Dreamcast. No, really.
8th Dec, 2006.
Bundled in with my lovely new Wii came this rather pleasant surprise. I'm not going to go on a riff about how it'll revolutionise gaming, and pretty soon we'll all be Olympic-athlete fit, while those poor fools who bought another console will soon be dying of heart attacks at the grand age of nineteen. Don't worry. Nor will there be odes to the tune of "I dislocated my face playing on my Wii." a la the window lickers over on Wiihaveaproblem.com. Sorry to disappoint.
Instead, I shall review the game. Staid, traditional and unimaginative, I know, but that's what my family beat into me. Family, religion, and child abuse, yessir.
Porn star boxing proved unpopular.
Wii Sports (is it my inner child or my inner moron who always finds that amusing?) comprises five activities; boxing, bowling, baseball, golf and tennis. Each has a single player and multiplayer mode, and all can be played energetically or not, for the specially able amongst us. There are also fifteen training minigames, three for each sport, and the Wii Fitness Test (Must. Not. Laugh.).
Boxing is the first one I played, owing to my extensive pugilistic experience (fighting sleep, dodging the gym to chase girls and drink, etc) and I chucked it on immediately after setting up my Wii. Nunchuk in one hand, remote in t'other, I proceeded to batter ten bags of shit out of around a dozen opponents, gleefully twatting each into submission. The motions aren't 1:1, but you can punch quite quickly as long as you have a decent rhythm going, and you can jab, uppercut, hook and straight, usually with ease.
You are responsible for keeping your guard up. You have to keep those controls high, protecting your mug against incoming blows or your nose will get smashed through the back of your head. This comes as a bit of a shock when opponents rather unsportingly start to fight back. As you progress, you have to block effectively, as well as leaning from side to side and backwards to dodge punches. If you successfully avoid a punch, there's a nice swoosh
of air, things slow down for a second and it's a perfect opportunity to counterpunch their spleen out through their spine. Unlike earlier opponents, you cannot simply subdue them by windmilling your arms and screaming (worked for me in school) you actually have to box
. This means quick combinations to the body and head, blocking and dodging, but not biting ears (you can mime it if you really want to, I suppose). This all adds up to a rather physical game, even if the fights are only three rounds of three minutes each, which left me sweating like a paedophile in an orphanage even before I reached the more difficult fights.
The fighters don't even have arms (Then how do they box? Terribly! Ahahaha), there's just mobile pairs of gloves bobbing about, but if you've done a decent job on your Mii, it can be rather upsetting to see yourself get smacked repeatedly in the face. The abnormally huge heads recoil from inflicted blows quite nicely, as do the torsos, and it's very satisfying to knock them about. Each impact is accompanied by a splash of bright colour, and the bigger it is the more knuckles in the sandwich you just delivered, leading to some excellent post-match replays, reliving that sweet moment where you bobbed to the inside, slipped by that devastating straight and drove a hook into his ribs, finishing him off with an uppercut before he could get his guard up. There's no HUD, just the round timer and health displays flashing up when damage is done, so what's going on is never obscured.
When the sun came down, Billy was going to hit it. Hard.
It's not a full simulation of the sport, but it is a pretty good indicator that a full boxing sim would be an excellent game for the Wii, as well as being very entertaining in its own right. Getting a pro ranking is a good challenge, even though the sweet science has been somewhat simplified, and two-player is a nuclear-level blast, giving you the opportunity of pugilism without brain death. You can't beat it. Or rather, you can. Blocking and bobbing become even more important when facing an opponent who can think (or at least, look vacant) as punchfests turn into actual boxing, sniping at each other from behind raised gloves, looking for an opening without revealing one. In your defences, that is.
Baseball, I'm woefully ignorant about. I played rounders in school, and it looks about the same. You take turns batting and throwing ('pitching' is the appropriate jargon, apparently. Very technical) and although initially tricky to time your swings, batting soon becomes easier and pitching is a piece of piss from the start (actually throwing the remote is purely optional, but popular with some). Fielding is handled entirely by the computer, who schizophrenically skips between poor and excellent whenever it feels like it, dropping easy catches and snagging fast ones out of the air. I think it's a bit of a missed trick not to let you try and catch the ball using the remote, though. Even if you know sod-all about baseball, it's easy to pick up quickly, and not knowing the mercy rule (whatever that is) or what 'bases loaded' means (I thought they all belonged to us anyway?) won't hamper your playing. The two-player mode can be one-sided unless the players are evenly matched. It's a constant batter versus pitcher contest with no respite until the game is over, and it can be frustrating, but is entertaining in short bursts.
