Strolling through the game section of my local Meijer, I came across a startling (but increasingly common) sight—Wii remotes, in the wild. Just, you know, hanging there on the shelf. Lots of them, at least six. Nunchuks too. So, what did I, an underprivileged, owns-one-remote-that-came-with-the-console guy do? Why, I turned right around to face the game cabinet and bought a copy of Wii Play. If you don’t know already, Wii Play comes bundled with a Wii remote, but costs 50 USD like a game. I figured I’d snag an extra remote and get a cool minigame compilation for 10 bucks, like Wii Sports! Win-win situation, right? Right?!
The answer to that question depends on how much you’re willing to spend, and just how much value you place on the gaming stew that is Wii Play. Having a complete set of controllers now significantly changes my opinion of the game.
Wii Play is a collection of mini (some might say micro) games, nine total, that hopes to emulate its bigger brother, Wii Sports. The pack-in disk that shipped with Wii consoles was admittedly simplistic in its presentation, but each of the five sports contained a level of depth that surprised me as I played them to harder difficulty levels. Wii Play lacks much of that depth, but the number of nine games over Wii Sport’s five would supposedly make up for that lack. Unfortunately, this is not true.
Wii Play is really some of Nintendo’s simplest tech demos for the Wii, an early taste designed for trade shows. Some of the games surfaces more recently at events like the fusion tour, but I suspect some of the demos are from far earlier stages in the Wii’s development. Most of these games were probably thrown together before some of the console’s features were even finalized, such as the nunchuk accelerometer or the speaker. The pointer functionality sees the most implementation, and gives the games a repetitive feeling.
Wii Sports, on the other hand, was developed as an introduction to the Wii for people of all ages and personalities, and uses most of the Wii’s abilities to a modest extent. Its subject matter, sports, is something virtually everyone is familiar with, while Wii Play was built to introduce gaming press to the Wii at shows like E3 and TGS.
As a result each of the minigames have a far more “video game” feel to them, but are really just retreads of some of the industry’s oldest offerings. Suffice it to say that you’ve seen most of Wii Play before, just without the remote control. Wii Play also uses Miis like Wii Sports, but they’re not nearly as well integrated. Depending on whether you’re player one or two, you’re blue or red, respectively—the Mii’s face is the only thing that really filters through into the gameplay. As you can infer from that last sentence, Wii Play only supports two human players, or can be played with a computer opponent.
The game forces you to unlock each of the games in a sequential order, and the first part of this nine course meal is Shooting. Disguised as a sequel to the NES classic Duck Hunt, Shooting is anything but—it’s more like a brief homage. The Wii remote is used like a gun, however the nature of the sensor bar pointer makes it quite different from the venerable old NES Zapper light gun. Lining up your target in the iron sights is no longer an option, nor is such precise aim necessary in the first place.
The screen is littered with targets at any given time, be they simple bull’s-eyes, clay pigeons, pop cans or even flying saucers, but very few of them are ducks. The handful of ducks that do appear only flit across the screen briefly—they are difficult to hit and award bonus points, but are in the game more for nostalgia than anything else. Every other target appears for a few seconds at most, and while some degree of accuracy is required (and consecutive hits are rewarded), real deadeye aim isn’t an object. Taking careful aim also takes too much time to be effective against the rapidly vanishing targets, so in the end Shooting is a twitch gallery game. It lasts only five short levels, there is no chuckling dog, ammo limit or real challenge. If you’ve been waiting for a Duck Hunt sequel, prepare to wait some more.
The second game, Find Mii, has players looking for a specific Mii (or combination of Miis) in a crowd, within a time limit. This can range from finding your personal Mii, the odd man out, the two that are the same, and a few others. As the levels progress is gets incrementally harder, with the Mii’s walking around a city square, on escalators or just in a very large crowd. The game’s biggest flaw is that same basic experience can be found in a “Where’s Waldo?” book, so the Wii remote advantage and visuals are largely cosmetic. I lost interest after about three play-throughs.
Table Tennis, the next unlockable, is basically what you’d expect, minus a few features. Unlike Wii Tennis, it isn’t necessary to swing the remote to smack the ping pong ball back at your opponent—all you have to do is move the paddle in the way of the incoming ball. After a couple points the players switch sides and turns serving. It’s possible to gain a “surprise” shot that moves much faster than a normal rally, but as far as I could tell the occurrence of this faster shot was completely random.
Moving right along, Pose Mii is an almost non-game that requires you to pose your Mii into a specific configuration, and then rotate them into the right position within a series of falling bubbles. It is clearly meant to demonstrate the Wii remote’s ability to rotate, but Pose Mii’s only other notable characteristic is its puzzling trippy vibe. The rainbow bubbles descend in a relaxed, psychedelic motion, and are shown against a series of seemingly unrelated backgrounds. Posing your Mii is not done with motions, but rather combinations of buttons. I suspect a Nintendo developer threw this one together after a bad hit of acid and forgot to put the gameplay in.
