If there's one thing more boring than listening to people complain about the endless mini-game compilations churned out for the Wii, it's having to play the endless mini-game compilations churned out for the Wii. So three cheers for SEGA and the new titles it's bringing out for Nintendo's console, none of which are mini-game compilations.
They are, in order of interestingness: SEGA Superstar Tennis, Samba de Amigo, House of the Dead 2&3 and SEGA Bass Fishing. I got to take a look at the lot at a recent press event in South Kensington. It was well worth going, and not just because they gave me a SEGA tracksuit top when I left. And a lanyard. You can never have too many lanyards. (UK:R was there too, so there's no point writing in.) Here's a roundup of what was on show.
SEGA Superstars Tennis
It's always tiresome when developers bang on about how they're going to push back the boundaries, raise all the bars and break loads of moulds. So talking to Sumo Digital, the studio behind SEGA Superstars Tennis (and the excellent Virtua Tennis 3), makes a nice change.
"Our goal hasn't been to go out and redefine tennis games," says producer Steve Lycett. "It's been to make a fun game anyone can enjoy."
Lead designer Travis Ryan agrees. "We just want to make a really fun tennis title based on the established Virtua Tennis engine. We want to broaden the audience for it because Virtua Tennis is such an awesome game. It would be nice if more people got into it."
SST definitely doesn't take itself too seriously. It's the ultimate Blue Skies tennis game, featuring characters from and courts based on classic SEGA titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5, Puyo Pop and Golden Axe. There are no top spins, slices and lobs, just fast and slow shots (though Sumo says advanced players can combine button presses for more complex swings).
Play well and you'll charge up your Superstar power, which can be unleashed at the time of your choosing. It might give your character an enhancement, such as the ability to run faster, or affect the other player - for example, by causing a lightning strike on their side of the court. Doubles players can use their powers simultaneously for maximum effect.
Then there are the mini-games [but you said... - Ed]. Dozens of them, again based on classic titles. "Basically we wanted to make the ultimate SEGA fan's game," explains Ryan. "That's why you've got the original music, sound effects, HUDs, loading screens... We wanted to make every mini-game feel like a separate SEGA game."
Our favourite is the Virtua Squad mini-game where you use the remote like a light gun to shoot tennis balls at billboards. Not people, Lycett explains, because the censors won't have balls being fired at humans in videogames. Bullets, of course, are fine.
The comparison to Mario Tennis is inevitable, and not something Sumo shies away from. "It's similar in its approach and its look," admits Ryan. But Lycett adds, "It's got its own flavour from being a SEGA game."
The Wii version offers you three control systems to choose from. You can hold the remote like a regular pad or use a Classic controller. You can use the remote only, as with Wii Sports tennis. Or use the remote to swing and the nunchuk to move your player around the court.
I began the playtest using the third system, but switched to the remote alone after accidentally whipping myself in the tits several times (you can change control systems at any time during matches, happily). It felt much like playing Wii Sports tennis, but according to Lycett there's more to it than that.
"When you first play it you don't really realise the depth, but it's all done on timing," he says. "In terms of the Wii version what we've done, probably, is add more depth to Wii Sports tennis. That's an awful thing to say but it's true."
Is it so awful? Wii Sports tennis is still the only thing my non-gaming friends want to play when they've come round. It'd be nice to have a tennis game with more depth to try out when they go home. And if you don't fancy SEGA Superstars Tennis on Wii, you could opt for the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions - both of which will let you compete and compare mini-game high scores online. They'll all be released, along with PS2 and DS versions, on 28th March.
Samba de Amigo
It is impossible to be unhappy whilst wearing a sombrero. That is why I have instructed my lawyers to hand them out at my funeral. It is also why the monkey in Samba de Amigo has had that crazed grin on his face since he first appeared on Dreamcast in 2000. Now SEGA's bringing the game to Wii, with a few changes.
First of all, you no longer play with electronic maracas. The Wii remote and nunchuk make adequate substitutes, except for the fact they don't look like maracas or sound like maracas and aren't electronic maracas.
We're also promised a brand new tracklisting - or at least, "popular new songs as well as fan favourites from the original game". Today, though, only one song is on show: Samba de Janeiro. You know.
Might as well have a go, then. The visuals look pretty much identical to those in the Dreamcast version: chunky shapes, bright colours, PCP-crazed monkey. You have to shake the controllers in time with the coloured dots on screen, and occasionally stop the shaking to strike a pose like some kind of early nineties-era Latin percussion-obsessed Madonna. (How different the headlines might have been back then had she opted for sombreros and maracas instead of religious controversy and that silly bra.)
