Finally, 2022 has given us an answer to the age-old debate: who’s better, Mozart or Beethoven? The answer is of course Beethoven, and I can prove it. “Never liked the guy,” says one achievement in Trombone Champ. Getting this achievement requires you to turd (destroy) one of the game’s collectible Mozart cards. I rest my trombone case.
When people think of classical music, their first instinct is usually to associate it with the snobby upper classes – not toots and turds. My mind goes to people in suits and evening gowns sat down to watch a recital, performed effortlessly by a lone musician, themselves clad in black, on the stage. The music is played note-for-note, dictated by the manuscript. It’s hard to get away from those connotations, even though I know they’re not true, because of the history of and attitudes towards classical music.
I’d forgive you for thinking that Trombone Champ would fall into that category. When you first load the game, the title is printed in a gothic font on a black and white background. A very solemn picture indeed. But as soon as you press start, a burst of colour floods the screen and you’re greeted with that jaunty tune at the main menu.
Classical music is the perfect space for Trombone Champ’s humour. Is there anything funnier than taking something associated with refinement and perfection, and then doing the exact opposite with it? Yes, we’ll play some of the most notable pieces in history but if you’re expecting a pitch perfect performance, you are in for a treat.
From the first beat, this game plays nothing straight. There’s a ridiculous amount of baboons, hot dogs, and questionable facts. I don’t know enough about J.S. Bach to prove he didn’t invent the hot dog, but I can’t say for certain that he did. I can play as a character called Horn Lord. In contrast to rhythm games and classical music, I can play whatever note I want whenever I want. The result is painful, because my cheeks end up aching from how hard I’m laughing at the music I’m producing.
Don’t worry about hitting every note on time, because failure is triumphant. With the freedom allowed to the player, Trombone Champ does not want to be played perfectly. Instead, it extends an invitation to fail. Be out of tune and slide between those notes all you want, because you’re creating joy whilst you do so.
As well as flushing Mozart down the hypothetical toilet, there’s two other achievements which stand out for me. “No more” and “I Would Prefer Not To” reward you for playing the game “wrong”. The first of these, “No more”, asks you to play a track with the muted sound set. This does exactly what you think it does – it mutes the trombone. Play as disastrously as you want, but miss out on the fruits of your labour.
To achieve “I Would Prefer Not To”, you have to refrain from tooting for an entire track. Yes, the exact opposite of the point of the game. But by not playing, it allows you to do things you’d otherwise be too occupied for, such as singing along with the lyrics at the bottom of the screen or marvelling at the animated unicorns popping in and out. Or in my case, laughing as the notes scroll across and I do nothing but think about how I’m defying the conventions of a rhythm game.
Try something unexpected and a little bit different, because there might be something wonderful for you to discover. And if you fail? Dust yourself off, laugh it off, then get up and try again.
I think it’s safe to say that 2022 has been another weird year for us all. There’s been major global events to contend with as the world tries to return to its pre-Covid ways, and that’s not even taking into account our own lives. Personally, I gave up my job to try out this “video game writing” thing, and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been stressful and worrying. Thankfully, I’ve had Trombone Champ to remind me to embrace failure, and have a good old laugh while doing so.