Odds are you’ve played our next game, Laser Hockey, before, because it’s basically Pong married to air hockey. But neither game has ever been so pretty, and the Wii interpretation has a few extra features that I’m sure the average Pong clone doesn’t have. Laser Hockey plays like a game of air hockey viewed from above, with both opponents moving glowing laser paddles to knock a laser puck back and forth, which might just rebound of off some laser bumpers in the corners (sensing a theme yet?) The puck can quite easily end up behind your paddle, so it’s very likely that a twitchy hand will knock the puck back into your own goal.
Rotating the paddles comes into play, and ricocheting the puck off of the bumpers is crucial to scoring a point before the time runs out. This is probably one of the best Pong/air hockey hybrids I’ve played, and one of the few Wii Play offerings I’d consider playing more than a few times.
The quality keeps improving with the following minigame, probably because it’s another classic: Billiards. Nintendo has put together a serviceable game of billiards, and although it only follows the traditional set of rules, the physics and subtlety are spot-on. Snapping a quick shot at the cue-ball is performed by pulling the remote back and poking it forward; the momentum dictates the force of the shot and the speed of the ball. It takes some practice, and inherits some of the acceleration problems that still plague the Wii remote, but overall it is very comfortable. It’s even possible to adjust the angle of the shot (assisted by a bird’s eye view), deepening the gameplay and allowing banking shots off of the old diamonds.
And then the quality takes a real dive, into a shallow pool. Fishing, as far as I can tell, is a scarcely updated concept demo that came from trade shows over two years old. Many journalists described a very simplistic fishing simulation at past E3s, and it looks like we got a straight port. In this game, if you can call it that, you use the Wii remote like a simple fishing line, to snag and retrieve flat fish textures from a flat pond. More points are awarded for getting big fish, or the “special” fish as indicated by an image at the top of the screen. If you have Zelda Twilight Princess (and if not, go get it), you will never need to play Fishing more than once. Seriously, spend some quality time in the Lake Hylia fishing pond. The Wii Play alternative is this close to being painful to play.
The drop in quality continues into Charge!, a cow racing game—an idea quirky and absurd enough to be very cool, but like the rest of the package, it was left on the game developer kitchen counter overnight to go flat. Charge! is clearly a test of the Wii remote’s horizontal directional control, a scheme later adopted for games like Sonic and the Secret Rings and Excite Truck. So again we have one of the earliest concepts for the controller, with all of the rough imperfections. The goal of this game is accordingly simple; ride your cow to the finish line before time expires, and knock down scarecrows in the process.
Some more involved ideas actually come into play, like jerking the remote upward to jump over barricades, or tilting it forward to increase speed, but none of the buttons are used (probably by design). In two player mode reaching the finish isn’t necessary to win, but rather gaining the most points. Multiplayer on this one can be bizarrely addictive, but only if you have nothing better to play. The graphics are disproportionately good, at least in the Wii Sports sense, and with some extra time the gameplay could have been much better.
The final rung in this ladder of updated past is a real classic: Tanks. The arcade staple is reworked with a heavy flavor of, well, Nintendo. That is, it plays out on a tiny wooden battlefield, with clicking and whirring toy tanks and music box military tunes. It dismayed me to see such a venerable classic shellacked with such a kiddy finish, but at least the gameplay is still solid. This is the only game in the package that can use the Nunchuk, and considering the alternative of using the D-pad to steer, I greatly appreciated the extra effort. The tank’s cannon is aimed with the Wii remote, much like in Shooting.
The number of enemy tanks, their speed and accuracy increase as the levels wear on, and the obstacle courses become more complicated. The challenge is certainly there—bouncing bullets off of walls and faking out the enemy is entertaining for a time—but like everything else in Wii Play, I’ve seen it so many times before. Besides, I don’t think the remote controller is particularly suited to Tanks; it works well, but I prefer the old rubberized steering handles with the trigger buttons.
Judging Wii Play’s production values is a bit difficult, because the quality runs the gamut. Most of the graphics are passable, with Laser Hockey, Billiards, Shooting and Tanks looking the prettiest. It is in these games that the simple but sharp and clean look of Wii Sports comes through the most, and I suspect it will be a continuing art design in future Mii-based titles. The other games have merely suitable visuals. Fishing is the only one that is truly glaring, because its graphics are so pitifully rudimentary, it looks like it took a week to throw together. Music is also a very mixed bag, and again Laser Hockey and Billiards offer the best of the lot with simple, yet appropriately themed and catchy tunes.
In the end it’s hard for me to recommend this game or give it thumbs down—the quality varies so much from game to game. It just depends on how much you want to hold onto those ten dollars. As a tutorial, Wii Play has some good substance and is great for the family to get into. If you already have four Wii remotes, however, there’s not much incentive to picking this one up.