Version tested: Wii
So, it turns out that Tom has been receiving angry letters from PETE, People for the Ethical Treatment of Ellie. Apparently forcing her to constantly review the dregs of the Wii barrel is cruel and inhumane, and PETE activists have now helped Ellie escape from her mini-games dungeon by building a special tower out of Boom Blox. Clearly, this is political correctness gone mad. Not that I'm bitter or angry. No, I'm quite happy to take Ellie's place while Tom hunts her down with his high-powered drug gun. It's fine. This stack of new Wii games looks...interesting. Right? They can't be that bad. And it's not as if the shackles are that uncomfortable. There's even some hay on the floor, which is a bit like a cushion. I'm sure it'll be fine.
Secret Files: Tunguska
- Publisher: Deep Silver
- Developer: Keen Games
With its pointy interface, the Wii is certainly ripe to take advantage of the adventure game revival, but it's just a shame that generic fare like Tunguska is leading the way.
I reviewed the PC version back in September 2006 and this remake, by German developer Keen Games, is almost exactly the same. The graphics obviously aren't as sharp, but the clue highlight feature has been retained, allowing you to instantly see all the points of interest in each screen. Control is simple enough - the B button examines things, the A button interacts with them. The nunchuk can be used to steer around the scenery, or you can just click on the things you want to walk to. As Exhibit A in the case of How Point-And-Click Can Work For A New Audience, it's pretty compelling.
That's more than can be said about the game itself, sadly. It's a rather clunky conspiracy thriller, in which you guide Nina, a stock post-Lara feisty female, on a search for her missing scientist father. He vanished while investigating the 1908 explosion which devastated the Tunguska region of Russia, and something fiendish is clearly afoot. The elements called into play to spin this yarn, however, are so predictable and the script so lacking in pace or personality that progress becomes a matter of beating the puzzles rather than striving to advance the story.
Puzzles are what the games has in abundance, though they're very much of the old-school adventure game type. No solution is too long-winded, and no sequence of object combinations too illogical. It's the sort of game where simply opening a door can involve an additional twenty-five steps, finding bits of wire and chewing gum to retrieve a loaf of bread from a shelf, which then attracts birds to a window ledge, which dislodges a pencil which you then use to make a hole in a box, through which you get a key. Using a magnet you found buried in a plant pot.
Okay, that doesn't happen exactly, but it's not much of an exaggeration of Tunguska's obtuse construction. There are plenty of adventure die-hards who thrive on such elongated nonsense, and will gladly plod onwards through uninspiring stories for the sake of some head-scratching riddles. Those people will still enjoy Tunguska, but those people also probably have a PC and have already played it. For the majority of Wii owners, I suspect this will prove simply too dry and convoluted to really catch on.
George of the Jungle
- Publisher: Ignition
- Developer: Papaya Studios
Oh God. Why didn't I leave this until last? It's a platform game. Based on a cartoon. Based, in fact, on a cheaply animated Flash cartoon which in turn was based on a cheaply animated 1967 cartoon which was never funny. They turned it into a movie with Brendan Fraser. That's how bad it was.
How bad is the game? This bad. You can't see it, but I'm holding my arms as far apart as possible. And now I'm holding two brooms to make it even wider. This game is awful. Wretched. Foul. I'd actually forgotten that commercial games could be this irredeemably terrible. I instantly understand Ellie's escape. It wasn't truculent disobedience, but an instinctive survival response. Godspeed, you wily fox.
While the graphics are 3D, the action all takes place on a linear 2D plane. You control George and slowly lollop across the screen, jumping with all the vigour of a depressed sea urchin onto platforms that seemingly only exist because the developers realised that they couldn't get away with a game where you just walk in a straight line. There's zero inspiration or thought in the layout of the six levels - they're the most basic obstacle courses you can imagine.
There's some awkward combat against evil monkeys and other jungle appropriate enemies, but the collision detection is so haphazard and the response so sluggish that even defeating a single enemy feels like an unpleasant chore. There are also boss battles, and you can guess how much fun they are.
Does the game feature completely unnecessary and poorly implemented Wii controls? You betcha! Like the roll manoeuvre, exercised by sharply jerking the remote to the left or right. Unfortunately, the game constantly reads this motion as a circular rotation and instead sends George on his feeble dash attack instead. As there are sections where you need to roll under obstacles to continue, this makes for hours and hours of hilarious hand-jerking fun.
And as if this startlingly ugly, half-baked excuse for a game needed any more black marks against its name, it comes crammed with interminable, painfully unfunny and sloppily animated cut-scenes which cannot be skipped.
Go away, George of the Jungle, and die horribly in a fire.
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Developer: Codemasters
The idea of doing a Crazy Taxi-style game on the Wii, and mixing it up with some obligatory mini-games, isn't a bad one in theory. There's a certain thematic suitability there, and when you dress the whole thing up as an over-the-top emergency services spoof, there should be mileage for something fairly amusing.
Unfortunately, Emergency Mayhem squanders pretty much every drop of potential squeezed out of the concept through clumsy control and mindless repetition.
The city is going insane, goes the setup, and you hop from police car to ambulance to fire engine in order to calm things down. There's a handy mayhem meter on-screen to show you just how zany things are, and success in each challenge lowers this gauge by a small amount. You're constantly against the clock, and so must thunder around the cartoon streets from one mini-game to the next, trying to put everything right before the time ticks away.
