It's almost undeniable that Nintendo has the original Wii Sports to thank for much of the success its console is having in North America. It was a brilliant move to bundle this sports-focused tech demo with every system – the five sports (well, four…boxing is the pits) show off the motion controls of the Wii remote very well in a simplistic package designed specifically to attract a new kind of gamer. Wii Sports might not have offered the same experience hardcore audiences expect in today's console market, but the pack-in continues to be the driving force behind a system purchase, and in many unfortunate cases, it's the only game Wii owners possess.
Wii Sports also showed off the remote's motion limitations: the five sports games demonstrated that even with the built-in accelerometers the Wii remote wasn't as versatile as Nintendo may have advertised. Just play Wii Sports boxing and you can see all the problems bubble to the surface. In the background, Nintendo's research and development team tooled away on a future accessory called the Wii Motion Plus, a device that plugs into the bottom of a Wii Remote and recognizes motion far more accurately than the standard controller does, offering developers the opportunity to create games that feature incredibly sensitive motion control and not just mindless waggle. It makes all the sense in the world for Nintendo to debut this peripheral in a sequel to its most popular game, Wii Sports Resort.
Wii Sports Resort is, at its core, a very good tech demo of the capabilities of Wii Motion Plus in a package that will appeal to the same exact people that love the original Wii Sports. Nintendo didn't go far beyond the original's presentation or visual style – it's just as simple and pick-up-and-play to appease that same non-hardcore crowd. I'm certainly not complaining about this direction: the basic design is really the reason why so many people have played and still play the original game. It's also fantastic that Nintendo bulked up the load of sports for its sequel: five wouldn't have cut it for the follow-up. Now we're up to a dozen. Granted two – Bowling and Golf – are Wii Sports repeats that have been enhanced with Wii Motion Plus capabilities, but the rest are new and a majority of the games are really solid Wii remote game designs that, for the most part, couldn't have been done without the Wii Motion Plus attachment.
Watch the video review of Wii Sports Resort.
The star of the show is easily Swordplay, a game that will no doubt inspire LucasArts to give us the Star Wars lightsaber game that Wii owners have so desperately craved since the Wii's inception. Swordplay starts out with a basic "American Gladiators" one-on-one design against a human or computer opponent where the task is to simply whack the other character off the platform into the drink. I've seen some reviews that claim that there's very little depth in this mode and, like many Wii classic motion games, the strategy of random waggle seems to work best. I wholly disagree, and I actually commend Nintendo for putting a good amount of strategy into such a simple design. The game not only encourages defensive play but almost requires it: if a striking player hits your sword in defense it'll open him up for attack. And you can't just block willy-nilly, either: a vertical block can be bypassed with a vertical strike, so it's important to read how your opponent is holding his sword in the defensive position. The only real downside to the one-on-one play: when both players are practiced and highly skilled, the duel portion tends to end in a draw since it's a timed event.
Swordplay has two other modes attached to it: a fun two player option called "speed slice" where players attack an object with a single swing in a specific direction, and an even more fun single player mode called "showdown," where players work their way through hundreds of attacking Mii characters without taking more than three hits in a round. All three modes in Swordplay are excellent designs and easily the best of the Wii Sports Resort.
If I were to rank the second best game in the bunch, my choice would have to be Table Tennis. Like Tennis in Wii Sports, Table Tennis is a simplified version of the sport where players control the swing but not the person behind it – all walking movement is handled automatically. The Wii Motion Plus opens up much tighter control for Table Tennis, giving players more direct control over the paddle and much better handling of the ball's spin. To properly hit the ball players will actually have to swing with the Wii Remote on the proper side of their on-screen body. The rules set might be oddly represented in the Wii Sports Resort version of table tennis, but the gameplay is top notch. The true downside is the lack of a doubles mode. You can only play this solo or with two players. Three and four players have to sit out.
Third on my list is what's considered "Frisbee," a two-pack of challenges that are both equally fun to play. Frisbee Dog is played more for accuracy where players throw the disc as close to the target as possible as a Mii-like puppy fetches after it. Getting a grasp on the throwing motion is incredibly important, and it really shows just how sensitive the Wii Motion Plus adapter is: the thing recognizes effort and angle, and after a bit of practice don't be surprised when you find yourself throwing arcs that almost boomerang around into position. The second mode, Frisbee Golf, is exactly what it sounds like, but replace the club and ball with the novelty throwing disc, and play them on the same 18 holes that are available in the standard golf game. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 may have beaten Nintendo to the punch with this mode and its Wii Motion Plus support, but the two can co-exist peacefully: Nintendo's design is a little more forgiving than EAs, offering a much larger target to shoot for. But it feels cleaner and tighter as well, having more satisfying physics attached to the thrown disc.
Archery has turned into a surprisingly fun experience in the bundle. It may not be the most energetic of the bunch but it's certainly one of the more challenging and definitely one that shows just how sensitive the Wii Motion Plus can be. By holding the Wii Remote upright, players fire arrows at a target using the Nunchuk's Z trigger as the string: aim by raising and lowering the "bow" Wii Remote, and release the arrow by letting go of the Z button. Harder challenges require players to read height, distance, and windspeed, all the while dealing with a moving target rolling left to right on a track. Look out for hidden targets scattered along the field, something Gallagher would have aimed for back in the '80s…
Powercruising offers the most promise but is definitely one of the games that's the biggest letdown in its features list. It's essentially inspired by Nintendo's own Wave Race and uses the Wii Remote and Nunchuk as handlebars to the vehicle, and tilting left and right moves your watercraft along the course. Single player challenges are just timed slalom courses, and Vs. races end sooner than you'd expect. The game never meets its potential – the water effects are excellent and allow players to really get some air in places, but this is not Wave Race. Maybe it was never intended to be, but it's hard not being just a little letdown by just how limited this mode really is. At least you can choose to cruise around the island at your own pace.
