It stays true to the format of the board game, but that's just not good enough for a video game.
With the new generation of video game consoles, publishers have found that the trivia party game genre is a good fit for the waves of new gamers attracted to the consoles. This is particularly true of the Wii, where all of a sudden there's a selection of games in the genre to choose from. One of them has the power of a proven brand name. Cranium Kabookii is an extension of the Cranium line of board games, and as a standalone product, it's a moderately entertaining way for a group of people to spend time together. Much like a board game, however, it's likely going to spend most of the time on the shelf.
The Cranium board games encourage team activities that require brainpower. Kabookii is much the same way, and it even contains the four main Cranium categories that test your skills in different ways. Data Head features questions that are most similar to traditional trivia games. Creative Cat usually has you drawing an item on the television screen with the Wii Remote pointer, like Pictionary. Star Performer requires players to act out something or perform actions with the Wii Remote. Word Worm puzzles are word and letter-based, requiring players to unscramble or build words in a variety of ways.
Setting up a game is as simple as getting a group of people together and selecting how many teams you'd like to split everyone up into. The game is designed to be played with two, three, or four teams of at least two people each, which means that everyone who wants to can play together. However, this also means that you need a minimum of four players (two teams of two) in order to play the game at all. There aren't any game modes or options to allow fewer than that to play the game, so parties of three or less won't be able to enjoy the game in any way. The lack of any single-player mode (or two- or three-player mode, for that matter) is a pretty large oversight for a modern video game, even if it parallels the multiplayer-only nature of traditional board games.
The game's setup is very straightforward. After beginning a game, teams take turn spinning a wheel that has the four main activity categories, labeled with fifteen individual activities. Wherever the wheel stops, that team must clear that activity's goal to earn tokens. The token amount can vary depending on the activity difficulty or round, but the game never tells you how many tokens an activity is valued at until after you win it. Once a team collects a preset amount of tokens, that team is declared the winner. The game also lacks options that are meaningful to gameplay, so there is no way to set how many tokens are required for a win. Therefore, games with four teams could last as long as an hour.
The functionality of the Wii Remote comes into play during most of Kabokii's activities. Sometimes it's as simple as pointing at an answer to a multiple choice question or rotating a giant globe to find a country in Data Head activities. On the other end of the spectrum, a Star Performer activity called Cameo has you mimic the use of objects like a jackhammer, fishing reel, or frying pan with the Wii Remote. In a Cameo variation, the player acting out the motions turns his or her back to the screen, and teammates describe what they need for them to act out. The game is very picky about certain types of Remote movements, so you may not always get one correct even if you think you're doing the motion correctly. It got pretty frustrating for me and my friends on occasion.
Cameo highlights the importance of teamwork. If you have a large enough group, you'll usually find that there's someone who excels at something you'll need to do. For instance, someone in a group is likely to be decent at drawing (or better than everyone else, at least), so you'll probably want to nominate him or her to do the drawing in the Cloodle activities, where the game displays a clue for the artist to draw on the screen with the Wii Remote's pointer. Clues are displayed with a color screen on top of them so that the only person who can actually read them is the one with the funky red-tinted decoder glasses that are included with the game. The encoded clues show up in other places, like some of the music activities (guess the song from the notes being played) and Cloodle variations.
Accurately drawing something on the screen with the Wii Remote pointer is actually harder than you'd imagine. Not having the hand stability of a pencil on paper makes your straight lines look wobbly. From the looks of it, that's by design: it's funny to see how badly you draw something as simple a dog or a house. The clues get harder in the Graffitii variation, where you can use multiple colors of spray paint, or when the line you draw starts to slowly erase itself in Ripstrip Cloodle. The difficulty can get to a point where a younger person wouldn't be able to put it all together successfully.
Word Worm activities can also bring about stumpers. Many Zelpuz (that's 'puzzle' with jumbled letters) activities drew a complete blank from me, but with the help of some other people on my team we managed to unscramble the starting phrase into the one that matched the clue. The category was "magazine" and the clue was "Her Wonky Tree." The New Yorker is a pretty well-known magazine (that was the answer), but unless their parents subscribe to it, the young'uns probably haven't heard of it. I even drew a blank when I saw that, probably because I wasn't expecting to see it in what is—or what I thought was—a game for children.
That's when I realized what Cranium Kabookii really is: a game designed for a family to come together to play. I can see mother and daughter teaming up against father and son and having a blast with this game. It would also be great to break out when there's a large family gathering. People who haven't played video games before would probably have no problem playing, since it's not that much different than the Cranium board game.
That's the problem with the Cranium video game. Even with the Wii Remote controls, it's nothing special compared to the original board game, which has categories that make you impersonate actors, draw with your eyes closed, and sculpt items using a small tub of clay. It's a much better game experience than its video game counterpart because it uses different tools of interaction instead of the same Wii Remote over and over again. It's also a cheaper experience than its video game counterpart. That's two strikes against buying the Wii game.
The third strike? Board games aren't something you play every day. Or every week, for that matter. You may play Cranium Kabookii a lot initially, but the more you play it, the more the fifteen different activity variations start getting repetitive because of how similar a lot of them feel. Without options to mix up the gameplay experience, there's little reason to play the game again after the first dozen plays. The casual consumer will like the game a lot, of that I have no doubt, but I can't shake the feeling that they're getting a bad deal. There could have been a lot more stuffed into the video game version of Cranium, enough to make it worthwhile purchase. Cranium Kabookii is fun for a time, but only if you've got a large group of people or big family to play it with. That makes it a good rental game, but not much else.