Version tested: Wii
People think I must be bored with writing about rubbish Wii games and things like RealPlay Golf and The Legend of Spyro: Unlikely to Get Funding for Another One. They are wrong. I am bored with playing them, usually within 90 seconds of booting them up. The latest pile of half-baked pisspoor old tat to land on my desk is no exception.
To be fair, Asterix at the Olympic Games manages to rise above the ranks of truly terrible to achieve mediocre status. But Samurai Warriors: Katana is silly and PDC World Championship Darts 2008 is tedious. The other games are called Cruis'n and Game Party. I need say no more. [Actually, you do. - Ed]
Asterix at the Olympic Games
As a long time Asterix fan I have tried out many of the videogame tie-ins over the years. Although none have been anything special, I've found some of them quietly enjoyable. Playing the other ones has been like having my golden memories of the comic books torn to shreds. Torn to shreds and fed to a tramp's dog who excretes them as loose and putrid stools which are then rubbed in my face. By Hitler.
Happily, Asterix at the Olympic Games falls into the former category [the one prior to the dog egg metaphor - Ed]. Despite the title, it's not a total rip-off of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. Yes, there are mini-games based on Olympic events to compete in, and many of these are similiar to the mini-games in M&S. You waggle the controllers up and down to run, press B at the right time to perform a long jump and so on. However, the mini-games make up only a small part of the single-player adventure game.
This is a good thing as they are largely tedious, repetitive and tiring. They're slightly more fun in multiplayer but, compared to M&S, there's not a huge selection and the quality is poor. This isn't a great party game, in other words.
It's not a great single-player game either. There's nothing innovative about the gameplay; it involves a lot of running and jumping, punching and collecting, block-pushing and switch-pulling. Unless you're a child or an imbecile you won't find any of this very challenging and should breeze through the game in a few hours. And unless you're an Asterix buff, you won't get much out of it.
However, there are treats here for fans. The visuals are of a decent standard, in keeping the style of the books and featuring plenty of neat details. Exploring Asterix's world is fun because it looks like you'd expect it to. It's a bit of a shame the man himself has a strange jerky hop in his step and sounds like Albert Steptoe. It's also a shame about the pop-up and the fact Obelix, who can batter an entire legion of Romans with a single punch, cannot walk through foot-high bushes if they are the wrong colour. But you can't have everything.
You can have some quite good jokes, assuming you like puns ("You heard that Obelix? You have to show some finesse." "Finesse? I haven't started yet," etc.). There are some nice contemporary takes on traditional Asterix naming conventions - say hello to Neofrommatrix and Watchadivix. There's also a Splinter Cell spoof in the form of a character called Sam Schieffer who wears Roman-style night vision goggles.
Little touches like this elevate the game from being a dull if competent title to something fans of the books will enjoy, especially small ones. And even if you're big, Asterix at the Olympic Games is still better than having a tramp's dog's excrement rubbed in your face by Hitler. Go on Atari, put that on the box.
Samurai Warriors: Katana
Here we have the first Samurai Warriors title for Wii and the silliest game in the series yet. The controls, the mini-games, the boss fights, the visuals, the storyline, the music - all of these things are extremely silly. And Samurai Warriors: Katana is sort of enjoyable, in a silly way.
It's a first-person on-rails shooter and sword fighter. You take on the role of a warrior who has volunteered to help a Japanese warlord do war on other Japanese warlords, most of whom wear silly hats.
Much of your time is spent despatching wave after wave of identical enemies with your katana. The primary attack involves aiming at the target on their chests then pressing A as if you were playing some sort of feudal-Japan-themed version of Duck Hunt. For the secondary attack, you swish the remote about like a sword.
This is all very silly. Many groups of enemies can be felled simply by ignoring the A button and doing the swishy bit. You don't even have to do proper sword movements; just waggling it from side to side will work. For the most part enemies are spectacularly stupid and easy to defeat, and you'll rarely need to block. The frequent boss battles are a bit more complicated and do require you to block and time your attacks more carefully, but none pose much of a challenge.
The silliness peaks when you've filled your Musou meter (by attacking enemies, as if you have a choice) and unleash a Musou attack. This involves waggling your remote around in any old direction as furiously as possible. All the enemies on screen will die in perfect unison and their image will shatter into pieces as if you've just thrown the remote into the telly.
