So here it is, merry Christmas, everybody's having fun. Except me, because I've been given yet another pile of pisspoor old tat for the Wii to plough through. Thanks, Santa, try not to catch your beard on the barbed wire I left up the chimney.
To be fair, not all of them are completely terrible. Monopoly looks nice, though obviously it is quite boring. Boogie Superstar will make your dreams come true, assuming you are nine and have ovaries. Celebrity Sports Showdown will also make your dreams come true, assuming you dream about playing badminton with Keith Urban.
But what's this? Why, it's a rotten videogame tie-in for a rubbish daytime TV show that looks like it took all of 20 minutes and two pounds to develop. And look here! It's a collection of board game conversions that's ultimately so pointless it's driven me to the point of existential crisis. Ho ho ho!
Celebrity Sports Showdown
A Wii roundup just wouldn't be a Wii roundup without a mediocre mini-game compilation to go through. This month's comes from EA and is titled Celebrity Sports Showdown.
"Celebrity" is a bit strong, especially if you're not American. Paul Pierce, anyone? How about Kristi Yamaguchi? Do we have any Mia Hamm fans out there? (Basketball player, ice skater and female "soccer" player, if you really care). Mediocrity Sports Showdown would be entirely more apt. The better-known characters include Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado, Leann Rimes and Fergie. I could not give a toss about any of these people or anything they have ever done.
There are 12 mini-games to choose from and they're pretty varied. Highlights include Inner Tubing, where you steer your character on a rubber ring by holding the remote sideways. There are points to collect, ramps to jump off and mines to avoid. The steering is slightly over-sensitive, but that adds to the sense of knockabout fun.
Air Racers uses a similar mechanic but you're piloting planes through twisty canyons, flying through rings to get boosts and pick up weapons. Again, it's simple but enjoyable. Hurdle Derby is a rip-off of the cow racing game which is the best thing in Wii Play. Joust Battle is a rip-off of the Duel event in Gladiators, where your Wii remote becomes a virtual pugil stick. Rapid-fire Archery pretends to be about accuracy but is really about speed, and is therefore more entertaining than most Wii games which revolve around shooting things. Slalom Showdown is a basic but fun skiing game.
Beach Volleyball, Wild-Water Canoeing, Smash Badminton and Arena Dodgeball are self-explanatory. None of them is anything special, but all are competent. Curling is the lowlight of the compilation. It goes on for far too long, and is based around curling.
There are no real duds, and EA has grasped the fundamentals of making a decent mini-game compilation. None of the games require a nunchuk to play, or must be unlocked in single-player before you can access them. Gameplay instructions are clear and concise. There's a good range of options for competing individually and in teams, and for customising your own tournaments.
In addition, the controls for each game are cleverly designed to provide two levels of gameplay. Novice gamers who just want to wave a remote about and only worry about one button can do so. Those who want more of a challenge can use the extra controls to do stuff like slamming opponents off the track, building up the boost meter and use power-ups.
It's just a shame the presentation is so rubbish. The characters are horrible to look at and the environments are ugly. At least the games are quite good fun, in a limited sort of way, and the selection isn't bad. If you've exhausted Wii Sports and Wii Play and have a strange affection for mini-game compilations, in the same way that some people get sexual gratification from watching people drive cars, you could do worse.
"This is the worst game I've ever seen."
So said Eurogamer's Oli Welsh, approximately two minutes into a multiplayer round of Golden Balls. And he's played free-to-play MMOs.
Golden Balls, for those who have jobs, is a TV gameshow presented by Jasper Carrott. The Wii game is presented by a hideous and frightening CGI Jasper Carrott who looks like what would happen if the real Jasper Carrott tried to morph into Gollum and got stuck half way. There's a terrifying bit of live-action footage before each round where the real Jasper Carrott introduces us to the Gollum-Carrott, and it feels like the end of days.
If you've seen the telly show you'll know it's all about bluff. Contestants get a set of balls picked at random. Most have cash sums hidden inside, but some are 'killer balls' which reduce the jackpot for the endgame. There are a couple of elimination rounds where contestants reveal some of their balls, and try to convince each other the hidden ones contain huge amounts of cash. They vote each other off until only two contestants remain.
At this point, each player must choose to "split" or "steal". If they both split, each gets half the money. If one player decides to steal, he or she wins the lot. If they both try to steal, they walk away empty-handed.
It's almost watchable, in a miserable-reminder-of-the-inherent-wretchedness-of-capitalism-and-its-cancerous-effect-on-the-human-soul sort of a way. The game, however, is unplayable.
For starters, there's no fun in trying to bluff a computer-controlled character. There are some automated bluffing options, but you can't banter and barter with them like the contestants do on the TV show. You could always play with real-life friends. Or rather, friend, as there's only support for two players. This means you're always playing against at least two NPCs. They are likely to vote at least one of you off within minutes. This leaves the other person to go through the rest of the rounds playing against a virtual character they care even less about than Keith Urban. Well done everyone.
The visuals are hilarious. The "cut-scenes", where Gollum-Carrott explains the rules, are the same every time and there are far too many of them. After you've started a game, you have to press A to skip 15 times before you get to make a single decision. During this process you have to look at six "loading data" screens. The words "loading data" pulse backwards and forwards like this is information is exciting. Compared to the rest of the game, it is.
I lost all vestiges of patience with Golden Balls after being voted off yet again by the computer-controlled characters, one of whom accused me of "lying in the previous round" even though I'd picked the "truth" option instead of bluffing. A jolly message scrolled across the screen informing me that, "Having got this far today has been a waste of time." If you're playing Golden Balls, having gotten up today has been a waste of time.
This is the worst game I've ever seen.
