It’s always struck me how much gamers, generally (but not always) a couch-loving bunch, are drawn to sport games and games that require the in-game player to be physical. Why is it, I wondered while munching toasted cheese and watching the World Cup from the comfort of my sofa, these people often sneer at the Wii’s offering of interactive sports where you’re required to move about a little, when they themselves constitute sports games as being able to press a button at the right moment and flick the analogue stick appropriately? Hand-eye co-ordination is important for playing many games, including the Wii sports games.
To go from being basically an add-on for a console to a serious contender for family entertainment is no easy feat. Wii Sports has certainly done its time. Since last gens release of Wii Sports Resort, many have had to conclude that this is a Nintendo franchise determined to be taken seriously. The games were fun, compelling, easy to master and addictive. But what, if anything, does this newest release add?
Well, it’s in sparkling HD so it generally looks better though given the rather simplistic graphics and colour palette of these games, it’s not going to make you ooh and aah with delight. The tweaking of backgrounds and lighting is probably most notable in baseball and golf, outdoors sports where you have to look at your environment once in a while.
What is lovely and admirable about Wii Sports is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously; it never has. That’s why it can get away with simple graphics and gentle competitiveness that won’t have you swinging for grandma in a blind rage when she beats your sorry ass at bowling. It’s also refreshing for a sports game to tone down the competitiveness. Winning isn’t everything, kids.
Five sports are initially on offer here, a poor selection considering the abundance of games in Wii Resort. They weren’t all brilliant to be sure but at least you had plenty of choice. So with only five sports to choose from, they must all be polished to the highest possible standard, right?
Hmm. While Nintendo aren’t usually ones to do things half-heartedly, some of the games downright contradict that. But before we get into the “what’s hot and what’s not” of Wii Sports, let me just give you some additional info. I’m full of useful titbits.
There are two ways to play. You can purchase a 24 hour day pass for £1.79 or an unlimited Club Pass for £8.99 (prices are correct at time of writing). When players first download the game they get a free 24 hour trial period. This is a different way of doing things for Nintendo and they state their aim is to offer those who only play the game socially a chance to opt out of committing to a full purchase. With the game retailing at the usual £30 mark, this is a pretty neat alternative, especially for those who maybe want to try a couple of sports before deciding to buy.
When you first start the game you are asked to join a club and you can choose between 50 US states, different countries around the world (including Scotland – woohoo!) or an anonymous World Club that doesn’t specify any geographic allegiance. Club choice isn’t permanent but switching can only be done once every 24 hours. There doesn’t appear to be any in-game advantage to joining a club – it’s just to make you feel as though you’re part of a team.
Nintendo have also added a series of achievements unlockable during gameplay called Stamps. There are quite a lot to collect and can be viewed in the player’s Stamp Collection screen. There is also Miiverse integration where players are encouraged to boost their clubs popularity by posting.
Online multiplayer works like a charm, as I also found with Mario Kart 8. Finding matches is fast and simple and players have the options of competing against friends, strangers or other members of their club. Generally I found the games to be very smooth with very little to no lag. Impressive to say the least.
Music is minimalist but sound effects are more important here and they deliver well, with each satisfying whack of the balls (easy, boys) and thud of a well-timed punch making you feel like you nailed it, even when you didn’t. What are all these sports people complaining about anyway? All this hard work and sweat… they make it look much more difficult than it is.
Because Wii Sports was originally concocted to showcase the potential of the Wii’s Motion controls, these have been fine-tuned, ensuring players have more control over their actions, e.g. tennis lets players use topspin and sliced shots while lazy wrist flicks are likely to result in gutter balls during bowling.
After saying that, it should be noted that tennis probably makes use of the new hardware the least, with oversensitive controls a cumbrance at times. However the greater range of strokes available to master means you might not want to give up too easily and the addition of online doubles keeps tennis a classic Wii Sports game.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it goes the saying and sums up bowling to a tee (oops, wrong sport!). The only noticeable difference is online play. Bowling has always been the most realistic and natural of all the games with its simple mechanism that mimics real-life bowling. Training games are available for all the sports and these vary between fun mini-game style additions to pointless extras that rely on luck, like the Triple Whammy in bowling, where different 100-pin formations are set up to be toppled.
Easily my favourite of the improved games on offer is golf, and not just because I won consistently. None of the Wii Sports are particularly challenging technically; this is deliberate of course in order to make it accessible to everyone. But golf definitely demands more of the player than the others and it remains to be seen whether this will put off more casual players. Personally I don’t think so because once you’ve mastered the technique, it’s a lot of fun. It’s also one of only two games that uses the Wii’s Gamepad and it’s very effective. Placed on the floor, it represents a virtual look onto the course with the ball sitting in the middle. You set your stance and, when ready, use B to centre the remote. A virtual golf club appears on the Gamepad screen, giving you a real-time visual indicator of the angle of the club head and where you strike the ball. You find yourself looking up at the course on the TV screen and back at the ball as you prepare to swing, trying to keep your wrist straight and work out the strength you need to reach your target.
It works brilliantly but requires a bit more thought than the average player might be willing to invest in a casual game. However, with every round you can see yourself improving and out of all the games, I found myself drawn to this one, probably because of the improvement – if you feel yourself progressing with a game, it’s more of an incentive to play and none of the other Wii Sports can boast that. As fun as bowling is, the novelty does wear off after a while.
The other game to utilise the Gamepad is baseball and again it works very well. You swing the Wii remote as usual when batting but pitching and fielding are now operated from the Gamepad. Using the motion sensor and the screen, you simply press a button to choose between alternative balls when pitching. The power of your throw is determined by the timing of a power gauge. When the batter hits an air ball, you have to follow an arrow on the Gamepad screen, tilting the pad until you’ve located the ball and then line it up for a catch.
The fun part of this is hiding your pitching selection from the batter so they don’t know what ball they’re getting. Overall this is an excellent use of the Wii U’s controller abilities, without being as technically demanding as golf.
By far the worst game in the selection is boxing. Single player requires you to wield two Wiimote Motion Plus controllers, holding them up in front of you in a typical boxing stance. This seems pretty realistic and fun until you throw your first punch and the computer doesn’t follow. Boxing is generally a frustrating experience as a result and seems to rely on luck as to whether or not you land or dodge a hit. With the motion controls working almost seamlessly in other games, this just feels like a lazy add-on. Two-player fairs no better, with each player holding one Wiimote each and trying to land punches on each other through an unresponsive system. The only benefit I can see in this is it’s a bit more physical than the other games so you might feel like you’ve actually done something, though it won’t be satisfying, rather like running for a bus and missing it anyway.
With only three out of the five games on offer worth paying for, it’s easy to see why Nintendo have opted for a different pricing plan. But maybe analysing these games is a bit much; after all, they’re for family entertainment and social gaming, designed to get you moving and experiencing something different with your games console. If you’re unconvinced, try a day pass and see for yourself.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Format: WiiU Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Wii Sports Club by the Publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 2 weeks on a Wii U. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.