The long-awaited debut of WiiWare finally puts Nintendo in direct competition with Microsoft and Sony in the realm of downloadable original software. They've certainly started strongly, with developers like Frontier and Square both helping to expand our expectations of what a downloadable game can offer. But this latest addition to the Wii arsenal also works to the detriment of the Virtual Console, a service which has long been blighted by arbitrary pricing and often baffling selections. Will Nintendo be able to keep charging 800 Wii Points for less-than-stellar SNES games when just a few hundred points more can purchase something like LostWinds?
Regardless, WiiWare has got off to an eclectic start. Check out our reviews of LostWinds and My Life as a King elsewhere on the site, and read on for our critical appraisal of the rest of the launch line-up...
Star Soldier R
- Developer: Hudson
- Wii Points: 800 Wii Points
- In Real Money: GBP 6 / EUR 8 approx
Given the proliferation of vintage shoot-'em-ups on the Virtual Console, it seems strange to make one a part of the starting line-up for WiiWare. What's even stranger is that Star Soldier R is about as niche as it's possible to get, designed to appeal solely to the score-chasing devotees.
The guts of the game are exactly as you'd expect - you pilot a nifty spaceship up the screen, blowing up swarms of enemies and scooping up as many power-up icons as you can while dodging incoming fire. Where the game distinguishes itself is in its brevity and focus. You choose between a two-minute or five-minute game and try to amass as many points as possible in this tight timeframe. This means that there's only room in the game for two short levels, and a couple of boss fights. There's also a third mode, which seems bizarrely pointless. In this one you advance up a screen crammed with targets and must hammer the fire button as many times as possible. That's it. You're ranked based on how many times per second you could spam the button.
I'm not about to criticise the game for targeting such a narrow niche (though even then it's over-priced for what there is) but the game would be a lot easier to defend if it was a more interesting shoot-'em-up. The level designs are fairly generic, and even within the confines of the small play area there's little potential for variation. Even by the standards of other re-released retro-flavoured score-based blasters such as Rez and Triggerheart Exelica, this is a slender experience.
It's all about shooting faster and better, not discovering clever new routes, so unless you're the sort of person who actively enjoys playing the same small sections over and over, searching for new ways to eke out those extra few points, there's absolutely nothing here to warrant an 800-Point purchase.
5 / 10
Dr Mario & Germ Buster
- Developer: Arika
- Wii Points: 1000
- In Real Money: GBP 7 / EUR 10 approx
It simply wouldn't be a new Nintendo service without a Mario-shaped safety net, but this enhanced remake of the company's 1990 Tetris clone is perhaps a slightly leftfield choice.
The words "Tetris clone" should tell you all you need to know, really. The play area is a bottle, and in the bottle are colourful viruses in red, yellow and blue. Mario, dressed up as a doctor even though his qualifications are dubious at best, stands to the side of the screen and tosses pills into the bottle. The pills are two blocks wide and made up of random combinations of the same colours. Match four in a row, vertically or horizontally, and they vanish. Forming such rows using the viruses, thereby eliminating them, is the rather obvious aim of the game.
Even on the easiest settings, it can be a tough challenge. Even though you'd think it'd be simple to slot simple two-block shapes together you're almost always left with rogue colours jutting out all over the place, and without quick reactions you can spend most of your time just trying to clear up your own clutter without even getting close to the viruses below.
Apart from a general lick of paint, the game really hasn't changed since it debuted on the NES, which will either come as a relief or an outrage depending on your taste for retro puzzle games. You can change a few more options at the start of the game, tweaking the speed and difficulty to your liking, but the main addition is online play. You can even play against a friend who doesn't own the game, with a limited demo version sent screaming down the wires to their Wii so they can join in. Online is always good, but it's still online in the terms set out by the feature-deficient Wii, and therefore not quite the selling point it might have been.
You also get Germ Buster, which is a slightly beefed up version of the Dr Mario mini-game from More Brain Training in which you grab and twizzle the pills with the remote. It's a cute idea, but not particularly effective for a game that leaves so little room for sausage-fingered inaccuracy.