The blobs attacked mid-frame.
Bowling is easy to play but difficult to play well with any consistency. Spin is easy to apply but difficult to judge, and a small inadvertent turn of the wrist can spin your ball way off course, meaning you miss getting a strike or curve by that lone pin mocking you with it's uprightness. Keeping your roll the same time after time (run-ups optional) to get strikes is what really makes the game challenging, and then coming back from a poor throw to pick up a spare requires another layer of skill entirely. Getting higher and higher scores seems so easy at first, which helps compel you to play again and again in search of topping 150, then 200, then 250, pulling you toward the perfect 300. Gaining pro ranking isn't actually too difficult to achieve, but playing well game after game in order to keep it may be more pressure than some can bear. Multiplayer is a shitload of fun, and you don't need to shell out for more remotes as you're all taking turns. It's vital for a true sense of competition, as the single player mode doesn't offer a computer opponent, just the chance to better your score.
When I was young enough to wear short pants (if my family had been able to afford short pants, and not just a potato sack) me and the other urchins used to go along to the local golf course, laugh at the golfers and steal their balls. Now, the golf on Wii Sports isn't that much fun, but it is better than I expected. You don't have to dress up like a cunt to play it, either, though I know some people will anyway. There are nine holes, three for each difficulty level, and none are what I would call particularly taxing. The biggest challenge comes from the transition from normal stroke play (fnar, fnar) to putting. Walloping the ball a hundred yards is a bit different than tapping gently to roll it a yard, and the level of finesse is radically different. Multiplayer is slightly less raucous than bowling, golf naturally being a rather subdued sport, but feel free to break out your ascot if you really must.
Dave's bladder meter started to fill suddenly.
Tennis is probably the weakest game as far as single player is concerned. For some reason, you can only play doubles matches, and your computer-controlled partner is about as much use as tits on a bee. It's naturally inclined towards multiplayer, so if you play it alone you do feel as if you're starring in an episode of The Life and Times of Saddo Bastard, but the more people take part, the more fun it is. Four-player resembles a riot, and quite frankly requires a lot more floorspace than I currently have to offer. Definitely a time when furniture is moved aside, delicate glassware is taken to the fallout shelter and children are chained up in their kennels. With movement handled by the computer, all you have to do is hit the ball. It sounds odd and takes a little getting used to, but soon you'll be concentrating on developing your sense of timing, essential for accurate swings.
The training minigames are often quite fun in their own right, and invariably help you develop your skills for the main games. The lack of any high score tables chafes my old-school soul, but the inclusion of the Wii Fitness Test is a nice addition. You can only play it once a day, and your performance in three randomly selected minigames is then calculated and your Wii Fitness Age is then revealed. This can vary wildly depending upon your skill at playing the different minigames, but it's an amusing diversion, and a handy graph enables you to track your progress from aged oxygen thief to sprightly young buck.
John always aimed his balls at Pamela's arse.
No, the graphics are not the best evar. Yes, the players do sometimes lack limbs and otherwise look like Lego people, but what problem do you have with Lego? Their bobbling oversized heads are hilarious, and that's what counts. Cartoonish, but with plenty of character (even when 'character' means looking like a trans-sexual having a particularly troublesome bowel movement), I find it hard to criticise the sense of style they, and the rest of the game, are imbued with. Likewise, the audio is not going to set the world aflame in a rapture of worship, because that's not what the game is about.
Really, Wii Sports is nothing more than a demo, but for once it's not a demo that shows off polygon counts or forty-three channels of ear-cleaning surround sound, but gaming. To be enjoyed fully, it does require the presence of other mere mortals, because it's wholeheartedly aimed at multiplayer. The full range is available, from the tight partnership of two-player co-op to the quadruple argument that is four-player. The added physicality adds an extra element, not least to boxing, which at its best is sometimes only a step away from real pugilism (won't somebody think of the children!). It's very definitely Nintendo in style, bright, cheerful and radiating the feeling that the game might be better for you than playing the actual games, y'know, outside
. This is almost certainly the case with boxing, anyway, as a smack in the face doth often offend.
Perhaps it is a new way to play, but just not as Nintendo may have meant. Something that a bunch of artfully rumpled, twattish twentysomethings faffing about may have failed to express. The new concept might not be waving a remote, but playing with other people, which has been a growing sideline, if not an afterthought, to gaming's lone raison d'etre.