Attention: You only Have About 48 Hours To Download Muscle March
After a long life, and just as long an undeath, the Wii is going out to pasture.
On January 30th, the console’s last supported online feature, its shop channel, will shutter, leaving all undownloaded and unpurchased titled in essence gone. While there are plenty of dubiously legal ways to find and use the ROMS of the Wiiware and Virtual Console games collected on the Shop Channel, many games will no longer have any legal ways to be owned in this country.
This is a shame for many reasons, but for me, it’s a shame because of Muscle March.
For those who aren’t in the know, Muscle March is a 2009 Namco Wiiware title, meaning it could only be purchased via the Wii Shop. Based off of an unreleased arcade game of the same name, the 500 Wii Point ($5) release stars a small cast of body builders (and one polar bear), who chase after various thieves who steal their protein powder.
In essence, it’s an endless runner game, albeit one with a lot of wacky personality. It also seems to share some DNA with Katamari series, albeit with a louder, more arcade-oriented style. While Katamari has you push around a ball in a set world, eventually growing larger and more empowered, Muscle March is a game about the consequence that come with being large. You and the muscle-bound party in front of you have to make poses with your arms to fit through holes left in walls. Like Katamari, there’s something inherently absurd about it, and it generally places itself in domestic or urban spaces, although it also features a cosmic space-themed stage. As the course progresses, more and more of the muscular folks ahead of you are weeded out, until eventually it’s just you in pursuit of the thief. All action is performed via motion controls. The Wii remote is your right hand, and the nunchuk your left. In some sections, you pump them up and down to catch up with the thief. At its core, that is the entire game, speeding up until eventually the player either catches the thief, in which case the next course begins, or ending with failure after the player’s requisite amount of “misses” are expended. The game offers continues, but often by then the novelty of the game is spent.
The real experience of Muscle March is, first and foremost, aesthetic. Its design is built to reflect the absurdity of its heavily built protagonists, with loud colors, fast animation, and little to no interest in creating a believable game world. While Katamari creates interconnected stages where player empowerment is performed, Muscle March stages are cycled through repeatedly, with faster speeds. Many props are clearly 2D, and the game maintains a cheeky attitude towards this similar to the way Katamari presents its own low poly environments. The game plasters photographs of animals on the margins of its screens, and happily uses photos in place of assets in spots. Like Katamari, Muscle March is a joyously postmodern game, right down to the irreverent depiction of God, in this case as a ripped bearded man in the menu screens. The music shares Katamari's eclectic, positive energy as well. Nearly every song in the game has singing, in Japanese, and often pitched up into unnatural registers. It matches the energy of the game perfectly, and is worth the price of admission by itself.
Is Muscle March a good game? I have no idea. I certainly have never taken a serious interest in playing it for a prolonged period of time, but I’ve also had it on my Wii for probably seven years or so, and in that time it’s been a favorite of mine to show to others because even as the endless runner has become popular, there are few if any games that capture the Muscle March experience, and now, Muscle March is going away, seemingly for good. Sure, there will always be less than legal options to access these games, but with Nintendo's own hostility towards archival action on sites like Emuparadise, the loss of the Wii Shop stings doubly hard. There are some great games, and some that aren't even great but still absolutely valid and important, that may never see the light of day for many ever again.
And that's terrible!