A Trombonist Reviews the Goofy Trombone Champ Playtest

How do eight years of experience affect my opinion of Trombone Champ?

Between middle school and high school, I spent eight full years of my life playing the trombone. I was in jazz band, concert band, marching band, the orchestra pit for Shrek: The Musical, and lots more I’m probably forgetting. When I went on to college and eventually started my internship here at Fanbyte, I thought I was leaving that life behind. Then, I heard about Trombone Champ, and I was sucked back in.

If you’re unaware, Trombone Champ is a rhythm game in development for Steam. This week, developer Holy Wow allowed players to participate in an open playtest, where six of the game’s twenty songs are available to try. There are unlockable character skins, trombone skins, and trombone sounds, and also a set of 50 collectible trombone-themed trading cards. The deck features serious cards with composers like John Phillip Sousa or Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, or joke cards like “Blue Eyes White Baboon” or “Music.”

A collectible card from Trombone Champ with the title "music" in the center of the card. The top of the card has rainbow colored sheet music. The bottom of the card has text that reads, "Music is what we call the sounds made by trombones. It's like hot dogs for your ears. It sounds really good - except for when it sounds bad. Try to find music that you enjoy, and then listen to it a lot!"

The actual gameplay is absolutely ridiculous. Using the mouse to move the trombone slide, you have to hit the notes as they fly in from the right side of the screen. But unlike something like guitar hero, you’re given access to the whole range of tones in between every note, so most of the time you’ll be at least slightly off pitch. It’s hard, but so goofy that you don’t feel silly for messing up. You feel silly for playing a trombone in the first place.

The game is making fun of trombone players, but it’s clear that the jokes come from a place of love. The trading cards are a great example of that: a lot of them are cataloging people that were genuinely important in the history of the instrument. If the game just wanted to make fun of trombones as a concept, the developer wouldn’t have bothered to do their research.

Playing Trombone Champ is actually not that far off from playing an actual trombone. A trombone slide doesn’t have any marked positions, so if you want to play a note you have to know where on the slide that note is. On a real trombone though, there’s a lot more wiggle room than in the game. You can adjust the pitch using your lips, and you get to use your whole arm to move the slide, not just make tiny adjustments on a mouse.

Some skills I have as a trombone player do actually carry over to the game. For instance, a trombone player has to have a good ear, and should be constantly making tiny adjustments to their slide to make sure they’re in tune. In game, if you’re slightly off of a pitch, you can hear if you’re sharp or flat and adjust accordingly. You can see it too, based on where your cursor is, but I found my ears reacted more quickly than my eyes in most cases.

A gif of someone playing trombone champ. As they hit the notes, text pops up on the screen reading "perfect!" and "nice!"

Trombone Champ also does a very good job at being funny, something a lot of games struggle to do. Games can have funny writing, and this one does (I especially like the loading screens), but Trombone Champ’s funniest feature is the gameplay itself. “Skip To My Loo” is by far the hardest song available in the playtest, and the absurdity of attempting it makes it one of the most fun to attempt. I first discovered the game through this TikTok, where a streamer named Lirik attempts the song. The funniest part is that he’s not even doing that poorly by the game’s standards. That’s just how it is.

I think it’s because I started out sounding so bad that I wanted to get better. It’s partially because I like the game enough and want to improve, but also just because I’m petty. You’re telling me I’m playing a song as simple as “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and I’m failing? That’s absurd. Let me play it twenty more times until I get an S rank, just to prove you wrong.

In its current form. Trombone Champ is only a playtest build, but I’ve still greatly enjoyed my time with it so far. It’s only available until the end of the day, so if you’re interested, definitely grab it now. Whether you’re a trombone player or not, it’s a hilarious and engaging rhythm game experience. I can’t wait for the full release.