Later on in the game you get ranged weapons such as a bow and arrow, spear and gun. It's a basic lightgun mechanic involving a reticule and the trigger button. This makes a nice change from endlessly waggling the remote but that's about it.
The mini-games are very silly. There's one where you have to steer a horse by tilting the remote, and one where you have to run by waggling the remote and nunchuk up and down, Mario and Sonic and Asterix at the Olympics-style. There's a silly RPG bit between missions which allows you to buy rice cakes and new swords and all that sort of thing. It's possible to ignore this almost completely.
Everything about the game's presentation is silly. The ridiculous pumping electronica soundtrack is straight out of 1994. The feudal Japanese warlords say things like "Alriiight!" and "Gadzooks!" They offer silly comments on your performance such as, "I do not mean to be rude, but you are completely useless."
Ultimately, Samurai Warriors: Katana is not very good. It's sort of enjoyable because swishing a sword and firing a gun and seeing off billions of stupid enemies without having to think about it too much can be fun. Not fun for long, though, and not the kind of fun it's worth spending 30 or 40 quid on.
PDC World Championship Darts 2008
Phil Taylor's a nice man. Even if there was that thing with the two drunk girls in his motorhome, which I didn't have the courage to mention when I interviewed him. We had a lovely chat about badminton and gherkins and Betamax instead. All of these things are more interesting than the shoddy excuse for a videogame the man has attached himself to.
It's not just Phil either. PDC World Championship Darts 2008 features a host of superstar darts players, including Raymond van Barneveld, Peter Manley, Wayne Mardle, Dennis Priestley and of course Kevin 'The Artist' Painter. You can compete against or 'be' them. Or rather, great lumpen CGI versions of them that look like they were moulded out of plasticine by a fingerless monkey. You can also create your own character, making selections from a variety of stupid hairstyles and ugly outfits. There are three skintones to choose from, ranging from caucasian to caucasian with uneven sunburn.
There are Exhibition, Tournament, Career and Party modes, but it all comes down to the same thing. Hold the Wii remote like a dart. Line up the reticule on the virtual dartboard and press A to lock on. Flick the remote forwards as if you were throwing a real dart and let go of A to release.
With practice, it becomes apparent success is a matter of keeping steady after you've locked on and performing the flick in a perfectly straight motion. Wobble or twist your wrist and you'll mess it up. So it is rather like the actual sport, as Phil Taylor claims; in the press release he says, "Using the Wii remote to throw the dart is the closest thing to real darts yet."
This, when considered alongside the poor quality of the game, begs the question - why not play real darts? Why put up with appalling visuals, weird physics and a dart that's uncomfortable to hold and cannot actually be thrown? The real life darts experience can be replicated simply by paying a visit to Argos. In fact, you can buy Phil Taylor's own Official Home Darts Centre, complete with cabinet, board, darts and chalk, for GBP 28.97. The Wii version of PDC World Championship Darts 2008 costs GBP 34.99.
It could be argued the point of the Wii game is you get to play against Taylor and friends. Apparently the AI of their in-game counterparts has been calculated based on their tournament stats and characteristics such as stamina, complacency and accuracy. But in practice it's hard to notice differences in their performance.
It's also hard to get excited about competing in "pro" tournaments as the background visuals and sound effects are laughable. There's a looping soundtrack of general hubbub from the crowd, but when the camera's on them you'll see they've only bothered to animate two or three spectators while the rest are interminably immobile.
In short, the game looks rubbish and is dull to play. Flicking a Wii remote might be more like throwing a dart than pressing a button but it's not much more fun. The novelty wears off in about the same amount of time it takes to throw a dart. Toss.
This game is an absolute disgrace. From the hideous controls to the horrifying visuals to the use of the phrases "adrenaline rush" and "turbo-charged" on the back of the box, everything about it is hateful.
Which is bad news for those who have fond memories of the arcade classic. It first appeared back in 1994, a time when replacing vowels with apostrophes in game titles seemed fresh and contemporary. An N64 version followed a couple of years later. It was all right.
