Version tested: Wii
For a breakdown of exactly how Wii MotionPlus works with each event, check out our extra feature on the subject.
How was your weekend? I threw myself out of a plane. Actually, I threw myself out of about 50 planes, spiralling down through the clear blue sky again and again, whizzing past Bruce Springsteen, Dan Aykroyd, and my stepmother, gurning warmly for a few photographs each time, before the parachute opened with a cheery pop and I drifted towards the bright green grass below.
Skydiving in Wii Sports Resort captures just about everything that fans of its developer often struggle to put into words, and crams it all into the same period of time it takes to wash your hair. I guess you could call it the Nintendo Effect. Right there, in that simple, two-minute plummet is the whole deal: a control system so simple that most designers would either ignore it or over-complicate it with gauges and triggers, a range of goals that scale from charming pushovers to genuine one-more-go struggles with no apparent signs of stress, and presentation that manages to be both modest and quietly brilliant at the same time.
Jump from a plane, reach out to grab onto other free-fallers, pose for a camera, and score points with every smile captured: Skydiving's mechanics are so anaemic they hardly exist - as challenges go, it's barely interactive - and yet I've been doing it all weekend, over and over and over again, just to enjoy the clouds, the sense of wind and speed, and the chance to high-five Marty McFly at 20,000 feet. Will I still be doing it a month from now? Sadly I suspect that I won't, and that's where the Nintendo Effect meets the Wii Sports Effect.
Like a lot of games, the most insightful review the original Wii Sports will ever receive has come in the form of its sequel. Traditionally, the second outing for a series is where strengths are refined and enlarged, and weaknesses are either carefully eradicated or accidentally blown up into grotesque caricatures. So while quite a lot of time has already been spent picking apart the knockabout delights of the game that comes bundled with Nintendo's latest console, it's only with the arrival of Resort that you can truly see the original for what it is. And it's a skilful sketch, really: bold, self-contained, and occasionally careless, a game drawn in broad, perhaps hurried strokes, and only fitfully coloured in.
Not bad going, then. Wii Sports had to serve as both demo and tutorial - showing audiences what Nintendo's new console could do, while perhaps also giving developers a few hints for working around all the things it couldn't. Resort's also here to make sense of hardware, too, of course, but the MotionPlus is more of an incremental addition, and that leaves the game on uncertain ground. As a demo or tutorial, Resort does its job well - showcasing the add-on's new level of precision, and offering a range of uses that other teams might like to put it to - but as a sequel it's a mixed bag. Resort has refined, but it's also slipped into caricature. It's prettier, but it's a little hollow as well.
With 12 basic activity types rather than the first game's five, the first indicator that something's lacking comes when you spot a couple of familiar faces in the crowd - and not just in the form of the Mii Plaza residents you zip past while barrelling through the sky. Repeat performances from the original Wii Sports' golf and bowling games are enough to suggest that maybe even Nintendo knows it's packed the sequel with pretty distractions, but is lacking the big events to bind them all together.
That's not to say there aren't a handful of new classics to be found. WuHu Island, the hub for Resort's delights, is positively crammed with things to shake, swing, and place on the table to carefully recalibrate. Swordfighting, for starters, is the closest Nintendo will ever get to a seal-clubbing mini-game - barring a strategic push into the Norwegian entertainment market - as you either brain a competitor until he falls off a platform, or, more entertainingly, wade through an oncoming horde, smacking any and all comers over the head one by one. It's hardly a nuanced take on the gentleman's sport - in fact, there's a distinct hint of Gladiators to the whole thing - but the combo scoring system is smart and compulsive, and there's excellent feedback in the series of hollow thuds that accompany the cheerful parade of head trauma. Similarly, Table Tennis is an excellent game, genuinely tense as rallies progress, and one of the handful which really benefits from increased sensitivity, as the angle of the bat really counts.
Archery is another treat, turning the Wii remote and nunchuk into a bow and tautened string, and sucking up dozens of hours in the process. Make no mistake: multiplayer archery will lead to name-calling, fights, and ultimately lawyers, but after you've alienated all your friends, there's still a solid single-player scoreboard rush to enjoy as well. Basketball, at least the three-on-three variety, is also surprisingly good, a clever range of motion controls and simple button inputs allowing for dribbling, passing, blocking and shooting, all with no real confusion.
Following the outright winners are the growers, like canoeing. Its alternate strokes initially seem rather fiddly, but then the whole thing clicks and the experience becomes quietly rewarding. Power-cruising is another slow-burner, the handlebar controls and throaty audio enhancing a gamut of simple races between floating archways.
But for every hit, another game struggles to make much of an impact, and there's no escaping the sense that, as the variety increases, Resort tips closer and closer to pure novelty. Wakeboarding is a trick-chaining challenge without much acrobatic panache, chucking a Frisbee about is pleasant but inane - much like in real life, then - and the air sports, with the exception of Skydiving, feel like a hurried proof-of-concept for a much-requested PilotWings sequel, giving you the option to tour WuHu Island and collect markers, or engage in a little light dogfighting. Neither possibility offers much incentive to replay.
All of these games are charming enough for 10 minutes, and likely to gain a few fans willing to play them longer than that, but I'm not sure who exactly is meant to enjoy the cycling challenge, an annoying trundle around the pathways of the resort, lacking the strange charm of a jog over the hills and dales of the suspiciously similar Wiifity Island. This is padding, and not even pinching the slipstreaming system from Mario Kart can change that: Wii titles are often said to appeal to people who haven't played games before - perhaps this bit is for people who haven't seen a television yet.
There's a decent amount to unlock, though, and a lot of the roughness of the original game is gone, in presentation as well as the controls. Getting from one event to the next in the original Wii Sports was as exciting and dynamic as plodding your way through the automatic check-in system for a transatlantic flight; in Resort, proceedings have been couched in a friendly bit of staging, with the breezy island setting bringing the various challenges in closely, the sense of a single place helping to bind the whole thing together in a way that the first title, with its five solid games (well, four and boxing), maybe didn't need.
With two or more players, the sequel is, once again, a compulsive riot. Played alone, however, some of its pieces seem sweet, but a little empty. It's important to remember that, like the first game, Resort has a lot to accomplish, and for the most part does it effortlessly, but while its scattershot approach means you'll always have something to show off when the neighbours come around - apologies, I appear to be channelling The Good Life - Resort struggles to offer something you'll want to then sit down and play for any real length of time, except golf and bowling which, chances are, you already have done. Despite a lot more polish, a little of original game's sketchiness has returned too: you're left with the feeling that a gratuitously talented company has thrown together some casual brilliance, but stopped shy of expending too much real effort.
You could argue that Nintendo has always had two kinds of greatness: the big ideas - things like bottom-bouncing, and trigger targeting - which redefine genres, and then the sharp, unexpected treats that don't change games fundamentally, so much as transform them into something more lovable. It's definitely the second category into which the best parts of Resort fall, and so my updated list of favourite light-touch Nintendo moments is rejigged thus: that palm-reading in Animal Crossing leading to an unexpected bout of clumsiness, playing jump rope with Koopas in Superstar Saga, and skydiving towards WuHu island, connecting hands with falling strangers, before turning, just in time to face the camera. Count down. Big grin. 10 points. Press A to play again.
7 / 10