EITHEROn Wednesday morning I saw a tweet from the gaming magazine PC Gamer that made me cry with laughter. It contained a video in which a wide-eyed, pained-looking cartoon trombonist struggled to play the notes of Beethoven’s Fifth while the composer himself stared grimly offscreen 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’s gone wildly viral ever since.
Of course, I immediately downloaded it. I’ve been playing rhythm games for over 20 years, from Beatmania to Guitar Hero and Amplitude to hilarious musical contraptions in Japanese arcades, and I take them embarrassingly seriously. The trombone champion is No I laughed; it’s a wonderful mix of accidental musical comedy, trading card collection, fabricated facts about trombones and hotdogs (“The first trombone was made in 200,000,000 BC”), and real facts about baboons. (Don’t ask about the baboons. This game has unexpected secrets and baboons are one of them.)
Playing it is surprisingly as much fun as watching it on video, at least for the first few songs. You move the trombone slider with your mouse and click or press a key to play it. The noises you come out with have only a vague relationship to music. The visuals are eerily comic: Rosamunde is accompanied by bierkrugs and pretzels that pop and spin majestically on screen. During a truly gruesome version of God Save Our King, photos of London Bridge and the British flag reverently fade in and out of view in the background, followed by a giant jpeg of a cooked breakfast.
Trombone Champ is made by a two-person developer called Holy Wow, made up 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 was not on my radar. I asked Chris Livingstone of PC Gamer how he found it; he said, “I was browsing Steam on Monday night and thought, ‘This looks cute,’ which on Tuesday morning turned into, ‘This is a piece of pure joy and I have to tell the world.'”
Electronic musician and multi-instrumentalist Ben Jacobs, aka Max Tundra, composed a song specifically for this game. (He also appears on one of his trading cards.) When I asked him how he got involved in an extremely specialized independent trombone game, he told me that it all started because he asked me 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 accepted, and four years later, you can play Max Tundra’s Long-Tail Limbo.
Developers have been overwhelmed by the sudden attention Trombone Champ is attracting. “We must clarify that, at the moment, Holy Wow is primarily a one-person operation. And it’s not even our main concert! We have full time jobs (!!!) and we create this whole game on nights, weekends and holidays,” Vecchitto tweeted. “So it’s going to take us a few weeks to get our lives in order and deal with the huge demand that this game generated.”
Trombone Champ is a little gift from the Internet, something that can be thoroughly enjoyed, unexpected baboons and all, during a few lunch breaks or in the evening, and then evangelized forever. I kept noticing new little details about it, like the chart that punctuates each song in Spunk, Doots, Slides, Fury and Tears, or the lyrics that scroll to the warm-up tune, which concludes “I’ve warmed up my trombone! My nightmare has finished, woo.” I dare you not to smile while you play.