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The Bursting Bubble of Champagne Superstar: Why "Welk Welk Revolution" Isn't Coming to a Wii Near You
by Shelley C. Monsky-Sixx

In a recession, those products and services which offer a bit of escape tend to weather well, such as Busby Berkeley musicals, chocolate bars, and video games. Those games that offer the chance to play alongside Nirvana, The Beatles and Metallica have seemed especially popular as of late and with more and more seniors becoming familiar with the Wii, largely for its exercise options, a hybrid of the two seemed inevitable. Enter Champagne Superstar, the first video game to feature the music of Lawrence Welk. Debuting at S3, the trade show hyping itself as "Savvy Seniors=Sales," Champagne Superstar was believed to be the ideal video for public television premiums and nursing home activity hours. And it might have been, had the upstart company, WiiCanGame2, ever actually tested their product with their target audience.

As a closet Welk fan, I deeply appreciate the thought that went into the creation of the levels; however, the difficulty is much beyond the skill level for a beginning gamer. Take, for instance, the main controls for the dance component of Champagne Superstar. Most games based on the Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) model use games with nine squares, laid out much like a standard telephone keypad. This makes it properly challenging to reach all directions from a "home row" stance. Champagne Superstar comes with a piano dance-mat (think of the movie Big). When participants dance (two-player mode is Bobby Burgess with Barbara Boylan, Cissy King or Elaine Balden; one player may dance as Arthur Duncan alone), they are challenged not to keep up with directional arrows as in other DDR games, but with musical notes. The more advanced the dance number, the more traveling over the piano one will do. The horizontal dance-mat makes for a more difficult game than the traditional 3x3 square. Champagne Superstar's target audience is likely not a graduate of DDR and looking for a harder dance game though. What would be beneficial is a way to use the Wiimote as well, keeping in mind that some of Welk's fans may be unable to participate in DDR-style videogames.

The piano dance-mat can also be used with the singing games. Gamers can step on Joe Feeney's notes: here, recruiting a friend is helpful for covering the high notes. Two (or more) players are needed to enjoy most of these games as harmony is a key component. (One can "sing" Norma Zimmer, Clay Hart, or Anacani songs solo, but not Guy Hovis and Ralna English. Four players are needed to play as The Aldridge Sisters and the Otwell Twins. Larger ensembles are not available because of the Wii's limitations.) Images of the singers appear as a watermark while gamers use the Wiimote to draw a line from note to note. When multiple players are participating, they must proceed at the same time. As one can imagine, this is incredibly difficult -- especially given how sensitive (or not) some Wiimotes can be.

No episode of The Lawrence Welk Show is complete without Myron Floren, and perhaps Champagne Superstar's most creative use of the Wiimote and nunchuck is to simulate the accordion. Gamers must squeeze their Wiimote and nunchuck together while pressing the correct button combination. Luckily, no camera is included to check for one's cheesy smile, twinkling eyes, bling or leisure suit. For beginning gamers, this is another challenging level and those who have simply enjoyed Floren's polkas in the past may not find the same joy trying to replicate a melodic polka via the Wii. Having one's discordant accordion notes blared through the senior citizen center is surely up there on a list of a "savvy senior's" things to avoid.

So what happened to Champagne Superstar? Let's just say Crystal Pepsi had a longer life. WiiCanGame2 faced a series of lawsuits, and with its business problems, the developers never addressed the game's problems and officially released it. A limited release at S3 was snapped up quickly by Welk collectors. Who knows who currently owns the rights? One thing that is known is that Welk fans like easy listening, not hard gaming. Like champagne itself, this bubble has burst and all that's left now is the headache.