Version tested: Wii
There was no realistic way that the Wii version of System 3's pet project, Ferrari Challenge, was going to improve on the PS3 original - a decent but never particularly memorable racing sim. At the very least, this version of the game deserves some credit for retaining most of the game's features, even if the online play has completely vanished.
Sadly, where the game stumbles in this incarnation is in an area that is bound to cause controversy - the Wii controls. It shouldn't need to be said, but I'm a Wii fan. It's a clever console, a fun console and its focus on simple communal entertainment rather than surface sizzle is a breath of fresh air. It's just not a very good platform for a serious and technical driving sim.
There's a reason why the Wii library favours games like Mario Kart and Excite Truck rather than games in the style of PGR or Gran Turismo. Realistic driving sims require a level of feedback that the Wii's input devices just aren't designed to deliver, and Ferrari Challenge suffers as a result.
Control is either via the remote alone or the remote and nunchuk, and neither feels particularly comfortable or natural for the genre. The joypad simply isn't an option. I habitually keep a GameCube controller plugged in for Virtual Console releases, but Ferrari Challenge refused to even start with this "unsupported device" attached.
Playing with the remote alone is particularly patience-testing, with the two available configuration options unable to place all the functions you need into an intuitive arrangement. It's the motion-sensing that proves fatal, however. There's just not enough precision for a game of this type, and with a game built around heavy steering and hard braking, the remote feels too flimsy and insubstantial for the job. I even clipped it into a Wii Wheel to see if that made the experience more tangible, but to no avail. Tilting a plastic rectangle in mid-air is simply a poor fit for the simulation genre.
Things improve considerably with the nunchuk attached. The controls map to a more instinctive set-up with acceleration on the remote's B trigger, steering on the nunchuk stick while the C and Z buttons are split between handbrake and normal braking. It's no replacement for a proper force feedback wheel, but it's at least possible to concentrate on the racing rather than the controls and start to win events using this mode.
This brings us to the recurring complaint from the original, namely that it's just not that interesting or exciting as a racing game. It gets most things right, as far as physics and handling are concerned, but lacks that ephemeral spark that distinguishes a truly great racer from the herd. It's adequate rather than inspiring, and for a game supposedly built around throbbing passion for a particular brand that's a serious chink in the armour.
Rather handily, Oliver's recent review of GTR: Evolution pretty much nailed everything that's missing from Ferrari Challenge. When he sang the praises of "the Wagnerian clamour of the V8s, the palpable sense of mass in motion, the furious tyre versus road judo" he was eloquently describing the exact same vehicular alchemy that Ferrari Challenge so sorely lacks, particularly in this rather more drab version.
Obviously the visuals aren't going to match up to those in the PS3 version, but the fact they probably wouldn't trouble the PS2 is cause for concern. We know that the Wii is capable of sharper, bright, slicker graphics than this. Instead we get a range of Ferrari cars that look more like plastic toys, rattling around Hornby circuits decorated by crude foliage.
There's damage, but it just looks weird, bending bonnets and bumpers into odd triangular shapes but having no obvious effect on the car itself. The music also warrants special mention, if only for providing a constant backdrop of bland mismatched rock, rap and dance muzak that calls to mind the most generic game soundtracks of the early 1990s.
Everything that wasn't quite right about the PS3 version remains less than inspiring on the Wii, but the game itself is even more lacking in the presentation department. I hate criticising the control in Wii games, because some people will just assume that the Wii has persistent control issues (not true) or that the reviewer is incapable of mastering them (also not true). The simple fact is that the Wii has a unique control system that is a fundamentally poor match for a specialised game with very specific control requirements.
Ferrari Challenge will probably still appeal to Dads eager for something blokey to play during those rare moments when Wii Fit isn't dominating the screen. Under those circumstances, the almost total lack of any other serious racing sims on the platform will probably make this look more appealing than it actually is. If you can get used to the nunchuk and remote as a surrogate wheel then the experience is passable, but nothing more.
5 / 10