When I look back at all of Wii games I have played I find myself conflicted. While I have enjoyed the so-called "hardcore" games like Metroid, Smash Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy, I still feel like my favorite Wii experience has been with the pack-in game, Wii Sports. It's not that it's the best game on the Wii or especially deep, but it was the game that best demonstrated what was so unique about Nintendo's motion sensing console.
Seeing the popularity of Wii Sports I can certainly understand why so many different publishers would be pushing for some sort of motion-controlled sports compilation. This is the easiest way to explain Destineer's newest game, Summer Sports: Paradise Island. Summer Sports is certainly not the most original game to come out this year, but it does have a nice collection interesting sports to choose from ... a few of which have never been recreated on the Wii before. It's nowhere near perfect, but if you're the kind of gamer that is looking for another Wii Sports game, you could do a lot worse than Summer Sports.
Summer Sports: Paradise Island is exactly what it sounds like; it's a mini-game collection full of all the kind of simplistic sports that you might play with your friends if you were stuck on a tropical island (and not having to run from smoke monsters and people you refer to as "The Others"). While this collection features a few boring selections (the various basketball mini-games spring to mind), overall Summer Sports delivers on the promise of Wii Sports-style action applied to a greater variety of events. Regardless of their execution, it's hard to not get excited about throwing horseshoes, playing badminton, trying your luck at croquet or chucking lawn darts as hard as you can. Even if some of the gameplay is sloppy, at least this is a mini-game collection full of mini-games I might actually want to collect.
As you can probably guess, there isn't much of a story in Summer Sports. Instead we have a map with eight different event locations, which include places to play badminton, volleyball, miniature golf, horse shoes, lawn darts, croquet and a few different variations of basketball. Each of these mini-games can be controlled using only the Wii's remote; you'll never have to attach the nunchuk when playing this game. Better yet, most of the "sports" allow you to swap a single Wii remote between four people, that way everybody can have fun and you won't have to break the bank buying a bunch of extra Wii controls.
Logistics aside, Summer Sports is a fairly straightforward mini-game collection. In most games you decide how many people you want to play with (up to four, including computer-controlled characters with varying degrees of difficulty), then you select your characters, then team up or stay free-for-all, and finally get to playing ... and (hopefully) have fun. Some of the sports require teams and others allow you to customize your experience in different ways, but when it comes right down to it you're basically playing these games as-is. Thankfully this isn't a bad thing, since most of the sports are actually a good deal of fun.
The good news about Summer Sports is that there is a surprising amount of solid sports in this collection. After pulling this out at a recent gaming get together I found that just about everybody had a good time with lawn darts, miniature golf and croquet. These three sports, more than any others, managed to recreate something that we rarely see these days. And best of all, after we got used to the controls we found ourselves having a fun and lively competition. This was especially true when it came to lawn darts, a "sport" that has been banned in this country from almost twenty years.
At its best Summer Sports offers us good simulations of a bunch of oddball sports. None of the games are must-own titles, but collectively they make for an exciting few hours of Wii play (which is not to be confused with the far less fun Wii Play). The miniature golf game is terribly limited and suffers from a few control quirks, but at the same time you'll be instantly reminded why you love the sport. The same is true with croquet, which controls almost exactly like the miniature golf event. The horse shoes can be fun, but it plays a little too much like lawn darts, a much more exciting game.
Unfortunately there are a few disappointing events. I was not a particular fan of either the volleyball or the badminton games. While I generally like these sports in real life, there was something about these simulations that just felt a little off. Part of the problem is the terrible camera angles, which make it extremely difficult to determine where the ball is going to land and when you should start your swing. To make matters worse, you have a very limited amount of control over your situation, so you're constantly praying that the computer will move you where you need to be. Needless to say, these are the events that are easiest to skip past.
Perhaps most disappointing is the representation of basketball. Try as they might, the developers behind Summer Sports just couldn't make basketball work. This is especially disappointing because there is so much basketball in this game, everything from a simple game of HORSE to Around the World to Shot Clock. Heck, you even have your choice of where you want to play those events, something that you can't do with any of the other sports. The problem is that none of the basketball mini-games are much fun. The shooting mechanic feels right, but it just never feels as natural as the other sports in the box. What's more, it's actually really difficult to gauge your shot, something that wouldn't be an issue in real life. After spending quite some time with the three basketball events I started to wonder why I wasn't just playing this in real life. How expensive can a basketball be? And it's never difficult to find a basketball hoop. Summer Sports is at its best when it's recreating sports that nobody actually owns.
No matter how good or bad the different sports are the one thing you're going to have to get used to is the learning curve. Thankfully it's not too steep, but none of these controls seem nearly as natural as what we saw in Wii Sports. Most of the party goers were able to grasp the nuance of the controls quickly, but some of the sports felt like they could have used a bit more tweaking before release. The controls, just like the sports themselves, are something of a mixed bag.
Speaking of Wii Sports, one of the biggest draws of that game was the idea of using your custom made Mii character against your friend's character (and other crazy concoctions you've made/downloaded). Unfortunately you can't do that here. Not that this is unexpected, so far Nintendo and Electronic Arts are the only two companies using the Mii characters, but it is disappointing that Destineer wasn't able to incorporate these personalized players into the game. This is all the more noticeable when you see the short list of character found in the game. With five men and five women, Summer Sports gives you a small choice that features a lot of athletic-looking meatheads with a number of different ethnicities. Sadly none of these characters are all that unique and they are completely interchangeable. It's also disappointing that you can't customize these characters in any way (not even shirt color); they remain the same no matter what sport you're playing.
The graphics in Summer Sports are fair, neither fantastic nor bad looking. The beach locales are nice and soothing, but outside of a bird flying by or a boat in the ocean, there just isn't much detail to look at. Not that there was much to look at in Wii Sports or any of the other Wii mini-game collections. The character models are good and the sports have a unique look, but you shouldn't use this game to demonstrate the power of the Nintendo Wii or anything.
Outside of the seven events there aren't that many extras to speak of. The most intriguing bonus in the game is the addition of achievements, similar to what you would find in all of the Xbox 360 games. They are only good for this one game, but they will give you something to shoot for if you're looking to extend the hours of gameplay. As a fan of achievement points I can see how this could be a fun diversion, but you probably won't care much about these if you end up not enjoying the actual game.
Your enjoyment of this game is going to come down to how much you like the various sports. Chances are you're going to dislike a few right away, but if you give the others a chance you will find that there are enough good games here to warrant a play. I can see myself pulling the game out at parties to play lawn darts and miniature golf, so as a first attempt at this type of game Destineer deserves credit. Summer Sports is nowhere near consistent, but then again neither was Wii Sports. If you're the kind of gamer that likes to play alone then there's no reason to even consider this game, but if you're the kind of person that has a lot of friends over then you should definitely give this one a shot.