sunk itself in an over-saturation of a market that only had one real competitor. Outside of Clone Hero and Rock Band 4 somehow still getting new songs 7 years after release (they legit put out new tracks last week), the franchise has grown quiet. Not dead! But quiet. And allll those petty jokes are now finally dissipatin-
Fuck, they actually made one.
Trombone Champ has a plot. Now, I would also be doing Trombone Champ a disservice by telling you the plot, so let’s jump straight into the gameplay. Notes are played by hitting your mouse buttons or almost any keyboard button, which is a nice setup for alternate strum-…sorry, alternate tooting. Instead of 5 buttons to press and hold to hit a note, a vertical bar is set up to where the trombone can hit higher or lower notes, leaving plenty of options for Trombone Champ to implement long sustains, swooping slides, and blasting tunes so long as your breath doesn’t give out. Champ’s music list boasts around 20 tracks ranging from royalty-free songs you’ve definitely heard but didn’t know the actual name of, to original trombone jams made for the game. There’s a nice range of style and difficulty that does well with what it can with what I’m sure was a tight budget for licensing.
Your first hour with this game is absolutely hysterical. With the rhythm genre demanding perfection, Trombone Champ blasts the obnoxiousness to an 11 in the best way possible. Slightly off notes will break your combo but are so off-pitch that it’s hysterical when you miss, especially when trying to hit a slide correctly. “Old Grey Mare” and “Skip to My Lou” will be stuck in your head and playing this for your friends amps the hilarity even more, as you attempt to perfect your trombone playing and shoot for the best score while your friends laugh at your messed up notes.
After you give each song a run, you’ll notice you have a bunch of currency labeled “Toots”. These toots are available to rip packs of trading cards, which there are 50 of in total. Who doesn’t love a loot box? These cards are filled with historical trombone players, current providers to the game, and an affinity for the Baboon. These cards can be broken down into “Turds,” which then can be reanimated into cards you don’t own or for duplicates of a card you do. A keen eye will see that the Toots, Turds, and Traders hold pieces to a puzzle much bigger than just sliding notes about to “O Canada”. Blink and you’ll miss it, because at this point Trombone Champ transforms from silly party game to grindy joke-stretcher.
So, without running too much of what you’ll see: you’ll need to acquire toots, a good bit of them. Because you’ll need to drop them off at a place. But you’ll also need toots to rip packs for cards. And you’ll need to turd those cards in order to make new cards you don’t have. But see, you need to drop off turds at another place, which circles back to needing more toots so you can turd cards. But, you also need to acquire specific cards to drop off at another place, so you need even more toots to not only satisfy the card place, but to also turd cards for the turd place, while also grinding out toots for the toot place. So now you’re replaying songs not because it’s funny, but because the game requires it to progress forward.
Progressing forward with repeated plays starts to show off some of the game’s softer spots. It may be a small combination of both but songs with rapid short notes in a row can be fumbled a bit with iffy hit detection, or the game requiring such a short tap that the sustained note needed just a bit more hold but ultimately causes your combo to crumble. We can chalk this up as a “git gud” scenario in the long run. The difficulty of each song is shown pre-selection by a star count of 1 to 10. Do not believe it, it lies. And really, once you get down to it, most of the songs just aren’t that interesting to play once the allure of the funny trombone joke starts to wane after a few hours. Trombone Champ does combat this by not only adding new characters and trombones to unlock, but also different sounds to switch up the monotony. This really was a lifesaver going into the back end of my 5 hours as some of the noises re-invigorated some of the songs that had gotten stale and was enough to get me past the hill of Grind to eventually reach the final ending of the game.
This game will get its flowers for taking the joke that everyone had made for years and made into a full-fledged project that plays well and provides some good belly laughs. But its heavy lean into grinding a stagnant soundtrack takes every joke it makes and stretches them far beyond their limit.
After 5 hours of running the “isn’t playing this Trombone just a toot?” joke:
A copy of this game was independently purchased for review.