It’s no secret that the Wii owes it’s mammoth success to Wii Sports – that little pack-in tech demo that single-handedly converted a legion of non-gamers into the fold and helped propel Nintendo’s dark horse to the head of the pack. Simply put, Wii Sports proved that anybody could game and those who had either been turned off by video games or turned away by increasingly complex control systems suddenly found themselves enjoying games as a communal activity. So it was during that holiday season 2006, that Nintendo caught the gaze of the non-gaming community who regarded the company with renewed interest. Watching someone swing their arms with wild abandon in a hard fought round of Wii Tennis, these neophytes looked on with growing interest and thought to themselves, “I could do that.”
For better or for worse, so too did some game developers.
Roughly a year and a half into the Wii’s life cycle, one glance at the system’s catalog finds a large number of Wii Sports clones. Each offers a collection of a mini-games designed around a themed activity (winter sports, sandlot games, etc) that employs the Wii waggle controls. These games live and die on the execution of the mini-game, the tightness of the controls and the execution of a fun party game atmosphere.
The latest sports compilation, Summer Sports – Paradise Island, comes from developer Destineer Games. As the title hints, this game is a compilation of various summer sports including Miniature Golf, Basketball, Lawn Darts, Croquet, Volleyball, Badminton and Horseshoes. Each game is designed to be played for anywhere from 1 to 4 players and as par for his type of game compilation, the more players, the merrier.
There are a number of games in this package that are deviations of the games found in Wii Sports. Miniature Golf features nine island-themed holes and is an extension of the putting mechanic found in Wii Sports golf. Also, Croquet shares a lot in common with the Miniature Golf game with the player holding the croquet mallet in a similar stance as a golf club and whacking the ball throughout the course. Badminton is similar to Wii Sports Tennis in terms of control technique. In addition, Horseshoes and Lawn Darts employ the underhanded tossing technique utilized in Wii Sports Bowling.
It’s not all variations of the Wii Sports theme though with some new game types added to the mix. Basketball offers two different courts and three modes, including HORSE, Around the World and Shot Clock. And Beach Volleyball allows up to four players to serve, set and spike the ball using the Wii controls.
The entire package is dressed up in a tropical theme – with Paradise Island playing host to the various activities. Players select an activity by reviewing the island map and then choose an islander as their Avatar for use in playing the game. The goal is to beat your opponent and to try and best your high scores, with special trophies being awarded for exceptional scores.
The breezy island motif permeates every facet of the game, from the menus that look scrawled on a cabana wall to the steel drums providing the soundtrack as you work through the menus and play through the challenges.
It’s clear that this game was designed for multiplayer as there is not much in the way of a campaign mode for a solo gamer. Outside of the trophies that are awarded for high scores, there really isn’t much to keep the single gamer entertained for a long time. That’s an important note to keep in mind when considering a purchase as this game is clearly designed for parties.
The Wii deserves better than these sub-par PS2 character models. In fact, I’d take the armless Miis over these stilted synthespians any day of the week. The Miis have charm. While every facet of the game is drenched in that tropical island aesthetic, the graphics and character animations are pretty poor and repetitive. Some of the backgrounds are inventive (the mini-golf course designs look nice and inviting) but the moment the characters start to move in their herky jerky animation, any thoughts of a pleasant vacation at this destination are quickly dashed. There’s really no excuse for the game’s appearance – the Wii is capable of much more power than these lazy developers are looking to mine from it.
Controls are key for these cookie-cutter Wii sports compilations. If the controls are off than it’s likely the game won’t be much fun to play. Suffice it to say, the poor controls kill this game. The golf swing mechanic is not one-to-one – with the user struggling to get the exact amount of power required for precision putts. Not once could I intuitively make a putt with the exact amount of speed required – and it felt as if the game just arbitrarily selected my power no matter how far back I pulled my arm. Even the slightest movement will send the ball flying with no rhyme nor reason of how to accurately control the action. The same goes for the other game modes, with basketball being a prime offender. No matter how hard I simulated a shot, my ball failed to get close to the basket. It did pick up my dribbles but that was really just a gimmicky move for show. The IR recognition is pretty tight making menu manipulation a snap. If only the game controls were as sharp.
As I mentioned in the interface section, this type of game is won or lost based on its control. With broken controls on almost every game mode, the gameplay is abysmal. Solo play is boring – the lack of a campaign mode makes replay undesirable. In the group setting, the only thing more frustrating than the broken controls is the party guests complaining about them.
The sound FX are fairly generic – with sounds that match the various sports (the whack of the ball in mini-golf, the thump of the basketball on the court) accompanying various island sounds (tropical birds caw, the surf roars in). It all feels plucked from some standard Sound FX media library. Again, nothing amazing to report but nothing offensive either.
The steel-drum symphony and calypso tunes stood out at first – putting me in a nice relaxed mood and reaching for the Mai Tai – until I realized how often they repeated. Some of the tracks seem to be on a 10 second loop and sound vaguely like they were ripped from one of those tropical themed puzzle games (think Zuma). With a noticeable cut where the tracks loop, these tunes will quickly get in your head and rip you away from your fantasy island adventure.
This game should be easy but isn’t due to broken control. The difficulty comes squarely from an inability to play these games the way they were meant to be played. It’s not pick-up-and-play if you can’t just pick-up-and-play it without wanting to fire the controller through your plasma.
The success of the Wii has led to too much of this shovelware with lazy developers taking a ‘me too’ approach and simply grabbing a handful of games, slapping some motion controls on it and then taking advantage of the casual gamers who really LOVED Wii Sports and will buy even more sports compilations thinking they are going to get something of the same quality as Nintendo’s launch title. To add insult to injury, Destineer is retailing this for $39.99 – easily $20 more than the title deserves to sell for. Wii Sports may have driven the Wii’s success but too many titles like Summer Sports – Paradise Island could hurry its demise.