When Nintendo unveiled its revolutionary control scheme, even the most cold-hearted of gamers turned their heads. We had high hopes that the Wii would be our saviour. This would be a bold frontier in gaming; the first step towards a utopian goal of brilliant games that were intuitive and accessible enough for everyone to enjoy.
That was the hyperbole. The reality is sludge like Popcorn Arcade, or, more generally, the wealth of awful, lazy ports and easy money titles leeching on the Wii's success. Ugly, disfigured parasites growing bloated on Nintendo's proven promise of simple, family-friendly entertainment.
The Wii's motion sensing controls are essentially sound, but it takes skill to implement them, and to implement them in a way that uses the console's unique abilities well. Most of these PS2 ports - which all these Popcorn Arcade titles are - resort to half-heartedly mapping normal joypad controls on there and hoping for the best. Shaking the nunchuk to jump, or waggling the Wiimote to slash becomes an irritating necessity where once a button would have done perfectly.
That's just one side of the story. These games were rotten even before they had a chance to infect the Wii. Of course, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with releasing low budget, mid-range software such as this. They provide a convenient outlet for teams with a little imagination but not the million pound budget to pull it off. If we didn't have them, we wouldn't have the 360's excellent Earth Defence Force 2017 for one.
However, there's a distinct demarcation between cheap and cheerful, and exploitative and awful, and the Popcorn Arcade titles are sitting so far, far over on the wrong side of that line that we can't even see them without a telescope. This review highlights four games that achieve the latter so expertly, I had to scrub my skin with a Halo 3 box immediately after writing this in order to get rid of the stink.
Curiously, it's almost impossible to find a review of any of these games in their original incarnation. It's as if their dreadfulness caused a black hole of negativity, sucking all criticism into the void. I review these for posterity. Pray that the whole of Eurogamer doesn't vanish in the undertow once this gets posted.Three of those releases, I've purposely lumped together as one review. That's because, for all intents and purposes, each one is essentially the exact same game in different skins. So, off we go with the review.
Anubis II, Rock 'n Roll Adventures, Ninjabread Man
- Developer: Data Design
- Publisher: Data Design
- Format: Wii
Anubis II, Ninjabread Man, and Rock 'n Roll Adventures (and most likely others in the same line): same interface, same controls, even the exact same tutorial level painted over each game's theme. One has an Egyptian theme, one is sweet-based, the other about music. I'll leave you to guess which is which. Each one asks you to collect eight objects to open the warp gate at the end of the level.
You do this by hopping over platforms while enemies wander aimlessly at random locations. The most sophisticated it gets is probably having to push one or two boxes in order to get somewhere, and the camera never seems to give you a decent view.
Close combat involves swinging your remote to slash at enemies. It never seems to work effectively, and when it does, it often feels like the enemy isn't reacting at all. Instead, you switch to firing at them from a distance, locking on with a jerky cursor, and thus removing any threat.
The worst is yet to come.
Resigning myself to the fact that I'd have to play through each of them for evaluation, I prepared to settle down for a miserable night and get stuck in. Fortune mercifully favours me and anyone else stupid enough to buy these games. Ninjabread Man lasted half an hour. HALF AN HOUR. Three levels down and I was booted straight back to the main menu without fanfare. I thought I'd pressed the Quit button by mistake, but no, I played Rock ‘n Roll Adventures and it was exactly the same. Half an hour and one hundred percent done. Anubis II, which seemed slightly more developed than the other two (i.e. it had five levels, and a tricky moving platform section) fared slightly better at just over an hour. But really, they're having a laugh.
How do they justify it? By letting you go back and do it against the clock, or try to get a high score, or find the hidden objects. Anything to avoid the fact that you've wasted money on a game that I gather even the makers hated enough not to want to spend anymore time on.
Pray that these games don't end up symbolising the Wii's future. These are dross of the highest order. Rip offs at budget price. We deserve more than this. I've heard people perking up at Ninjabread Man because of its punny name. Don't be fooled. They're all bad and all deserve the same low, low score.
Billy the Wizard: Rocket Broomstick Racing
- Developer: Data Design
- Publisher: Data Design
- Format: Wii
Which brings us onto Billy the Wizard. Back in its days as a criminally poor PlayStation 2 game it once went under the moniker of Barry Hatter. Barry Hatter? Genius. Pity my poor girlfriend who just sighed and rolled her eyes every time I cracked up at that name. It used to make me giggle just thinking about it.
And then I played the game, and I'm not laughing anymore.
You need to fly Barry or one of his nameless chums through a course of rings to win. In Barry Hatter's first race in the game's ONE location (a floating Hogwarts-style castle, probably called Cogbart's), I tried to accomplish just that. The race started. I accelerated, steering speedily towards the first corner. Too late, I'd veered wildly off course. Trying to get back around to go through the ring I needed meant I lost the race.
Blame the rubbish nunchuk steering. It's over-sensitive, especially when coupled with going at speed. Another few failed attempts and I ended up spending the race going at a slow and steady pace, making the game about as exciting as parallel parking.
I gave up after trying three of the six short races and the simple shooting and collecting mini-games. Life's too short. I'm never going back, and God forbid gathering people together for the multi-player mode. If the controls don't kill me, the irritating farting ditty in the background just might. That's the last time I play this dreadful excuse for a racing game.
Date Design: You're having a laugh.