I've just got back from an exciting four-hour holiday in Germany. I went to Frankfurt, where I was guided into a room full of televisions and allowed to play some of WiiWare's upcoming titles.
The brief was to write "a couple of paragraphs" on everything that was new and exciting, I rebelled against the dogmatic remits of interest and quality, and decided to produce this, an unforgivably overlong top ten. It's an abuse of the infinity of the internet, and a violation of the patience of Eurogamer readers. If it's any consolation to you, the viewer who has suffered my babble for even this opening paragraph, I feel obliged to say that I didn't get paid for the last two thousand words. I did it because I love you.
So, here's the top ten WiiWare games I played on my holiday in Frankfurt.
10. Squibs Arcade
- Developer: Alten8
- Screenshot gallery
In any thrilling top ten countdown, starting at number ten is a curse. No one cares about number ten, and the impulse to use the word "languishing" is overwhelming. Where else do you get to use words like languishing, than at position X in a Top X list?
Squibs Arcade languishes defiantly, though - if the big names of gaming aren't ready for satirical deconstruction, then they'd better prepare themselves for a gentle, loving slap. Squibs Arcade (500 Wii Points, out next month) boils down nine Triple-A titles into their rudimentary elements, and fits them onto an eighties LCD screen. Gun Cogs marks stark the similarity between Gears of War's "innovative" cover system, and those white blocks on Space Invaders. Lots of Levelling genuinely recreates the sense of bewildered futility that's 25-75 per cent of all MMOs (depending on which one you're playing), and Jack A Motor successfully replicates GTA's themes of running over policemen and, erm, cats.
It's a game you'll want to show everyone, just for the nice in-jokes for everyone who was there the first time around. Scratched-off stickers, lost and swapped battery covers, and the battered, scratched cases. It's also something that'll infuriate you into a fit of explosive hives when family members say, "oh I remember this, this is when games used to be good". Short-term depthless novelty, yes. But be honest - if they physically made these games, you'd probably buy them.
So now, I'm looking forward to a BioShock 2 Pocketeer - sort it out, PRs - although I do feel obliged to point out TIGSource's Bootleg Demakes competition of last year. It's a similar concept, only with 69 games, 8-bit gameplay, and they're all completely free.
9. Crystal Defenders R1
- Developer: Square Enix
- Screenshot gallery
Slumming it at number nine is Square Enix's Crystal Defenders. Not because it's a bad game - more because it's a straight up tower defence game. They might be the first in the Wii paid download tower defence market [they're not actually - Ed], but it only really adds the Final Fantasy bestiary and classes to a Flash game.
In twenty minutes play, I didn't have time to gauge the minutiae of unit balance and professionally assess the difficulty curve. However, it does give me an opportunity to be brief on number eight - just read the reviews for the XBLA version.
8. Robocalypse - Beaver Defense
- Developer: Vogster
- Screenshot gallery
Arbitrarily dropped in at number eight for the purposes of thematic continuity (and making a mockery of the ordinal integrity of this top ten, in the process) is the slightly more interesting tower defence game, Robocalypse - Beaver Defence.
It features, right, this big-brained beaver who's been mutated by radioactive waste, and rejected by the beaver community thanks to his newfound obsession with hoarding weaponry and attacking robots. The storyline is written by Jay Lender, who worked on Spongebob Squarepants, if that makes you any happier.
It scores over Crystal Defenders in a couple of ways - you can issue commands mid-wave to a hero unit, making waves more interactive, and the waves of beaver-controlled robots don't stick to a rigid path. However, with just four towers - two of which weren't available to play in Frankfurt - it was worryingly slim on tactics, and I found myself able to max out my turrets without much sense of fiscal restraint.
Multiplayer is an interesting addition, but it's not aggressive - you don't get to split your time between defending your base and attacking your opponent. Instead, it's a case of play the same waves at the same time, and see who lives longest. More aggressive competition was discussed, says Vogster's Mario Kroll - but turned out to be a logistical nightmare. Or at least, he nodded, when I said, "that must have been a logistical nightmare". I'm told by real journalists that you can completely attribute your words to anyone who nods after you say them within a five-metre radius.
7. Spaceball: Revolution
- Developer: Virtual Toys
- Screenshot gallery
Spaceball: Revolution is at number seven, because you don't get to be "pleasantly surprising" without looking like you might be a bit of a disappointment. Like a lot of the games here, the idea is simple - in fact, I should probably start using a thesaurus to avoid wearing out that phrase, as simple ideas is the driving theme behind WiiWare.
All you have to do is fire a ball down a tube, at a 3x3 grid. Hitting a panel swaps its colour state, hitting the bar between them swaps both over. The point is to match the pattern in the top-left corner. Take too long, and you're forced backwards out of the tube - get pushed back four times in one stage, and you're out. So far, so Arkanoid/Discs of Tron/Falling Out A Space Corridor.
The thing that makes Spaceball enjoyable is the dozens of different ways it makes this difficult. Rotating the playfield, blocks, blades - even easy mode will get your tongue poking itself out of your mouth in an unsophisticated display of concentration. Master mode is strictly for posers - the time limits won't forgive a single mistake.
It also has multipliers, and that means casual hardcore appeal. The higher you bounce off a wall, the higher your multiplier, and chaining shots increases your score. The chasm that hardcore players demand between their scores, and that of their mothers, is intact. Although it's probably not going to inspire much in the way of YouTube bragging.