Considering the amount of content offered, Wii Play is an apt title.
If you’re looking for a Wii Remote, you have a couple of options come February 15. You can either buy the standalone version for 40$ or get Wii Play, which comes bundled with a remote, for ten bucks more. Since Wii Play is a compilation of nine mini-games, you basically end up paying a little more than one dollar per mini-game.
Surely these mini-games are worth this low price point, right? Well actually, most of them are not. While not exactly stooping to Banana Blitz’s levels, they all fail in showing off the exciting potential of the kind of gaming experiences that the Wii Remote can offer. This feat is handled much better in a game like Wii Sports, which you probably already own.
The main culprit is the extreme level of simplicity of the mini-games. Take Table Tennis for example. Your objective is to direct a bat by pointing with the remote to keep the rally going. You can’t win per se. You can’t even control your shots, since hitting the ball is done automatically as long as your cursor is positioned at the right spot. Moving the paddle with the pointer is the only control available, and even though the duel gradually increases in intensity, thus requiring quicker reactions from the player, the gameplay never deviates from these simple actions. As a result, there’s little subtlety and almost no variety to be found in Table Tennis.
Fishing suffers from the same problem. Here you move a fishing rod in hopes of catching weird-looking fish that swim around in a small pond. Each type of fish gives you a certain number of points when caught, and you’re basically competing against time to get as many points as possible. You spend most of the time waiting for a fish to bite, after which a simple upward motion of the remote gets the job done. It’s easy and unsatisfying.
The same can be said of Find Mii. Inspired by Where’s Waldo, it’s all about pointing at similar Mii’s or odd-one-outs. Later on, the Mii’s start walking around and wear different clothes, which makes this feat somewhat more difficult, though not more fun.
Charge is equally uninspired. It is cow-riding racing game, in which you hold the remote sideways and tilt it to steer, not unlike in Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam. Jumping can be done by flinging the remote upwards, and points are gained by completing the course quickly and by ramming into various creatures in the process. Charge is actually fairly enjoyable to begin with, but with only one short course available, the appeal quickly wears thin.
Pose Mii is slightly better. You must guide a Mii to various bubbles that must have the same stance as your Mii. If they don’t, you can change your Mii’s stance with a press of a button. This extra mechanic of actually pushing a button makes Pose Mii one of the more intricate games of Wii Play.
Billiards also makes use of different control functions of the remote to offer a slightly more complex gameplay experience. Sadly, it’s marred by questionable ball physics, an extremely dull presentation, and a slow pace. Before every shot you have to first aim where to shoot the ball with the remote, then point at where to hit the ball in order to apply topspin or backspin, and finally do a thrusting motion with your remote like a real cue to hit the ball. While this final action feels rather intuitive, the entire process of determining your shot is unnecessarily cumbersome.
Shooting Range is more action-packed and should feel familiar to anyone who played the classic light-gun game Duck Hunt for the NES. Controlling an aiming cursor with your remote, you must take down ducks, cans, clay pigeons, and even UFO’s that quickly zoom by. It’s a tremendously basic premise made somewhat more enjoyable with the addition of friendly targets displaying your own Mii, which result in negative points when shot.
The remaining two mini-games, Laser Hockey and Tanks, distinguish themselves as being the most satisfying of the lot. The former is like a more sophisticated version of Pong. Trying to get the ball in your opponent’s goal, you move your paddle, not just up or down, but in every direction on your half of the playing field. By twisting the remote, you can angle your shots. There’s even a strategic element to the game, so sorely missed otherwise in the compilation. You can decide to play defensively, focusing solely on guarding you own goal, or fling the paddle aggressively towards the ball in hopes of performing a fast return shot at the risk of missing the ball entirely or making an embarrassing own goal.
Tanks is the only mini-game to also make use of the Nunchuk attachment, if you want to. You use its control stick to navigate your miniscule tank on a battlefield seen from above. Shots can be fired in the direction of your aiming cursor, controlled with the remote. Akin to Geometry Wars on Xbox Live Arcade, the game forces you to concentrate on not only avoiding hostile fire but also on taking out the enemy forces via mines and projectiles, which ricochet off walls. Once again, the defensive and offensive considerations required from the player make this mini-game one of the deepest and most involving in the compilation, though that isn’t saying much. Tanks succeeds because it doesn’t just rely on the simple pointing mechanism of the remote. The player has more freedom and is faced with more decisions compared to the other mini-games.
What all the mini-games handle nicely, though, is the controls, which are always responsive and precise. The on-screen action reacts instantly to your motions, and you always feel in control. With Wii Play, Nintendo truly has a showcase for the accuracy of the remote that third party developers could learn a lot from.
All the mini-games also support a two-player competitive mode, which, undoubtedly, is the preferred way of playing Wii Play. In a competitive environment, the otherwise glaring issues of the game tend to fade ever so slightly. That is why the lack of four-player support is particularly disappointing. Even if a couple of the mini-games would lend themselves poorly to such a mode, and even considering the budget-priced nature of the game, this omission is a disheartening sign of laziness from Nintendo’s part.
Low production values also characterise the presentation. Each mini-game has its own visual style, so, for instance, 2D paper models make up Fishing, while Pose Mii is ripe with underwater effects. You’ll never be impressed with the visuals, but then again you don’t really need to be. Wii Play isn’t about immersing you in an alternate universe. Like Wii Sports, the game wouldn’t really be more enjoyable with flashy visual effects. These would probably clash with the appearance of the Mii’s and may even compromise the functional qualities that Wii Play’s graphics do contain.
There are a few other redeeming features worth mentioning as well. The use of Mii’s is a welcome feature. You not only choose which Mii to play as, you also see many of the other Mii’s on your system wander around in some of the mini-games. This gives a nice personal touch, which will hopefully be used more in upcoming titles.
There’s also a scoring system, which hands out bronze, silver, or gold medals depending on your performance after every mini-game. Getting all gold medals does put up a challenge and provides replay value for those dedicated enough to stick with the game.
Wii Play still fails to deliver what Nintendo set out to do. It lacks depth, meaning that you’ll grow tired of it within minutes – even with a friend. This fact is a little easier to swallow given Wii Play’s budget price, though. The mini-games do show that the remote is a highly precise and responsive device but not that it is a potential doorway to new and exciting ways of interaction. We don’t even get a glimpse of the possibilities at hand.