It's certainly a decent enough block-dropping puzzler, even if most people probably would've preferred Tetris. Or a Virtual Console release for the SNES Dr Mario and Tetris compilation. Either way, 1000 Points feels a bit steep.
7 / 10
TV Show King
- Developer: Gameloft
- Wii Points: 1000
- In Real Money: GBP 7 / EUR 10 approx
How many people will download this expecting it to be a quiz show about their favourite telly programmes? That was my assumption, and it was only after a few rounds of generic general knowledge questions that my torpid brain finally twigged that the name comes from the fact that you're supposedly taking part in a TV quiz show, not a quiz show about TV.
Easily digestible quiz games have been a key weapon in the casual gaming war on the PlayStation and Xbox 360, so it's surprising that it's taken this long for someone to offer up something similar for the none-more-casual Wii. Shame they didn't use this extra time to serve up something with even a fraction of the polish and variety of Scene It or the exclamation-craving Buzz!
From the cheesy host to the dolly-bird hostess, there's not an ounce of original thought or style to TV Show King, and this is reflected in the structure of the game. Questions are all lumped together - there's no connecting theme or opportunity to choose the subject matter - and you simply point at the multiple-choice answers as quickly as you can. The game doesn't even bother to spice things up much. Every now and again the host will squawk about a "special event" but that just means a normal question with a cash bonus.
There are no picture rounds, nothing beyond the same multiple-choice format over and over. Sometimes you have to use the remote to illuminate or "scratch" away the answers before clicking on them, but that's about it. It's as if they thought that Wii owners would go into shock if they weren't asked to wiggle their hands at some point, and just tacked on some waggly bits to compensate.
Between rounds you can opt to spin a prize wheel, which can either bestow extra cash prizes...or take it away. It's a random element, and one that seriously undermines the whole purpose of the quiz format. The fact that you can also steal money from other players, or be forced to hand over some of your own pot to someone else, is even more annoying. This means that even if you opt not to spin the wheel, you can still lose your money because of what someone else has done. Several times I found myself in the lead at the end of a round (because I'm awesome) only to find myself in last place for the start of the next round (because I was unlucky). Such elements turn it from a test of knowledge to a game of chance, and that's an annoying switch to force on the player.
TV Show King is a quiz game, and it features questions. That basic level of expectance is all it manages to meet, and it's horribly clear that this is simply a "make do" release, put out there to mop up an existing market with the minimum of effort.
4 / 10
- Developer: Two Tribes
- Wii Points: 900
- In Real Money: GBP 6.30 / EUR 9 approx
Third time lucky? This game first saw the light of day in 1994 on the MSX, under the uninspiring title of Eggbert. Revamped and relaunched on the GameBoy Color in 2001 as Toki Tori, it was greeted with critical warmth but commercial indifference. Having spent a few years trying to make it as a mobile phone game, it's back on a console and - hopefully - finding that elusive combination of right place, right time.
Our hero is a perky yellow bird, looking for all the world like he's just fluttered in from New Zealand Story. He waddles around a 2D platforming maze trying to free his unborn siblings from their eggshells. You can control him as normal, or use the remote to point where you'd like him to go. He can't jump, fly or climb so the meat of the puzzling gameplay is working out the best route to reach all the eggs without leaving yourself trapped.
Helping you out are various tools that immediately call to mind Lemmings. Some enable you to cross empty spaces, or teleport nearby. Others are used to stop or destroy the various enemies that tromp mindlessly around the levels. These are enemies in the old-school sense - they stomp along until they hit an obstacle and then turn around. It's the sort of thing most people will know only from set-top box services like Sky Active, and there's definitely a simple charm at work here.
The game automatically saves after each level, so it's easy to dip in and out. You also get a Wild Card, which you can use to skip a tricky level and try the next. As you only get one Wild Card, you'll need to beat the level in question if you want to skip any more.
It's deceptively tricky, hiding a razor-sharp puzzle game beneath its cutesy exterior, but it's the sort of intuitive and methodical difficulty that won't scare your mum. It's not a game that I'd suggest rushing to download, not while games like LostWinds are available, but it's definitely worth picking up eventually.
7 / 10