My first attempt is poor. I can't seem to time any of my shakes properly, despite having all the natural rhythm of Natasha Kaplinsky. All right, Diarmuid Gavin. The SEGA lady informs me I'm shaking the controllers too hard; it's more a flick of the wrists. She's right and my score improves, but it doesn't really feel like I'm playing the maracas. According to the SEGA lady, the game is still in the early stages. "There's a lot of work still to be done, mainly on the controls," she says, and again she's right.
The placeholder menu shows "Multiplayer" and "Wi-Fi Connection" as options, but we're told nothing along either of these lines has so far been confirmed. Let's hope they make it into the final version, which is due out by summer. And let's hope they sort out the controls by then. And throw in some more songs. And free sombreros.
House of the Dead 2&3 Return
Time for another blast from the past. Both classic HotD sequels are being bundled onto one disc for the Wii release, which is out on 28th March. Instead of a lightgun you'll use the Wii remote and nunchuk to shoot endless waves of zombies.
The game is compatible with the Wii Zapper, but there aren't any available at the SEGA event so remote alone it is. It works perfectly, with no lag between button presses and on-screen shots and smooth tracking across the screen. As an added bonus, satisfyingly squelchy if tinny sound effects emerge from the remote's speaker. It feels like home, as Madonna would say.
The downside of this is the games look rubbish by today's standards. Neither HotD 2 or 3 have aged well, and if you're a young whippersnapper you're likely to throw the remote aside in disgust and wonder how anyone ever put up with this sort of thing.
But those of us who can remember a time before Oyster cards and who enjoyed House of the Dead in the arcades should still be able to slap on the rose-tinted specs and have a good time. (In fact rose-tinted laser eye surgery is worth considering if you're also interested in Samba de Amigo and SEGA Bass Fishing.)
The gameplay is intact and the cut-scenes are just as silly as you remember, if uglier. There are six game modes, including Arcade and Time Attack, and a second player can drop in for classic co-op action at any time. There's a pleasing amount of blood and squelching, just like in the good old days.
In short, if you're not a fan of on-rail shooters it's unlikely you'll give a monkeys about this, even if they're wearing sombreros. If you never played the original HotD games and like your visuals sharp and shiny you're equally unlikely to be impressed. However, with all the good stuff present and a price tag of under GBP 30 for two arcade classics, HotD fans could well have a treat in store.
SEGA Bass Fishing
According to the press release, this is the latest instalment in "one of the most successful fishing game franchises of all time". Just one of, mark you. It's the first in the series for Wii and it's out on, yep, 28th March.
SEGA Bass Fishing features more than 20 types of lure, 15 lakes to murder fish in and four types of freshwater bass to catch. More excitingly, you use the remote and nunchuk to fish.
But first you must select your lure. There are shallow cranks and paddle tails, tubes and spinner baits, green ones and yellow ones. They differ as to whether they're suitable for use in top, shallow, middle or deep water.
Then it's time to choose where to sling your hook. This involves spotting fish silhouettes under the surface of the water. The visuals are rather basic and rough around the edges, so in practice this means using the analogue stick to aim at the big dark blobs.
Flicking the Wii remote to cast the line is highly satisfying. Waiting for a fish to bite (the camera view switches to underwater so you can see when this occurs) is a bit boring. Then it's all action as you reel Flipper in, tilting the remote up or down to change the line tension. Too taut and it'll break, too slack and the fish will escape.
It's a pretty simple mechanism, once you get the hang of it. However, to catch enough fish to meet your targets you'll need to choose your fishing gear carefully, and consider factors such as time-of-day and season. Even so, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of depth to SEGA Bass Fishing. And while the countdown clock does add pressure to the proceedings, the action is hardly fast-paced.
Neither is actual fishing though, of course. It's supposed to be a relaxing activity, and a solitary one - which might explain why there's no multiplayer mode in SEGA Bass Fishing. You do get Arcade, Tournament and Practice modes though. And something called Nature Trip, where you get more options for determining the conditions in which you fish. It's designed to make the game more of a fishing sim than an arcade experience.
Which ought to please keen anglers, as should SEGA Bass Fishing generally. Fans of the old Dreamcast version might be disappointed you no longer play with an actual fishing reel peripheral, but the remote and nunchuk do the job.
In this instance GBP 30 seems a little steep considering you're only getting one game and there's no multiplayer. Not to mention the shonky visuals. Could be there's more to the game than what's being shown today, however - best wait for the full review. After all, we're waiting for a Wii version of Jambo Safari anyway. Have you signed up yet? Come on, online petitions always work.