Games of 2022: Trombone Champ was the best way to experience failure and fun together

The year 2022 has finally given us an answer to the age-old debate: who is better, Mozart or Beethoven? The answer is of course Beethoven, and I can prove it. “I never liked that guy,” says an achievement in Trombone Champ. To get this achievement, you must repel (destroy) one of the game’s collectible Mozart cards. I rest my trombone case.

When people think of classical music, their first instinct is to associate it with the snobbish upper class – not with hooligans and turds. I think of people in suits and gowns, seated to watch a recital performed effortlessly by a lone musician on stage, himself dressed in black. The music is played note by note, dictated by the manuscript. It’s hard to break away from these connotations, although I know they aren’t true given the history and attitude towards classical music.

I’ll forgive you if you think Trombone Champ would fall into that category. When you first load the game, the title will be printed in a Gothic font on a black and white background. A very solemn image indeed. But as soon as you press start, a riot of color floods the screen and you’re greeted with that upbeat tune in the main menu.

Trombone Champ trailer.

Classical music is the perfect space for Trombone Champ’s humor. Is there anything funnier than taking something associated with sophistication and perfection and then doing the exact opposite with it? Yes, we’ll be performing some of history’s most remarkable plays, but if you’re expecting an absolutely perfect performance, you’ll be delighted.

From the first hit, this game doesn’t play anything directly. There’s a ridiculous amount of baboons, hot dogs, and questionable facts out there. I don’t know enough about JS Bach to prove he didn’t invent the hot dog, but I can’t say for sure that he did. I can play a character named Horn Lord. Unlike rhythm games and classical music, I can play any note whenever I want. The result is painful because my cheeks hurt from how much I laugh at the music I produce.

Don’t worry about hitting every note on time because failure is triumphant. With the freedom afforded to the player, Trombone Champ does not wish to be played perfectly. Instead, it invites failure. Get out of tune and slide between these notes as many times as you like because you’ll find joy in doing so.

Aside from flushing Mozart down the hypothetical toilet, there are two other accomplishments that stand out to me. “No more” and “I would prefer not to” reward you for playing the game “wrong”. The first of these, “No more,” prompts you to play a track with the sound muted. This does exactly what you think it does – it mutes the trombone. Play as disastrously as you want, but miss the fruits of your labor.

A cartoony man playing a trombone and facing the camera.  It's a rhythm action game, so notes move around the screen like tadpoles.  There is a jazzy background because the song plays skabird.  It's all neon pink and green.

What’s not to love?

To achieve “I Would Prefer Not To” you have to go without tooting for an entire track. Yes, the exact opposite of the game. But when you’re not playing, you can do things that you would otherwise be too busy to do, such as For example, sing along to the lyrics at the bottom of the screen or marvel at the animated unicorns getting in and out. Or, in my case, I laugh as the notes roll over and I do nothing but think about how I’m defying the conventions of a rhythm game.

Try something unexpected and a little different, because maybe there is something wonderful for you to discover. And if you fail? Dust yourself off, laugh at it, then get up and try again.

I think it’s safe to say that 2022 has been another weird year for all of us. There have been major global events to grapple with as the world tries to get back to its pre-Covid ways, and that doesn’t even take into account our own lives. Personally, I quit my job to try this “video game writing” thing, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stressful and disconcerting. Luckily I had Trombone Champ to remind me to embrace failure and have a good ole laugh along the way.