What does it take to appeal to the Wii Sports crowd? Deca Sports suggests some answers.
At first glance, Deca Sports seems merely a Hudson branded re-imagining of Nintendo's pack-in Wii Sports title, doubling its number of sports with ten and losing Mii support. What is it that emboldens Deca Sports to claim some of the success that Wii Sports has enjoyed, amassing more than a million in sales?
One thing that is of great importance, but is often overlooked, is the interface that players must navigate in order to select their sport and play the game. In this respect, Deca Sports performs admirably. It's a small thing, but the vibration when moving the cursor over a button can make a large difference. Most of the game's interface sports a green and white motif that's not only simple, but also calm and pleasant. The icons which you must point at to move between menus and modes are large and easy to navigate. The A button selects, and the B button backs out to a previous location. Since there are ten different sports, many modes allow you to not just retry a game, but retry it with different characters or playing different sports.
Deca Sport's interface is important because, with ten different sports included in the game, players will want to start playing with as little difficulty as possible. Deca Sports attempts to double Nintendo's Wii Sports offering with Badminton, Beach Volleyball, SuperCross Biking, Kart Racing, Snowboarding, Basketball, Soccer, Archery, Curling, and Figure Skating. All of the sports can be played with multiplayer (Badminton, Soccer, and Basketball can only be played with two players, the rest support up to four), and only three sports require use of the Nunchuk. All of the controls are easy to learn and rely on straightforward tilting or timed swings of the Wii Remote, using few buttons. They all offer tutorial modes, and each offers a single challenge mode to test a specific skill. It's definitely an eclectic mix, and some sports work better than others.
For example, Badminton and Beach Volleyball both seem to invite comparison to Wii Sports Tennis. Like Wii Sports Tennis, characters move automatically; players are only responsible for swinging the racket. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable delay in Deca Sports’ reading of the Badminton gestures. Players have to anticipate their own actions if they ever hope to time their spike moves properly. Additionally, finessing the controls in order to hit harder or softer, left or right, is difficult to do consistently.
Beach Volleyball comes off better. The game moves at a faster pace, and characters are much speedier and more competent at automatically positioning themselves. With two characters on each side working together as a team, and the addition of blocking, the game feels more engaging than Badminton, especially when played with two human players on the same side. Unlike Wii Sports Tennis, in which a single player controls both characters on a team if they're the only one playing, Deca Sports gives single players computer partners in Beach Volleyball.
Deca Sports also features SuperCross Biking and Kart Racing. Both sports are very similar, and both draw unfavorable comparisons to other karting games. In SuperCross players shake the Wii Remote in the air to perform a stunt, and more importantly twist the Wii Remote to angle your bike while airborne, since landing on the ground at an awkward angle decreases your speed. Colliding with the borders of the track also results in a large loss of speed in both games, and this is very easy to do since the game's floaty physics give very little sense of traction. Both sports offer just three different track layouts, one each for easy, normal, or hard difficulties.
Snowboarding, another sport centered on racing, is a gem in comparison. It's the simple yet compelling gameplay that Snowboarding offers that shows what games like Deca Sports can accomplish. In order to garner the best times on any of the three course layouts, players will need to use all the subtlety of the Wii Remote's simple tilting motions, as well as make sure that they approach each curve at just the right tilt and speed. Snowboarding is one of the most compelling sports in the game, and will easily entice players to repeat the three courses available in order to garner the sport's three medals in Deca Sports' challenge mode.
Deca Sports also features the team sports Basketball and Soccer, which both require the use of the Wii Nunchuk. Basketball is played three-on-three, and is a somewhat slow and uninspiring implementation of the sport incorporating passing, stealing, lay-ups and jump shots. Soccer fares a little better, but it is also underwhelming with its simple AI and lack of out-of-bounds. Wii Sports proves that simple implementations of sports can work, but while Deca Sports' Basketball and Soccer sports are not essentially flawed, they just never seem to unfold into a deeper experience the way Snowboarding or Beach Volleyball do.
However, Archery does satisfy. It's simple to aim the Wii Remote at the screen, but add in wind and the jitteriness of one's hand (especially upon the arrow's release) and it serves well. One smart move on Hudson's part was not zooming into the target too much as the player aims, so that a sense of distance, and the difficulty involved, is maintained.
Curling is decent, but not as elegant. The sport involves sliding large "stones" across a lane of ice and aiming to have them slow to a stop right on top of painted targets on the other end, or at least in a place to block the moves of opponents. Unfortunately, Curling the most complex, and least immediately satisfying, experience in Deca Sports.
Figure Skating is underwhelming, but still interesting. It is the third sport that requires a Nunchuk to play, utilizing the analog stick to guide characters over the ice and swinging the Wii Remote over large markers to execute moves. Players have to wrestle with momentum during tight turns, after landing jumps, and coming out of spins. This is a simple but commendable abstraction of the sport, marred by the small selection of only three songs and routines for players to compete with.
Less important than the gameplay in a game like Deca Sports are the graphics. There are touches that stand out impressively, however. There are subtle reflections on the ice during figure skating, and seamless zooming out from the menu screen when starting the game that gives the sense that players were looking at a giant-sized sports display all along. However, the game lacks Mii support, and while the limited selection of characters serve their purpose, this is a disappointment. The characters exhibit a limited, and thus less personal, set of animations, lacking the subtle draw and dynamism of actual Miis.
What does it take to appeal to the Wii Sports crowd? Deca Sports offers an efficient interface and a couple of high points during gameplay… but only that. From a distance, the game easily resembles a successor to Wii Sports. As Hudson works on a sequel, one hopes that they will add even more touches of polish, and focus their direction towards experiences like Snowboarding, Beach Volleyball, and Figure Skating instead of Kart Racing, Badminton, and Basketball.