Remember the original Boogie? I ought to, because I had to review the thing last year. However, any memories of it have since been deleted from my brain to make room for more interesting things, like the middle names of the members of JLS.
Speaking of whom, EA has gone all X-Factor for Boogie Superstars. Gone are the big blobby cartoon characters and childish visuals of the original game - the sequel is much slicker, prettier and generally a bit more mature. Now you get to customise your very own wannabe pop idol and take part in a talent competition where, just like on the telly, you will be judged on talent, star quality and number of family members who are dead. Maybe not the last one.
The gameplay is still based around singing and dancing, but you can't just wave the Wii remote around however you like, as in the original game. Now there are on-screen instructions which tell you which moves to perform. They're all simple enough, but younger players and those who need a lie down after doing anything more strenuous than making a cup of tea could struggle with the faster numbers.
Once again, the karaoke bit involves singing into the USB microphone that comes bundled with the game. The scoring system is extremely forgiving. As long as you make some kind of noise the song bars will fill up, though they'll vary in colour from red to green depending on how well you're doing. At the end of your performance you'll get comments from the judges. Some of these are a bit snidey, but not enough to make anyone cry.
There are more than 40 songs to choose from, including plenty of modern classics such as Toxic, Bleeding Love and Shut Up and Drive. None are the original artists, but the cover artists do a decent enough job and frankly, aged nine, I'm not sure I'd have cared that much.
Which just about sums it up. Like the original game Boogie Superstars offers very little fun for grown-ups, even if you're spectacularly smashed. That said, it's more polished than its predecessor, the gameplay has been improved and I'm quite sure that aged nine, I'd have thought it was brilliant. But then, aged nine, I wanted to be an air hostess and I didn't know what sex was.
It's only ruthlessly competitive people who ever suggest playing Monopoly. This is because, being ruthlessly competitive, they're the only people who ever win. I once had such a huge row with someone over Monopoly that another player ended up tearing a hundred-pound note into three and giving us each a segment. We have since lost touch due to non-Monopoly related reasons, but if by some impossibly remote chance you're reading this, Charlotte Ginger - I am sorry.
At least the Wii version of Monopoly negates the need to set up the bank, work out change and so on, and saves you the exhausting trouble of throwing the dice and moving your pieces around the board. However, the dice animations are far too slow, and the fat bloke in the top hat spends far too much time dancing around during animated scenes you can't skip. Nor can you skip, or even speed up, computer-controlled characters' turns. Thanks for that.
It quickly becomes apparent that virtual Monopoly is just as boring as real Monopoly. The fact there are a variety of different game boards doesn't help, as unlocking them involves playing Monopoly. True, it's all nicely presented, and there are plenty of options for customising the rules to suit you. (Interestingly, the default settings do not reward players in any way for landing on Free Parking. Obviously this must be because such a rule would negate the entire point of the whole game. Yes, Charlotte Ginger - I was right.)
But the boredom will inevitably overwhelm you, which is probably why they put in the Richest Edition mode. Property is allocated at random over the course of several rounds. You compete in mini-games to improve your chances of capturing more property. This would be more enjoyable if the mini-games weren't completely rubbish, with controls that vary in complexity from "tilt the Wii remote up and down" to "shake the Wii remote up and down". Even more tediously, you have to play tedious old Monopoly to unlock all the tedious new mini-games.
For the price of Monopoly for Wii (RRP GBP 29.99), you could buy real Monopoly. Twice. Or you could just buy no Monopoly at all and spend the money on something more likely to inspire amity and harmony, like a book by Hitler.
I want to be an air hostess.
Hasbro Family Game Night
In Jean-Paul Sartre's 1938 existentialist novel, Nausea, the protagonist becomes overwhelmed with feelings of disgust and self-hatred as he becomes increasingly unable to find meaning in the world around him and distinguish between his own existence, consciousness and physical matter. I have experienced a strong identification with such feelings ever since I pretended to read the book at university, but never more since playing Hasbro Family Game Night.
Here I sit on a cold December night in 21st century Britain. I am a 31 year-old woman. I have a degree. I am playing virtual Yahtzee with a computer-generated version of Mr Potato Head. I feel sick.
I understand nothing yet I know that everything is meaningless. When I roll the dice, Mr Potato Head wiggles his elbows and does a little dance. I want to reach into the screen, pluck him into the real world and bake him. I hate him. Yet he is me and I am him. He is the heart beating in my chest, the blood pulsing through my veins. I am the moustache on his ridiculous face.
Mr Potato Head and I tire of Yahtzee. Our universal consciousness decides to play one of the other six games on the disc, which include Connect 4, Battleship, Yahtzee, Sorry! and Sorry! Sliders. But of course, they are all the same game in actuality. If there is an actuality. Boggle it is, then.
The game claims the word "irie" is invalid, yet finds "hotch", "eriach" and "recto" to be acceptable. I weep. Oli suggests playing a two-player game of Battleship instead. I agree, though I have as much desire to play with him as I have to hang myself. The game informs us each person must close their eyes as the other player deploys their ships. I fetch the rope.
Clutching madly for some desperate foothold as the void spins endlessly on, we try out the Party mode. A series of challenges based around the board games is presented; we receive instructions such as "Move the dice to match the pattern" or "Be the first to slot in the winning Connect 4 piece". The instructions are unclear, the objectives monotonous, the mini-games rubbish.
Oli rises and turns to face the window. "What score," he utters brokenly, "Will you give it?"
I stare at the cover of the game box, and the jumble of letters and shapes begins to merge into a mass of pulsating nothingness. I am reminded of the whores on the Rue Basse de Vielle as I gaze into the cold, dead eyes of Mr Potato Head.
"Probably a six, I reckon. Boggle and Yahtzee are all right, and at least you get more games for your money than with that rubbish Monopoly one."