Version tested: Wii
According to the press blurb, EA Playground "captures the exuberance and nostalgia of your neighborhood playground". The clue is in the spelling of the word "neighborhood", as it indicates the author of that sentence grew up in a nice clean North American suburb. They've clearly never been to our neighbourhood playground, where "exuberance" translates as 12 year-old drug dealers throwing dried-up dog eggs at each other.
There are no dog eggs in EA Playground. It's a nice clean collection of mini-games for the Wii. It's aimed at kiddies and families and up to four players can join in. Unfortunately, just as it is devoid of dog eggs, it is devoid of any charm, humour, depth or challenge. It is to Wii Sports what Jimmy Carr is to Will Self.
There are seven mini-games in total. First up is Dodgeball, where two teams of three characters throw balls at each other. You thrust the remote upwards to shoot and swing left or right to dodge, and (assuming you're not in the single-player story mode - more on that later) you can catch balls and pull off mega throws and so on. It's incredibly tedious, with a lot of stand-offs where some players are just waiting for others to throw balls, and there isn't much skill involved.
Slot Car Racing is a virtual Scalextric game. There are boosters and turbo pads and power-ups, and you steer your car by twisting the remote left and right. It sort of works, but it feels like the cars are on rails so winning is more down to luck than how good you are at controlling your vehicle.
Off the ball
Tetherball (or Swingball as it's know in real life) is the dullest of the lot. You swing the remote left or right to hit a ball on a string at your opponent. You can press buttons to perform special hits and send the ball higher or lower. This does not add much excitement to the proceedings. Similarly, in Wall Ball, you're just patting a ball against a wall, half-heartedly swinging the remote to do so. The lack of skill involved means rallies can go on for ages, ending only when someone slips into a coma.
The most complex mini-game is a football effort titled Kicks. Two teams take part, each restricted to their side of the pitch. You can do headers and fake kicks and other moves so players have more options than in any of the other games, and this means Kicks has the most depth. However, it's still dull after you've been playing for a while.
Dart Shootout is one of the more enjoyable mini-games. You aim with the remote, flicking it up and down to reload, and you can perform a Mega Shot once you've filled your meter. Targets appear thick and fast and there are some nice variations where you have to defeat a boss or shoot down incoming darts. It's not innovative in any way, but it's fun for a bit.
The best game in the collection is Paper Racers. Here, you hold the remote like a paper plane and tilt it to steer. You must guide the plane through an obstacle course in a race to the finish, just like in The Krypton Factor only ladies don't get a head start because of high heels. Paper Racers is the only game which feels like it involves skill, and the only one which makes use of the Wii remote in an interesting way.
Mini-games are always more fun with multiple players, but EA Playground also features a single-player mode. You pick a character (you can't import Miis, disappointingly) and wander round a virtual playground. Chat to other characters and they'll offer you to play you in one of the mini-games you've probably already exhausted in multiplayer.
But there's a twist! But it's a rubbish one. Ridiculously, not all the moves you can perform are unlocked at the start of the single-player game. You have to complete challenges, collect marbles you find lying around and buy stickers to access them all. So for example, you can't perform special moves in Kicks till you've unlocked them, which makes the game even more boring.
It doesn't help that the whole thing looks revolting. The characters are freakish and charmless due to their enormous heads and rictus grins. Everything is done in horrible pastels, like they gave a pack of coloured chalks to a bulimic and used the results as a mood board. Just to top it off, the frame-rate's dodgy in places.
In short, EA Playground is fun for neither kids nor adults. The mini-games don't have the depth of those in Wii Sports or the quirky innovations of those in Wario Ware. The visuals don't have the appeal or charm of a Disney/Pixar game, or even that one about the puppets in the garden Tom likes so much. There are much better collections of mini-games for the Wii out there. This one should be avoided like a big fat dog egg.
3 / 10