Nintendo launched the Wii way back on November 19th 2006, and on the very next day it became apparent that motion controls were here to stay. Wii Sports showed to both the old generation and the new school what the future of games would play like, with it’s easy to pick up and play nature and great party game atmosphere; in short it was a hit. So when the company announced Wii Play, hopes were high that the game would follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and provide a timeless party game experience. How they were wrong. Well, at least we all got a new Wii remote.
While Wii Sports served as a basic introduction to motion controls, Wii Play is designed to introduce players to the many other uses of the Wii remote, like I.R. pointing, twisting and sideways (N.E.S. Style) gameplay. The game is divided into nine different mini-games: Shooting Range, Find Mii, Table Tennis, Pose Mii, Laser Hockey, Fishing, Billiards, Charge and Tanks, all of which can be played either in single player or two player mode. Also, all of the games are designed to be played with the Wii Remote alone, and only Tanks allows you to use the Nunchuck to control, but we’ll get to that a bit later. One minor annoyance is that you have to play all of the games at least once to unlock the next one, so if you bring the game over to a friend’s house that doesn’t have a Wii Play save file, you’re going to have to unlock them all over again.
The first game on the package is Shooting Range, a sort of spiritual successor to the N.E.S. and its arcade classic, Duck Hunt. You point the Wii remote at the screen and take aim at a multitude of targets - empty pop cans, Frisbees, U.F.O.’s and even Ducks - in an attempt to rack up the points. And that’s the whole point of this game, and in fact all of the games on the disk - to earn the top score, and if you're good enough, medals. The graphics and sound design for Shooting Range are what you would expect, bright and colourful but uninspired and bland. Although when compared to the rest of the games in Wii Play, Shooting Range is one of the better ones, offering a decent challenge for those who are after the platinum medal and an enjoyable multiplayer experience, very much unlike the second game on the list.
Find Mii is; well to be polite, very boring. The gameplay consists of trying to find your Mii in a crowd of other Mii's. To add to the challenge, sometimes the Mii’s will be running, swimming, floating in space or in a dark room. As you progress through the levels more Mii’s will be added to the screen, they will run/swim faster in an attempt to make this mini-game worth playing, but in the end you’re left with a forgetful experience and frankly your time would be better spent playing around with the parade option in the Mii Channel on the Wii itself.
Next up is Table Tennis, and it’s another disappointment. When I first saw the game line-up for Wii Play and saw that Table Tennis would be making an appearance I was really excited. Tennis was one my favourite games on the original Wii Sports and seemed to play really well. But Table Tennis replaces the swing mechanics with pointer controls, so all you have to do is point at the spot on the table where the ball will end up. The Single player mode is a rally contest to see how many balls you and the CPU can successfully return, while the multiplayer is a first to 11 points match. There is a silver lining as Nintendo has upgraded Table Tennis for Wii Sports: Resort, and from my time with that game, it’s a serious improvement.
Pose Mii (sigh). Where to start? Without a doubt the worst game in the entire package (did I just give away the punch line?). Pose Mii is, all at the same time; repetitive, boring, annoying and uninspired. Basically your Mii has three ‘poses’ that you can cycle through with the ‘A’ and ‘B’ buttons. The object of the game is to match these ‘poses’ with balloons that float down from the top of screen. As an added gameplay mechanic you can also twist the Wii remote to twist your Mii to make sure he/she fits snugly into the balloon. As you play, generic pictures of flowers will scroll across the background, all to the worst soundtrack in the entire game. It's a sort of techno/mellow tune, and if you can stand the gameplay you'll want to play with the sound off. As a side note, why didn’t Nintendo allow you to use your pictures from the Photo Channel and have those pictures scroll across the background instead of close-ups of daisies?
After the travesty that is Pose Mii, Laser Hockey comes along to make things all better. The game is essentially air hockey with laser paddles and graphics, all blended with an upbeat techno soundtrack. The art style used is actually very good, all those colors flying across the screen are cool to see and makes Laser Hockey the most unique looking game on the entire disk. The gameplay is actually very much like Pose Mii, you point at the screen to control your paddle, and twist and turn to add speed to the puck return. This makes me wonder why Pose Mii was included at all. Overall this works very well, and Laser Hockey turns out to be one of the more enjoyable games in the package, providing a challenging single player AI and a fun multiplayer experience.
Fishing is next up to bat, and overall it’s a very forgetful experience, but at the same time that it is forgetful, it’s not really a bad game; you might call it passable. The gameplay consist of pointing at a small fishing pond and pulling back on the Wii remote when you get a bight. Over time different types of fish are added to the pond and there's also a ‘secret fish’ that you can catch for extra points. Just a quick note on the graphics of Fishing; everything looks like cardboard paper cut outs, and this works extremely well to make Fishing a unique and cute looking game.
Another game that I was excited for was Billiards. It looked nice and I could easily imagine what it would feel like to line up a virtual pool cue and sink some balls, and for the most part Billiards is an enjoyable experience. What you basically play is a game of 9-ball, where the object is to sink the balls in numbered order. The controls are quite loose however, so sometimes you will have to do the breaking movement several times before the game actually registers it. The only thing holding Billiards back from being a truly good Wii Play mini-game is the music, a sort of laid back tune the repeats over and over again and will quickly have you reaching for the mute button.
The next game has a pretty silly premise. In Charge, you sit on a woollen cow and race across a track, earning points by knocking down scarecrows. You hold the Wii remote sideways and turn it like a steering wheel, just like in Excite Truck and Mario Kart Wii. The music is nice and the graphics, like Fishing before it, are unique and cute. I was all ready to name Charge the best game on the disk, however the lack of different tracks and the short length of the races keep this one from reaching the top.
It looks like Nintendo kept the best for last. Tanks is easily the most enjoyable and robust experience on the entire game disk. You control a small toy tank, either with the Wii remote’s D-pad or Nunchuck, and your objective is to destroy other toy tanks either with your main cannon or with small timed mines. As the levels progress you will meet other types of enemy tanks that will fire different types of bullets, missiles and mines. Tanks features up to 80 levels, each presenting a different challenge to the last, which easily makes it the deepest Wii Play mini-game of the entire package.
Value is a sticky topic for Wii Play, as on its own the game is way below the standard set by Wii Sports and has only a few games worth re-playing when friends come over. However, Nintendo decided to pack-in an extra Wii remote with the game, while keeping the price set at $49.99. This very attractive price point and bundle is one of the big reasons why over 23 million people have already picked this game up. So if you are looking to get a new Wii remote and aren’t part of the aforementioned 23 million people, then by all means get Wii Play, as you are basically paying for the Wii remote and an extra $10 for a game, and that’s exactly what this game is worth.
Now, after all my ranting and foaming at the mouth you probably want me to get to the point. Wii Play is the perfect example of a mixed bag, some of the games like Laser Hockey and Tanks are great and very fun single and multiplayer experiences. Others, like Shooting Range and Fishing, are nice but forgetful and won’t take up much of your time. And then there’s Pose Mii and Find Mii, both of which will make you wonder how a world class developer like Nintendo can expect you to have fun with this. The Wii remote and game combo has proven to be an irresistible offer for many and if you really need a new Wii remote then by all means take the extra $10 plunge and get Wii Play, but on its own Wii Play is a forgetful experience. Here’s hoping that the better games on the disk are revisited, either with Wii Motion Plus support or on WiiWare at a budget price, and that we never hear of Pose Mii again.