Wii Sports Reader Review
Christmas was different this year...
Every year, the kids have at least something game related in their present mountain. This year was no different in that respect. What was missing from the overall experience this year however was the 'Generation Gulf' - that previously unbridgeable chasm sitting between grandparents and grandchildren or more generally, the gaming agnostics and gamers. This year, Wii Sports not only temporarily bridged that gulf but also laid the foundations for a more permanent structure to bring those previously disparate entities closer together. You've all heard it: "all that time in front of the telly", "no outdoor play these days", "all those buttons and sticks", "can't we play a nice game of monopoly instead?" well, Nintendo might just deliver on their 'inclusive' mantra.
This year the grandparents were not only joining in willingly, there were cries of 'my turn!' heard too as they snatched at the controllers. Tennis, Golf and Bowling were massive hits - so much so, that threats to buy their own Wiis just to play Wii Sports were made. Something is afoot in gaming land.
Introductions aside, what do you actually get for your money? Well of course for those of us not in Japan it is a freebie. Good start! As you are no doubt aware, you've got Tennis, Baseball, Bowling, Golf and Boxing to choose from. There is also a training mode and 'Wii Sports Fitness'.
Tennis is definitely one of the stars of the bunch and seems to have broad appeal. Everyone who has tinkered with our Wii (Juvenile puns? Present and correct sir!) has: a) wanted to play it and b) enjoyed it immensely. Enough said? Probably - it almost goes without saying that as a multiplayer experience it is an immensely entertaining game. With its intuitive controls, apparent simplicity and hidden depth it's a winner in single player too. Placing the ball is all about timing and the strength / rapidity of your swing - which I suppose is true of the real thing too? Putting spin on the ball is all about controller finesse and comes with practice. The auto-levelling opponents are almost always fun to play and as you rise toward (and above) the "1000 'Pro' target you can get some impressive rallies going and usually you sit perfectly balanced on that hard-enough-to-challenge-but-I-have-the-edge difficulty curve. Superb.
Baseball, or more appropriately 'Rounders' to us Brits, is a bit more of an acquired taste and for me personally is the weakest game in the package. For one thing, the pitching seems a bit half-hearted. Why not use the subtleties of the controller to imbue curvature to the trajectory of the ball? Speed is determined by mapping controller movement to the pitching, so why press 1 or 2 or whatever to add spin? It does keep it simple, but in my view seems to lose sight of the vision of the package as a whole. 'Striking' or batting or whatever it's called is simply a matter of timing your swing of the remote and it's difficult to gauge sometimes, more so than the tennis for some reason. Not a bad effort overall but it lacks the compelling gameplay of the tennis. Maybe it's just not a very popular game with us Brits?
Like the tennis, the bowling is childishly simple and yet very difficult to master. In my experience, this is the biggest star of the package and absolutely everybody who's tried it here in Zenfross loves it. Raise the arm, and "bowl" with whatever speed and spin you require. Couldn't be simpler. Once again, the multiplayer mode is immense fun but the single player is also very compelling to play. My initial experiences were great - and I got some decent scores straight away, all through playing with a 'natural intuition'. Trying to master it though resulted in a declining score. The more I analysed and attempted to perfect the control, the worse I got. After reaching a plateau at around the 850-900 mark, I'm finally on the rise again and passed that '1000' Pro level with a personal best score of 246. I'll get that elusive 300 one day.
Golf was a big hit with the older generation at Christmas and almost reaches the accomplished heights of the Tennis and Bowling but just falls short. Somehow the level of control and depth isn't quite there although it is a very respectable effort and great fun to play. It raises my hopes for a truly excellent golf game in the coming year - even though I'm not really a golf fan. My biggest criticism is putting. Swinging your arm without holding A results in a practice swing. When you're putting, these gentler swings frequently don't seem to register on the power meter and yet when you hold in A and do the same basic swing it does appear to work. Sometimes. Other times it just doesn't touch the ball at all. It just seems very hit and miss with low power putts. Golfing friends and family who've played all concur and felt that putting was the weakest area - or at least the one most removed from 'reality'. Perhaps EA can pull a masterstroke (they just keep coming) with Tiger Woods '08 (or whatever is next).
Boxing is in some ways the surprise hit (hoho!) of the package. Initially it feels very unresponsive and difficult to control and indeed this feeling continues to haunt the game as you progress. However, once you start to overlook and work around these short comings rather than blaming your failures on them you really start to enjoy it. Like the other games, there is a surprising amount of depth to the control and the gameplay and this only adds to the longer term replayability. Unfortunately, you tend to have to plumb this extra depth by reading tips on the internet or experimenting endlessly. Perhaps a few hints in-game might have been useful? From my experiences, it is also by far the most exhausting of the 5 games! 3 boxing matches in a row are probably enough to kill a 'You are what you eat' fatty and certainly enough to raise my heart-rate - a positive message to spread to all those 'video-games are too sedentary' detractors out there.
The training mode of the game gives you the chance to practice three different aspects of each sport. Good entertaining fun generally with perhaps the 'Power Bowling' the highlight for me personally. Grabbing a strike with 91 pins is very satisfying. You keep coming back to the training because of that age-old video-game staple, high scores.
As you complete the training activities they are also unlocked in the fitness mode which provides you with a pseudo-scientific 'fitness age' based on 3 randomly selected events. Whilst the 'fitness' aspect is of course a complete misnomer, it is strangely compelling to play; so much so that I've done it every day since Christmas Day when the Wii took up permanent residence beside the TV. As with the DS Brain Age game, you can only attempt the fitness test once per day and again like the DS counterpart, your 'fitness age' is plotted for you- allowing you to track your progress over the months.
I approached Wii Sports with a great deal of enthusiasm coupled with a great deal of scepticism. It seemed highly probable that the game was going to be fantastic fun for all the family and that has certainly been true. I did fear however that it would be a 10-minute wonder or a party-only experience once the initial novelty had worn off. Happily this isn't the case. The single player side of the game is excellent fun too and the compulsion to beat the high scores and reach the Pro-levels always nagging at you. That's where Nintendo really missed an opportunity though - some kind of global (WiiConnect24) leaderboards would have been an obvious addition to the game but at the very least, a local high score table would get those competitive juices flowing in the family. Why is there no way of comparing bowling scores against all registered players? That's a terrific oversight in my opinion and had a serious impact on the non-perfect score. Each and every activity within the game should have a local leaderboard at the very least. Global leaderboards would be the icing on the cake - or at least the ability to compare with Wii Friends in your address book.
Wii Sports is a fantastic pack-in for the Wii and highly recommended to anyone buying a Wii later on when perhaps Nintendo will realise they can sell it for good money as a stand alone product. I haven't once mentioned Graphics, textures or sound - and all with good reason, they're all secondary to the experience and perfectly adequate. In fact, the sound in particular is actually very good with swipes, hits, ambience and 'reminders' all rendered with aplomb to perfectly complement the gameplay. The additional sounds from the Wii remote can seem a little loud late at night - but that's all adjustable.
Overall, immense fun, immersive and compelling gameplay and generation bridging into the bargain AND it gets you off your fat arse while you play. Can't say fairer than that!
8 / 10