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There is no song that cannot be improved by Trombone Champ

Toot toot tooooooooooooot

A low poly illustrated style character holding a trombone to the left. The screen has bars indicating which notes to play, in this rhythm game. Image: Holy Wow
Nicole Clark (she/her) is a culture editor at Polygon, and a critic covering internet culture, video games, books, and TV, with work in the NY Times, Vice, and Catapult.

Trombone Champ asks a very simple, yet radical question: What if you played the trombone?

If you’ve played Guitar Hero or Rock Band games before, then you know how challenging musical instrument rhythm games can be. Trombone Champ takes a similar tack but for the gorgeous wind instrument, and instead of rock music you’ll be playing bona fide bangers such as Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” literal Beethoven, and “The National Anthem.” (Try getting those tunes out of your head.) This rhythm game was released a week ago, but it really started taking Twitter by storm on Wednesday after PC Gamer discovered it.

The game is pretty difficult. You use a mouse to slide the pitch up or down; you have to hit the pitch box precisely, then either hold down the button on your mouse or a key from your keyboard for the right amount of time. Here’s the kicker: The slider moves in the opposite direction, top to bottom, from how you move your own mouse. It’s a small difference that’s just disorienting enough to make playing songs harder, especially at the speed that the rhythm game demands.

Luckily, the game is way more fun when you don’t really play it well, as the trombone plays its dulcet toot-toots in accordance with whichever notes you’re playing. This all happens on top of the actual backing track, with your trombone playing the lead melody, as if you’re creating your own version of Matt Mulholland’s recorder rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic.

Difficulty varies by song, with some that force you to take staccato leaps across the screen, and others that have you slide down while holding down the note. Play well and you’ll get a “perfecto” or a “nice” in response; mess up and game will proclaim it “nasty.” No matter the case, these songs only get more difficult to play through blinding tears — or in my case, while snotting all over myself in laughter.

As PC Gamer pointed out, these renditions are only enhanced by the game’s choice of visual backdrop to each stunning selection. The U.S. national anthem is accompanied by an image of the U.S. flag, which then morphs into a pile of money, before eventually yielding to a giant burger and fries combo meal overlaid on top of it. PC Gamer also rightly notes Trombone Champ as an instant GOTY contender.

A similar strategy is visited upon “God Save the Queen.”

In this writer’s humble opinion, there is no song that cannot be improved with terrible trombone playing. (Who am I kidding — there is no such thing as bad trombone playing in the world of Trombone Champ. We are all champions here.)

You can also play the game using the Steam Deck’s gyro controls, if you are — for some reason — looking for an extra challenge.

Guitar Hero may have “hero” in its name, but the real heroes are all of you, posting these Trombone Champ clips. Please never stop.

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