Wii Play from Nintendo is designed as a complementary piece to the Wii remote. The compilation of nine varying minis comes packaged with the peripheral for $49.99 -- or approximately $10 more than a standalone pointer. The price is definitely right and for good reason: Wii Play is incredibly shallow; in fact, by comparison it makes the already-flimsy Wii Sports look like a Zelda adventure in scope. Wii Play's mini-games are designed to last for minutes at a time and not hours, which is one of its shortcomings. That being true, for about the price of a movie ticket, it's much easier to forgive any of the project's weaknesses and embrace its strengths, even if they are short-lived.
Naysayers said Wii Sports was nothing but a "technical demo," an argument that we defended again and again because it was only half true. The title definitely debuted the fundamental mechanics of the Wii remote and simultaneously showcased its potential. For those very reasons, yes, it was a technical demo of sorts. But its existence was not restricted to these purposes. It was also a fun game in its own right and, indeed, continues to be one of the most-played and most-loved offerings on the Wii console. In hindsight, if Nintendo had released Wii Sports for a moderate price, we would have certainly recommended it as a standalone affair.
Wii Play, on the other hand, possesses neither the depth nor the inspired gameplay mechanics to stand as a true videogame or, for that matter, on its own merit. It feels much more like a technical demo, albeit a robust one.
The title is comprised of nine mini-games, each of which can be blown through in a matter of minutes. In Shooting Range, which is a poor man's Duck Hunt, you use the pointer to shoot down targets, cans, and even flying saucers, but rarely do you actually get to pick off ducks. If you therefore played Duck Hunt so many years ago and are hoping that the experience is duplicated in Wii Play, you will very likely be disappointed because the nostalgia element is only vaguely tethered to the mini-game. It really looks and plays much more like a Duck Hunt tease. On top of that, the target controls, while accurate, are less responsive and intuitive than those in similar shooting-style modes in Wario Ware. And with only five targeting levels to mention, all of them over in less than a minute, the mode is kaput well before you've become a true gunslinger.
In Laser Hockey, one of the more stylized games in Wii Play, you take part in a colorful, psychedelic version of the classic Pong, the difference being that you use the Wii remote to control your on-screen paddle. The presentation is simple, but it looks very clean and polished. Meanwhile, it's got very catchy music that changes dynamically as you score points against the CPU-controlled opponent. You can move your paddle around on your side of the screen and even tilt the remote to add angle to your shots. It works well
most of the time. However, the control is not consistent and if you try for grand movements - adding extra power to a return, for instance - you may completely miss the ball or accidentally send it ricocheting backward into your goal. Meanwhile, the computer AI is ridiculously forgiving; we averaged scores of 10-0 against the opponent before the brief matches came to an abrupt end.
You simply volley the ball back and forth in Table Tennis. The AI doesn't lose and so the real goal is to see how many times you can return its shot. The speed of each match increases as you return more balls, so when you're 70 returns in, you'll be moving at a really quick pace. It's incredibly basic and yet it is also fun, mostly because the controls do what you want them to and you feel as though you're fully in charge of your paddle.
In Billiards, you play a classic game of pool using the Wii remote. It's a seemingly perfect fit for the peripheral because you can merely point to any spot on the cue ball that you want to hit, easily adding forward, backward or side-directional spin. Then, you hold the B trigger, pull back and then push forward the Wii remote to make your shot. Oftentimes, this method is both accurate and responsive, which gives us hope for a deeper pool game down the road. Unfortunately though, your gestures aren't consistently recognized as they should be and so you'll sometimes have to retake your shot until your off-screen gestures trigger your on-screen action.
As you play through some of these games, a common inadequacy becomes evident. Most of the offerings are fun when the controls are as responsive as they should be, but sometimes control issues interfere with the experience. In Laser Hockey, you can't seem to add power without missing the ball with the paddle; in Billiards, your gestures may not be recognized. These deficiencies scratch away at what would otherwise be a very simple, but nevertheless polished presentation. Meanwhile, every inclusion in the package shares one common trait, which is that they're shallow, delivering only minimal depth.
And yet there are some standouts. Despite some control issues where power shots are concerned, we found ourselves mostly enjoying Laser Hockey, especially as a two-player game. Meanwhile, Wii Play's best game, Tanks!, is an updated version of the classic Atari project Combat. You and a friend pilot tanks around a 2D battlefield and attempt to shoot down enemy vehicles. Tanks! is the only title in Wii Play that utilizes both the Wii remote and nunchuk. You use the nunchuk for steering and the Wii remote for aiming at on-screen enemies. The mode features two-player semi-cooperative play where the goals are to both destroy the enemies and also earn more points than your buddy. The controls handle beautifully and the end experience is very enjoyable. It's one of those games that will have both players laughing and shouting at each other as they advance. For some, Tanks! may all on its own be worth the price of Wii Play. Wii Play also includes Find Mii, in which you must search a crowd to match sets of the same faces. Riveting stuff. Find Mii is probably the game that least requires the Wii remote in the package. There's Mii Pose, in which you twist and turn Mii characters to fit into various scrolling silhouettes. It's mildly entertaining and increases in difficulty the farther you progress. There's Fishing, which describes the selection perfectly; you use the Wii remote to control a fishing rod - catch a fish, yank back on the peripheral and earn points. And finally, there's Charge!, the only mini in Wii Play that asks you to hold the remote on its side, classic style. Here you tilt forward and backward to send a cow running or slowing respectively; the object is to collect items and jump fences. Some of these additions are better than others. The Fishing game in particular becomes tedious in a matter of seconds, not minutes.
Although most of the minis last only for minutes at a time, there are some reasons to come back. The better you become, the more points you're likely to earn and you will eventually unlock bronze, silver and gold medals for each mode. That noted, it's not terribly difficult to rank. We nabbed gold medals in five minis in about a half hour. In two-player mode, you will see your two Mii characters on-screen before each match and as you play and start to win or lose, the Mii in the lead will be represented on-screen as a giant while the loser's Mii decreases in size. They also interact with each other in funny ways and even fall asleep if you leave the title screen idling.
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