It just simply could not be better that one of the top 10 selling games on Steam right now is Trombone Champ, the utterly ridiculous and hilarious trombone sim-cum-Guitar Hero game from one of the funniest developers in the industry. But it’s also astonishing, given the daft obscurity of the game’s themes.
I’ve been following the games of Trombone Champ’s developer, Holy Wow, for over a decade now. From the groundbreaking Icarus Proudbottom In: The Curse Of The Chocolate Fountain, in which a man propels himself through the sky by the power of his own poop, to the endlessly funny multiplayer mini-game collection, Icarus Proudbottom’s Typing Party, and everything in between, the indie developer’s games have been making me laugh for many years. Which I say to basically boast that I knew them before they were cool. And wow, are husband and wife team Dan Vecchitto and Jackie Lalli cool now.
“No and no!” says Vecchitto when I ask him if any previous Holy Wow game has seen this sort of success, and if he was expecting it this time. The previous games have been slightly scrappy affairs, Vecchitto explaining that he’s a self-taught coder, but rose above the ranks of their peers due to how damned funny they were. Trombone Champ shows another evolutionary step forward, it’s Nintendo Mii-like graphics and gorgeous UI belying a game of abject stupidity.
In Trombone Champ, you have to try to play the trombone through a Guitar Hero-like interface, moving your mouse up and down to match the impending lines, holding a button down to “toot” as they pass the left side of the screen. Except, the mouse movement is reversed (you can switch this, but should you?), revoltingly unsteady, and the whole thing deliberately cumbersome. Which leads to fun times. Fun times that absolutely deserve break-out success, coverage all over mainstream gaming sites that usually ignore such peculiar indie games, and a top 10 position on Steam’s new charts, but surely no one was expecting it?
“I always thought the concept was funny,” explains Vecchitto via Twitter DMs, “and I expected that various video clips of the game might go viral, but I didn’t really expect the game itself to take off like it did.” So why does he think it might have? “It apparently hits a lot of audiences: casual gamers; real music game enthusiasts; real brass players; ska fans (turns out there are a lot of these!); etc. Even still, I’m kind of baffled about why this one took off like it did.”
I wonder if this means he might want to republish his previous library of games, now the rest of the world has finally woken up to Holy Wow. Perhaps release them in gold-plated boxes. “I’d really love to make an HD Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing!” Vecchitto immediately enthuses. As well he might. As Nathan Grayson (late of this parish) once wrote, “Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing is incredible.” And it truly is, if somewhat archaic-looking, despite releasing in 2013.
“I’d also really like to make an updated Typing Party and manufacture more arcade cabinets,” Vecchitto continues. “We currently have one Typing Party cabinet at Wonderville in Brooklyn, and it’s tempting to make more and try to distribute them to indie arcades around the country.”
“But with Trombone Champ’s success,” Dan adds, “I think we’re going to spend a while on this one.” Not bad, for a game made during his evenings and weekends, around a full-time job. While previous Holy Wow games have been more of an even split between the married development team, Trombone Champ was closer to a solo project. Vecchitto explains, “I’m comfortable wasting my own nights and weekends on a stupid game like this, but didn’t want to also destroy the free time of my one and only spouse.”
You can, and absolutely should, pick up the previous Holy Wow games via Itch, because they’re bloody marvellous. Then you can pretend you were cool too, before all this new-found Steam-based success.