On Wednesday morning, I saw a tweet from gaming magazine PC Gamer that made me laugh out loud. It contained a video, in which a wide-eyed, pained-looking cartoon trombonist struggled to strike the notes of Beethoven’s Fifth while the composer himself stared grimly off the screen in obvious disapproval. It’s a golden comedic combination of terrible music, fart noises, seriousness and absurdity. This is the Trombone Champ video game, and it has since gone extremely viral.
Of course, I immediately downloaded it. I’ve been playing rhythm games for over 20 years, from Beatmania to Guitar Hero to Amplitude to fun musical contraptions in Japanese arcades, and I take them embarrassingly seriously. The trombone champion is not serious; it’s a wonderful mix of accidental musical comedy, trading card collecting, made-up facts about paperclips and hot dogs (“The first paperclip was made in 200,000,000 BC”), and real facts about the baboons. (Don’t ask about baboons. This game has some unexpected secrets and baboons are one of them.)
Playing it is, remarkably, as fun as watching it on video, at least for the early songs. You move the trombone slider with your mouse and click or press a key to sound it. The noises you make have only a very vague relationship to the music. The visuals are oddly comical: Rosamunde is accompanied by bierkrugs and pretzels jumping and twirling majestically across the screen. During a truly ghastly rendition of God Save Our King, photos of London Bridge and the Union Jack fade reverently into the background, followed by a giant jpeg of a cooked breakfast.
Trombone Champ is created by a two-person developer called Holy Wow, consisting of Dan Vecchitto and Jackie Lalli, who also created a series of competitive typing games called Icarus Proudbottom’s Typing Party. It’s fair to say that this game wasn’t on my radar. I asked PC Gamer’s Chris Livingstone how he found it; he said: “I was browsing Steam on Monday night and thought, ‘This looks cute,’ which Tuesday morning turned into, ‘This is a work of pure joy and I have to tell the world.’ “
In a startling coincidence, Guardian sub-editor Ben Jacobs – AKA Max Tundra, electronic musician and multi-instrumentalist – composed a song specifically for this game. (It also features on one of his trading cards.) When I asked how he got involved in a highly specialized indie trombone game, he told me it all started because he asked for a favor. on Twitter in 2018. He needed someone to recreate an image for a poster, and one respondent said he would if Ben wrote a song for his game. He agreed, and four years later you can listen Max Tundra’s Long-Tail Limbo.
The developers have been overwhelmed by the sudden attention Trombone Champ is attracting. “We should clarify that right now Holy Wow is mostly a one-person operation. And it’s not even our first gig! We work full-time (!!!) and have built everything game nights, weekends and holidays,” Vecchitto tweeted. “So it’s going to take us a few weeks to get our lives in order and keep up with the huge demand that this game is generating.”
Trombone Champ is a little gift from the internet, something that can be thoroughly enjoyed – unexpected baboons and all – for a few lunch breaks or evenings, then evangelized forever. I kept noticing new little details about it, like the graphic that marks each song on Spunk, Doots, Slides, Fury and Tears, or the scrolling lyrics of the warm-up melody, which concludes “I have warmed up my trombone! My nightmare is over, woo”. I dare you not to smile while playing it.
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