(Up to four single-system players) led the big parade!

I played the trombone for seven years. I never got much better than OK until my band director, the late Dick Johnson, moved me to bass trombone my senior year, when I became quite good. During all those years, I don’t think I ever had as much fun as I’ve had with Trombone Champ.

The simple reason is that Trombone Champ doesn’t really want you to become good at it. In some songs, I’d argue it doesn’t even let you. The mixing of the (mostly) public access songs included with the game puts the trombone(s) so far out front that they can’t help but all feel like slapstick comedy sound queues. Missing the notes just adds to the comedic effect.

The focus on comedy permeates every aspect of Trombone Champ. For example, historical information comes with an odd concern over hot dogs.

It goes further. Loading screens contain trombone trivia of a dubious nature. The background videos during the songs are ridiculously cheesy and often somewhat pointed—the flag and fireworks in “The Star Spangled Banner” are replaced by dollar bills and a hamburger basket…because America. Perhaps my favorite bit, however, is every single thing about “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (you know the piece, even if you don’t know the title).

But the real lunacy comes from the gameplay. This being a trombone “simulator,” you only need to worry about one note, as opposed to the multi-button guitar sims. “Notes” move across the screen from right to left. You need to place your marker over top of them (simulating the trombone slide position) and “blow” at the right time with any of the Joy-Con shoulder buttons. Blowing is easy. Positioning is not.

Trombone Champ gives you four control options. None of them accurately simulate the positioning of a trombone slide, but that’s the point. The easiest method involves slightly tilting your Joy-Con or Pro Controller to move your marker up and down. You can control the sensitivity, but I found the default setting capable enough on most difficulties. There’s also a stick control option that’s just shy of impossible. I tried it with one song and never attempted it again.

The option I wanted to use requires players to raise and lower their arm as if extending an actual trombone slide, albeit not in the same way. Unfortunately, the game constantly lost connection with my Joy-Con when doing this. I don’t mean it needed recalibration—it just quit working altogether. Hopefully this gets patched.

Finally, there’s a unique option in which you move your hand away from and nearer to the Joy-Con’s IR sensor (which I’d completely forgotten was even there). This was kind of cool for a bit, but the game’s called Trombone Champ, not Theremin Champ…although I’d maybe play that, too.

None of these control methods are all that accurate, but again, that’s fine. You can slow the songs to 60% of their normal speed until you get the hang of them, and the game doesn’t punish you for missing notes. Unlike some music sims that shut things down if you’re doing poorly, Trombone Champ lets you enjoy making a full of yourself until the song’s over. You’ll get a rating at the end, and these are kind. The last thing band directors want, after all, is to discourage kids to the point of quitting.

There are some things to unlock with your rewards, too: historical cards, instrument variations, etc. I was happy to see the bass trombone is unlocked at the start, as that is—and this is not open to debate—the greatest-sounding instrument ever heard by human ears.

I mean, save for the bari sax, of course.

Unfortunately, Trombone Champ does have a couple of issues that need to be addressed. First, many of the 45 songs included aren’t worth more than a couple of playthroughs. And even the fun ones do start to feel the same after a while. Although there’s enough here to break open the game for some single-system multiplayer hilarity each time you have friends, I would like to see some bolder music selections made available via DLC. I normally hate the modern pop songs included in music sims, but I imagine it’d be a kick to play trombone variations of them.

I also feel it’s a missed opportunity to not offer Mii support. The default musicians look so much like Miis anyway that I expected compatibility from the trailer. It would’ve been fun to see myself on screen during gameplay, but alas, my dream of playing trombone in a field of horses remains unrealized.

So, although Trombone Champ is not a game you’re going to play for hours on end, it’s certainly enjoyable in small bursts when the mood is right—especially if you have some other trombonists nearby who are also in the mood.

That one’s for you, Mr. Johnson. Rest in peace, sir.