Now Cruis'n is making its debut on the Wii. Except it looks much more like a port of some rubbishy old Need for Speed game to me. All my memories of all the Need for Speed games I've played have blurred into one giant nauseating neon nightmare so I couldn't tell you which one.
There are 12 cars to unlock and 12 tracks to race them on. There's an upgrade system designed to be simple enough for four-year-olds to understand, and you win cash for causing damage during races. It's impossible to care about any of this.
So to the races themselves. You steer by tilting the Wii remote left and right, and then watch as your car spins wildly across the track as if you'd just thrown the controller across the room. With practice you do become accustomed to the sensitivity and steering gets easier. However, having to tilt the controller a millimetre at a time hardly captures the high-octane thrills of illegal street racing. (It doesn't say "high-octane" on the box. They're probably saving that for the sequel.)
Everything looks awful. The cars are blocky and lumpen, the environments are blurry and flat. Lamp-posts blow away when you bash into them, while concrete pillars can simply be driven straight through. The frame-rate is appalling, dropping each time you or another car collides with anything at all. If you dare press B to change the music track, the game freezes entirely.
You could argue that this is a budget title and you get what you pay for, but you'd be some kind of massive idiot. Even at GBP 19.99 it's appalling value for money. There are 12 races. None takes longer than four minutes to complete and each can be won on the first attempt. Do the "math". To be fair, if you add in loading times, Cruis'n offers approximately 47 years of gameplay.
It's not the worst racing game I've ever played, but that's because I was forced to play RealPlay Racing on the PS2. It's the worst-looking Wii game I've ever played and frankly that takes some effort. It's no fun to play either.
Not content with inflicting Cruis'n on the Wii-owning populace, Midway has bundled a whole seven mini-games onto one disc, spent 0.4 seconds thinking of a title, and slapped another GBP 19.99 price sticker on the box.
You can't play the mini-games with your own Mii characters; you have to choose from a selection of freakish rip-offs. These include a black man dressed in some kind of jive getup with a musical note on his hat, an old man wearing a tie with a carrot on it, and a lady doctor. Everyone else looks like a paedophile or a whore or someone who thinks living in Shoreditch makes you cool.
You can unlock more freaks by winning tickets in the mini-games. Unfortunately, this involves actually playing the mini-games. All of them feature ugly graphics and unresponsive controls and are unbearable to play after less than two minutes.
Table Hockey is, of course, the game formerly known as air hockey. It's like the Wii Play version of air hockey except completely rubbish. Madly, instead of using the remote to control a paddle, you use it to move your stupid dough-fisted faux Mii up and down the edge of the table. Unlike in Wii Play, you can't twist the remote to change the angle of your shot. It's like Pong with worse graphics.
The darts game is played in the same way as PDC World Championship. You don't get to play as Phil Taylor though, and the soundtrack is a bizarre and infuriating Irish jig that will invade your brain and tap away there for the rest of the day. It feels like a miniature Michael Flatley with razor blades jammed into the soles of his shoes is doing Riverdance on the insides of your head.
The Trivia game is terrible, you will be amazed to learn. They haven't bothered to Europeanise the questions, which is particularly apparent during the Sports round ("Who led the New England Patriots in the 800 yards in the 2005 season?" "What did Mike Schmidt accomplish in the Phillies 19 - 17 win over the Cubs in 1976?"). Almost all the other questions are bizarre and/or stupid ("When did English folk dancing stop being performed?" "Which of these beans is not actually a vegetable - lima, green, cannellini, jelly?").
Hoop Shoots and Skill Ball are based on those chuck the ball in the hoop/holes games you find on piers. Rubbish. Ping Cup involves chucking the ball into some cups and pitting your wits against some of the most appalling ball physics ever seen in a videogame. Shuffleboard is so boring I've forgotten everything about it in the time it took to write the preceding paragraphs.
According to the back of the box, Game Party is "The Ultimate Party Experience". No it isn't. The Ultimate Party Experience would involve fun and laughter and everyone you've ever wanted to get off with turning up and offering to buy you a drink, even though they're free. The Game Party experience is like going to a party where there's nothing to drink but Tesco Value brandy and there are only four other guests and they're all racist and then your ex turns up and gets off with a Danish supermodel. Would you pay GBP 19.99 to go to that party?