Wakeboarding is the second of three "water" focused sports, where players simply use the Wii Remote in "classic" orientation and weave back and forth to get air off the waves produced by the boat tugging you along. This game is fun but probably the most basic of all the sports in Wii Sports Resort. The challenge isn't getting air or performing tricks, it's tilting the Wii Remote at just
the right angle to land flat on the water. Only then will you earn the points for the performed, canned trick.
The final "water" sport (harhar) is Canoeing. It's slow-paced but surprisingly amusing: holding the Wii Remote upright, players stroke to the left or right of their body to propel through the water. It's a much better multiplayer experience since two, three, or four players are on the same screen trying to work their way through the course, with the camera pulling back to show everyone on the same screen. This is probably the best (and only) four player simultaneous sport in the bundle.
Basketball is really just a Wii Motion Plus representation of those "pop a shot" arcade machines, where you pick up balls and shoot them as rapid-fire as the game allows. It's really hard to say if Wii Motion Plus is really doing anything here – it's more about timing the thrusts of the remote to your on-screen character's jump shot. This unlocks a three-on-three basketball mode using the same mechanics, but it's all so clunky and predictable. It's certainly playable and there's a layer of challenge here, but Basketball is definitely Wii Sports Resort's weaker events.
But nothing's as weak as Cycling. This is the "space filler" of the Wii Sports Resort bunch, and really doesn't feel like it belongs in the pack at all. This game is as bad as some of the third-party Wii Sports rip-off compiliations, with players controlling their bikes by "pedaling," or waggling the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, then steering by leaning left and right. There's nothing redeeming or fun here – it's just a frustrating mess of a design that makes the dreadful Wii Sports boxing feel like a classic in comparison.
The two "repeat" sports are Golf and Bowling, two already wonderful Wii Sports games that have been enhanced with Wii Motion Plus control. Bowling feels a little more natural and doesn't stray too far from what's already been done in Wii Sports. There is a handicap option for those who couldn't quite get a grip on the idea that "releasing B releases the ball," but for those already skilled in the original title you can simply turn that option off. This bowling also builds off the awesome "100 pin" challenge of Wii Sports by turning every
frame into the 100 pin challenge, making it possible for players to score a perfect 3000 game with 12 strikes. Golf adds 9 more holes and tighter control that actually tracks backswing and enables better control over hooks and slices, but for the most part Golf remains the same.
Finally, there's Air Sports, Nintendo's "tease" for fans of the classic Pilotwings. It's clear that the designers were inspired by Nintendo's Super NES and Nintendo 64 games when producing this mode, and it's almost frustrating to play this and not have a true sequel yet. Air sports features skydiving, a fun little mini-game where you twist, tilt and turn the Wii Remote to link up with other skydivers, then altering the formation to take a photo in a proper, score-earning position. Island Flyover is exactly what it sounds like: holding the Wii Remote like a paper airplane, you'll simply cruise around the Wii Sports Resort Island (called WuHu Island…remember it) locating points of interest. The more items you find, the more features unlock. The third mode offers the most promise, but again, Nintendo fails to meet the expectations: Dogfighting is for two players in split-screen mode, cruising around the island shooting at each other trying to deflate the other players' balloon. If you've ever played any "deathmatch" type game, these modes are better with more players and are slightly lame with only a second person in the fight. Same thing here: sure, it's fun taking down your opponent, but without an extra player or two, the strategy and intensity is incredibly limited.
Just like Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort is a great demonstration of the capabilities of the controller, but it also demonstrates its limitations. In this case, the Wii Motion Plus is a bit more temperamental than you may expect: there are plenty of opportunities for it to get out of whack, especially in the more extensive challenges like Swordplay's Showdown. For games that use Wii Motion Plus for hand position, like Table Tennis and Swordplay, Nintendo uses the sensor bar for calibration, but any infrared pollution can trick the game into thinking the sensor bar is behind you. When things get totally out of whack it can get a little disorienting – Nintendo makes it easy to right the problems (just push down on the D-pad), but this definitely complicates things far more than Wii Sports ever did. Add on top the need for the system to recheck the calibration by setting the controller down on a flat surface for a few seconds, and you've made things far less pick-up-and-play. Hopefully Nintendo's prepared for the phonecalls.
Visually, Nintendo sticks with that simple style used in Wii Sports and expanded in Wii Fit, Wii Music, and Wii Play. But look a little closer and you can see that there's a lot going on. Sharp texture work, great physics like rag doll and water effects, and even some depth-of-field focus that gives the game's look a great amount of polish.
Nintendo definitely kept the expectations rooted down into the original Wii Sports' presentation. Each sport ranks the players' Mii on a 1000 point scale (higher than that and you're a "pro"). New to this game is a "Stamp" system, a clear nod to Xbox 360's "achievements" and PlayStation 3's "trophies." These accomplishment rewards are definitely challenging to earn, but they do lose a bit of impact when you realize they're only going to be shown to people who play on your system. Notes will be placed in your system's message board, and Wii Sports Resort's "attract mode" will document all the special achievements in a cool fly-over of the island, but that's as far as Nintendo goes with this option. Hopefully the company will take this "Stamp" system and apply it to other games…and maybe turn it into something that Wii owners can show off in an online presence.
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