Steering is of the exaggerated arcade style, which is no bad thing, but it is fairly hopeless for any sort of precision. You never feel fully in control while the vehicles have an annoying tendency to get stuck on the scenery. Luckily, and rather strangely, there doesn't seem to be any penalty for how much mayhem you cause while reducing the mayhem so you can plough through pedestrians and other vehicles with impunity.
Inevitably, it's the mini-games that really muff things up though. Most simply involve more driving - there are far too many "hurry from Point A to Point B filler" missions. Those that actually use the remote fare slightly better, but still offer thin amusements. Flapping your arms to put out a fire, or using a skittish pointer to defuse a bomb, are bare-bones efforts that would be buried deep in any decent mini-game production. Here, they're the main course.
There are also not nearly enough of these games, with the same ones repeating three, four even five times in just a few minutes. If they were uninspiring the first time, they become agonisingly dull by the time the clock has counted down, leaving you with a game so loud, so shrill and yet so blandly monotonous that it feels like being trapped in a phone box with ten hyperactive kids off their faces on Sunny Delight, all doing the Crazy Frog thing at the same time.
King of Clubs
- Publisher: Oxygen Games
- Developer: Oxygen Studios
Here's one of the telltale signs that the wackiness threshold has been breached: Comedy Elvis. There are no good games that involve the use of a hilarious Elvis surrogate, going AH-HUH-HUH and thankyewverymuch. That's science.
The main character in King of Clubs? An overweight comedy Elvis impersonator.
It's also a crazy golf game, which pretty much ensures that this game will be nails on a blackboard for most people. So, as you'd expect, you chip your ball through a series of themed holes, each one obscured by ramps, divots, moving barriers and pitfalls. Successful play earns you cash, which can then be used to purchase new clubs and balls with zany properties. Use a rubber ball, for instance, and you can bounce past obstacles that you previously had to play around.
So far, so cheesy, but nothing terribly game-breaking. Simply producing a crazy golf game for the Wii suggests a certain lack of original thinking, but there's no denying that the remote makes for such an instinctive virtual club that such games were always going to be inevitable.
Except...the game rather fudges that central element. Taking a shot requires you to press the A button and raise the remote. Doing so raises the power of your shot, and you then hold down the A button again to set the power before swinging. All of which means that the swing itself is pointless - why use the remote if not to actually measure your swing?
It's not as if this system allows for a more nuanced game. Setting it at about quarter power only sends the ball a few feet. Full power wallops it into the distance. Most of your shots, therefore, rely on finding precise increments between those two extremes using the rather shaky motion sensing. The tiniest movement of your hand can result in huge power spikes on-screen, while it sometimes has trouble figuring out which way your hand is even moving, catching up with your adjustments at an irritatingly casual pace. All of this conspires to make most shots an unrewarding fuss, with short distance putts to the hole especially hard to gauge.
Even the courses and holes are dreary, all based in a rundown amusement park run by our cut-price Elvis friend. The themes are therefore realised through deliberately shoddy wooden cut-outs, which rather contradicts the point of playing a crazy golf videogame where anything should be possible. There's little pleasure in playing a prehistoric course, when the thematic backdrop is so purposefully crap.
King of Clubs doesn't play a very good game of golf, and the unlockable elements do little to counteract this rather glaring flaw. It's the sort of game that might find favour with the sort of annoying uncle who does the David Brent dance at family parties, but is otherwise utterly missable.
SEGA Bass Fishing
- Publisher: SEGA Europe
- Developer: AM1
Perhaps subconsciously, suspecting the pain that George of the Jungle and King of Clubs would inflict upon my delicate constitution, I found that I'd saved Sega Bass Fishing for last.
Despite having absolutely zero interest in fishing I spent an extremely relaxed summer glued to my Dreamcast back in 2000, thoroughly enjoying this contradictory arcade angling simulation with windows wide open and chilled beer by my side. On the one hand, it's a game that encourages you to sit back and enjoy the (rather chunky) virtual scenery. On the other, it hurries you along with typical SEGA exhortations, treating this most pastoral of pastimes with the same urgency as, say, House of the Dead. "RANK IN!" bellows the excitable commentator when you land a decent fish. "HE'S COMING NEAR!" he gasps when your bait attracts attention. It's both hilarious and strangely fitting for the world of competitive bass fishing.
The game is, of course, a natural fit on the Wii. No need for a fishing rod peripheral when you have the remote and nunchuk combo, and it's a testament to how natural the game feels in its new home that an instinctive flick of the wrist finds you casting your line and jiggling the lure without the need for any tutorial.
The game is still much as it was on the Dreamcast. Apart from some new locations, this often feels more like emulation than a remake, and the boxy graphics will certainly raise eyebrows amongst those unaware of the game's ancestry. For as long as you're dragging your hook through the virtual waters, however, it's still rather lovely. The fish are still well-animated and lifelike, while their behaviour is impressively realistic. Even so, it's not hard to start catching the tiddlers, and the challenge soon becomes how to find the right rhythm and pace to reel in the big boys.
It's a shame that SEGA opted for a simple port rather than properly updating the series, but this is still a fine game - if extremely niche in its appeal. I'm certainly happy to see it again.