The Wii’s primary audience consists of young children, baby boomers and senior citizens—fact. Very few people in this audience have ever played a video game before the Wii, or realize that the scope of gaming goes beyond Pac-Man and Mario Brothers—fact. The casual audience’s general ignorance of gaming and what it can be allows publishers to sell loads of derivative shovelware on the Wii, taking the old copy-paste approach to Nintendo’s party games and a few of the other top-tier family titles. As a result, quality software on the Wii, in any category, has been scarce. I don’t like it, you probably don’t like it, but those are the facts, and as John Adams said, facts are stubborn things.
When it comes to reviewing yet another party game for the Wii, these facts make it hard for me to stay objective—I’m inclined to write off anything with “party” in the title from the word-go, but that wouldn’t be honest. That’s why I give something like Squeeballs a chance, a game that looks like it’s trying to add some color and personality to the homogenous minigame genre.
The idea behind Squeeballs is at least original. You are a quality assurance tester on an island, at a toy factory where the Squeeballs are manufactured. Your job is to literally torture-test the cute, roughly spherical creatures in a battery of minigame evaluations. These minigames are divided into eleven categories:.
10-pin bowling is functionally a carbon copy of Wii Sports Bowling. It plays almost exactly the same, except you can add spin to the ball while it’s rolling by twisting the Wii remote, and of course you’re bowling for Squeeballs.
In Cannon, Squeeballs are fired at the screen from a large cannon, and you have to whack them with a tennis racket, sometimes a certain distance, sometimes into bombs planted around the field.
Cooking is a twisted take on Cooking Mama, where you roll, mince, chop and meat-grind Squeeballs to make a recipe for a hungry, horned monster Squeeball.
Paint by Squeeballs is one of the funnier games—you use a slingshot to fire the little creatures at a canvas, and they “paint” it different colors when they go splat.
Shock is rather sadistic. You must guide a ring over an irregularly shaped wire with the remote pointer. If you reach the end of the wire without touching the wire and losing charge, you’ll fry the Squeeball trapped in a glass container until there’s nothing left but a pair of eyeballs.
Stampede is pretty funny too, if unoriginal. Basically a horde of Squeeballs charges over a snowy landscape and you must blast them into paste or crush them by hitting snowmen and dropping icicles on them. The game ends when the Squeeballs cover the screen and smother you.
Crazy Lanes has you bowling again, but along a twisting lane suspended over lava. Once you release the ball you guide it with the Wii remote pointer, over obstacles and around the turns in the lane, until you once again knock over a set of Squeeball pins.
Feeding Frenzy is a strange mash-up of Cooking and Stampede. You play in the same snowy arena but this time the horned monsters are charging at you, and you must use the D-pad to launch different colors of Squeeballs into their mouths, depending on the color of the monster.
In Pumping a Squeeball’s nose is attached to a bicycle pump, and you must inflate him with air, then release him like a rapidly deflating balloon. As he flies you guide him through rings to a target. Some challenges require you to rupture the poor Squeeball a certain number of times.
Golf, oddly enough, is almost nothing like Wii Sports Golf. You swing a Squeeball as hard as you can and then guide him with the pointer, skipping him off the water until you reach a target. Wind direction and strength greatly affects your accuracy.
The final game is the Squeeball Testing Belt. As different Squeeballs roll along a conveyor belt you must perform different actions with the Wii remote, depending on which Squeeball rolls by. Waving the remote in different directions will smash, slice, punch or pop the hapless Squeeballs.As you can gather, most of these games, or at least their basic ideas, have been "borrowed" from Nintendo’s party game offerings or the innumerable Wii Sports imitators that have been on store shelves for years. The label on the front of the box promises over 150 minigames, but these turn out to be small variations on the 11 main games. Each game has its own challenge ladder and as you play more challenges new ladders are unlocked until you have all 11, but once you’ve unlocked them all there’s little incentive to keep playing. Some of the variations they’ve gotten out of these 11 concepts are admittedly creative and fun, but each ladder has you doing essentially the same thing, just with different requirements.
Squeeballs Party also falls prey to the waggle curse that has plagued so many minigame collections before it. Several of the challenges, especially Cooking, Cannon and Golf, require that you fling your arms around like a madman, usually to complete a task in a give time limit. I tested out different gestures in Cooking, and small movements really don’t get the job done—you have to spin your arm in a giant vigorous circle to do something as simple as grinding pepper or stirring soup. Small movements do register but don’t finish the tasks nearly fast enough to satisfy the ticking timer. Cannon has similar problems, requiring a hard swing of the remote to register anything stronger than a light tap of the racket. With so many minigames out there containing disconnected waggle, Squeeballs doesn’t do much to differentiate itself.
It’s the personality of the Squeeballs themselves that keeps the game entertaining. Each of the 11 ladders has an accompanying pre-rendered intro movie. These shorts are well done and humorous, but I’m a little unsure of the “family fun” intentions of the developers. The Squeeballs are all very cute little creatures and most of the minigames have you doing unspeakable things to them. I almost felt guilty zapping the daylights out of them, or grinding them into sausages, or feeding them to monsters. They look like cuddly stuffed animals—the publisher, PDP, even offers some plush Squeeballs—but in the game you do some pretty sadistic stuff to them. The violence never goes beyond Bugs Bunny levels but it’s still disconcerting.
Unfortunately the game’s humor reminded me of the Raving Rabbids games. The Squeeballs act and sound an awful lot like the Rabbids, but the Rabbids are intentionally annoying and that’s why it’s so much fun to torment them. I liked the toy factory idea behind Squeeballs but the execution steals too much from the Rabbids to be original, and the cuteness of the Squeeballs makes it a little uncomfortable.
Squeeballs couldn’t call itself a party game without including a multiplayer. The four player mode is a pass-the-controller affair which I found a little disappointing, but in retrospect I’m not sure how most of the games would work four-player simultaneous. There is a head-to-head mode for two players, but again only some of the games can be played at the same time.
I’d like to give Squeeballs Party a little extra credit for being a budget priced game, but the hard truth is that there are so many games exactly like it. There are dozens of party-themed minigame collections on the Wii, most of them featuring generically cute characters, and promising accessibility through the Wii remote’s motion controls. Instead of intuitive interactivity, they offer unresponsive arm-flailing that scarcely imitates the action happening on-screen. These party games also steal a lot of their gameplay from the handful of good party games like Wii Sports or the Rabbids series, but don’t do it as well. Squeeballs unfortunately is guilty of all these flaws. The goofiness of the Squeeballs makes the characters endearing and the graphics, sound and music used to present them aren’t that bad, but the cartoony theme and humor of the game aren’t enough to overcome bland gameplay.
If you own a Wii you almost definitely own Wii Sports, Wii Play or Wii Sports Resort, and as a result you really don’t need any other party games or minigame collections. Few imitators add anything new or do it better than Nintendo’s offerings. I hoped Squeeballs would be something out of the ordinary but it’s mostly more of the same. It’s not a bad party game, just not a unique or interesting one.