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.
Wii Play is about the best reason to pick up an extra Wii remote, unless you have four already. The games are mostly old arcade or NES fare, updated with Wii controls and new graphics. A couple are mediocre in the extreme, while the rest are only passing entertainment. Considering the disc is only 10 extra bucks, I guess you get what you pay for with this collection.
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