SANTA MONICA, CA—Despite a catchy 1890s soundtrack and realistic-feeling game play, Sousaphone Hero, the third installment of Activision's massively popular Guitar Hero video game franchise, sold a mere 52 copies in the United States in its opening week, the company reported Monday.

"In the wake of Guitar Hero's success, we thought the public was more than ready for additional popular American musical genres in a simulated-performance format, but people don't seem to be responding to marches as well as we had hoped," said Activision spokeswoman Melissa Hendleman, whose company spent an estimated $25 million developing the game for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii consoles.

Sousaphone Hero offers two dozen public-domain marches, including 1893's "The Liberty Bell," 1896's "Stars and Stripes Forever," and 1897's "Entry of the Gladiators." The bulky sousaphone-shaped controller coils around the body, and players wear white spat-like foot coverings fitted with sensors that monitor synchronized marching steps. As with the fret buttons on Guitar Hero's guitar peripheral, the sousaphone controller's three valves are color-coded to match on-screen notes the player must hit.

Players may also choose from 27 different fat-guy characters who can be customized with Alpine hats, epaulets, and a mustache editor with a wide array of options.

A gamer plays with a special wireless version of the sousaphone controller, meant to increase ease of play.

Hendleman admitted that the $345 retail price might be a bit steep for many consumers. She also conceded that Activision may have erred by not releasing the game between Memorial Day and July 4, the prime parade season in the United States. Even so, she added, Sousaphone Hero contains "more than enough" features to keep gamers absorbed.

"In the career mode, you can rise from playing in park gazebos for church picnics to performing in the halftime show of the Harvard-Yale game," Hendleman said. "If you score enough points, you can unlock the ultimate level: playing in the John Philip Sousa–led Marine Band at Grover Cleveland's inauguration."

"And if you like multiplayer gaming, you're in luck," Hendleman continued. "In Sousaphone Hero's cooperative marching-band mode, as many as 135 of your friends can play simultaneously."

Hendleman also emphasized the "fun" rewards players receive as they become more proficient. If they hit enough correct notes in a row, the on-screen crowd yells "huzzah" and "bully," and the sousaphone controller's spit valve will "drain." Flubbing notes, however, makes the controller "fill" with spit, preventing further play and causing the crowd to throw rotten eggs at the hapless on-screen sousaphonist. If characters earn enough bonus points in career mode, they can spend their Liberty-head nickels on a red, green, or blue "sock" for their sousaphone's bell, or an invigorating chunk of peanut brittle.

Response to Sousaphone Hero on video-gaming message boards has been tepid at best.

 

"That controller is like 100 pounds even though its [sic] only plastic," wrote mastagamer457, a moderator on one Sousaphone Hero message thread. "I think I screwed up my shoulder pretty bad."

 "I played the career mode for three hours and kept feeling like I was playing the same annoying circus tune over and over," kiLLlah_steVe of Columbus, OH wrote. "On one song, you're forced to play the same two notes back and forth for 96 measures."

Others have complained that the third valve is used only at the expert level, that even proficient players only score a maximum of 60 points per song, and that the "oompah" meter stays the same shade of gray even if every note is hit. Some also reported that, if not cleaned regularly, the plastic mouthpiece gets crusty.

Professional sousaphone player Eric Winkler of New Orleans called the game "laughably amateurish" and "nothing like" the actual sousaphone-playing experience. "The fingering's completely different, for starters," he said.

Due to the poor response to Sousaphone Hero, Activision has halted development of spin-off games Cymbal Hero, Glockenspiel Hero, and Steam Calliope Hero.