Version tested: Wii
In an age when videogame names are getting longer and rarely arrive without at least one colon, it's good to see a title as brisk and instantly understandable as FlingSmash. It's a Ronseal kind of title: you fling a ball and it smashes things. And you'll be doing an awful lot of that from the game's start to its finish, a little over two hours later. Yes, you did read that correctly.
Costing a little more than most Wii games, it comes bundled with the Wii Remote Plus the same size as a standard remote, but with the additional precision of the MotionPlus doohickey that came bundled with Wii Sports Resort and Red Steel 2. The upshot is that the new remote is less heavy and cumbersome, and it functions just as well as if not slightly better than MotionPlus not that you can really tell from this game. An hour on Wii Sports Resort confirms that it works just fine. Here? Not so much.
You play as either Zip or Pip, the ball-shaped heroes tasked with rescuing Eesturn and Suthon Island (Whesstun and Nauthon are presumably unaffected) from a badly-designed evil demon thing called Omminus, who has blighted the land by but of course! showering it with large blocks. Zip has handily been kept in a box since the last time this happened hundreds of years before, and your duty is to use him to smash all the blocks and retrieve all the sacred pearls which protect the island's Great Palm Tree.
As you can see, Artoon has effortlessly maintained the thus-far unblemished record of developers being unable to create an even halfway decent plot for a block-smashing game. Why they continue to try is a mystery for the ages.
Chucking Zip is ostensibly a simple matter of swinging the Wii remote in the appropriate direction. The remote's orientation is shown at the bottom right of the screen, and it responds perfectly to every wrist movement. The trouble is that Zip doesn't.
Because you're not making contact with anything when you swing, the game has to guess the point at which you're hitting the ball. The results are, with crushing inevitability, inconsistent and problematically so. Instead of a more natural flicking motion you're actually best off keeping your wrist locked and moving your whole arm in the right direction. This seems to work a little better, but it feels odd and uncomfortable after a while. Good job nanny Nintendo suggests you take a break after each world.
The controls aren't too much of an issue on the more sedately-paced early worlds. Starting out at hold onto your sides Biginnah Island, you're asked to rescue three of five coins to unlock the all-important pearls at the end of each stage. Coins tend to lie behind several blocks (the challenge being to smash a route through before the level scrolls by) or in areas off the main path, or sometimes even carried by enemies. Whack Omminus during one of his sporadic cameos, and he'll take Zip to the 'dark space' where you need to perform a certain task to earn the coin.
Some blocks require a super-shot to destroy. Zip takes a second or so to charge up one of these, making a 'hnnnnngh' noise that sounds like a supermarket own-brand version of Yoshi's flutter jump and is in no way irritating when you hear it 73 times per level.
Numbered blocks need smashing multiple times before they cough up coins, moving position after each hit, while various power-ups earned by collecting three of the same fruit split Zip into three, increase his size, or give his shots more power. Certain paths are locked with keys, while switches temporarily turn blocks into gems, awarding a substantial points boost. At the end of each stage are five barriers: smash through the moving red sections of them all and you'll earn another score bonus.
In the first four worlds, Artoon makes a half-decent fist of adding variety to this most basic of concepts. One world has you guiding a metallic Zip who needs to make effective use of moving magnets to get anywhere. The next sees our spherical chum shrunk to half his normal size, and minus his super-shot ability. Vertically-scrolling sections and various tricks and traps make the coins slightly harder to get as you progress, while the dragons which snap at your heels should you spend too long lining up a shot get quicker and more aggressive.
Not that you should worry about them too much, as lives are fairly easy to come by. Collect 100 stars and you earn an extra heart, and it wasn't until the penultimate world that I lost one. The stars also contribute towards your level ranking: in what is presumably a savage satirical swipe at the grade-grasping standards of the modern educational system, the lowest rank you can earn is a B. Get an A for each of the three levels in each world and you'll unlock an extra mini-game, offering you guessed it more flinging and smashing.
The S ranks are surprisingly tricky to obtain, theoretically adding replay value. But for a high score chase to be enjoyable, it needs a level of accuracy the controls simply don't provide. Some of the scores required to reach the top grade are incredibly exacting and a single lucky ricochet can be the difference between a great score and a bad one.
By the time the final two worlds have rolled around, your heart will be as heavy as your throwing arm which is obviously the perfect time for the game to start getting cheap. An underwater world sees the pursuing dragon periodically unleash an attack which, should Zip be caught in the current, instantly shoots him off the side of the screen at the loss of a heart. It's relatively easy to avoid when the controls are working, but an unfortunate bounce or a misread motion can lead to frustration.
The multi-form final boss, meanwhile, is a ludicrous difficulty spike. One particular attack is more often avoided through luck than judgement, and it was only thanks to the seven hearts I farmed from earlier levels that I managed to finish the game.
According to the PR blurb, FlingSmash apparently "combines the hands-on fun of tennis with the non-stop action of pinball", but it's more like the arm-knack of the former coupled with the infuriating randomness of the latter. As a showcase for the hardware it's bundled with, it's a complete failure, and even given its brevity it feels like as much of a waste of time as it is a waste of money. If you absolutely must have a Wii Remote Plus, then buy it separately. FlingSmash's title might be short, snappy and to the point, but the game itself only manages the first of those three.
3 / 10