It’s been more than a decade since a game console has shipped with a pack-in game right out of the gate. This used to be the standard; Altered Beast came with the Genesis, Tetris came with the Game Boy and Super Mario World was the pack-in for the Super NES. But ever since the Atari Jaguar launched with Cybermorph nobody has dared give out a free game when they could just as easily sell it for $50 at a game store. Nintendo has decided to buck that trend with Wii Sports, a compilation that features five different activities all with the purpose of teaching you how to use your brand new Wii remote control.
You can’t expect too much from a pack-in game, and Wii Sports is no exception. While it’s true that you will probably have a good time with one or two of the activities presented on this disc, it’s just as likely that you’ll get bored of them after only a few plays and never touch them again. Wii Sports feels like nothing more than five tech demos put on one disc, something that nobody in their right mind would have paid money for. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because there’s no denying that this collection does do a commendable job of teaching you what you can do with the new controller. And at the end of the day, maybe that’s all this collection was meant to do.
As I mentioned before, Wii Sports packs five different sports into one disc. You get baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis. Of these five sports, only two of them are worth playing – tennis and bowling. It’s not that the rest of the sports are bad, but there are a few design quirks that keep them from being as exciting as the real sports. Or maybe it’s that the bowling and tennis games are so good that they diminish the quality of the other three. Nah, it’s that the baseball, golf and boxing games have a set of problems that make it hard to enjoy.
The crowning achievement of Wii Sports comes in the way of bowling, a surprisingly satisfying experience that works well with the Wii’s unique remote control. Just like the real game, bowling is all about knocking those pins over and gathering the highest score you can. This bowling game doesn’t pull any punches, it’s a good old fashioned game of bowling that is easy to pick up and play. One of the reasons it works so well is because the control feels natural, you start out your wind up in much the same way you would in real life, and the throwing motion is spot-on. This is the type of game that proves that Nintendo is on to something with their motion sensing control.
Tennis works for much the same reason, but sadly it’s not nearly as much fun as the bowling is. Tennis plays like all traditional tennis games, where you hit the ball back and forth until somebody either misses it or accidentally hits the ball out of the court. Unlike bowling, tennis takes a little getting used to before it starts to feel natural. You hold the Wii’s remote like you would a tennis racket, and depending on how you swing you will either hit the ball or completely miss it. This works for the most part, but there’s no question that this type of game could be done far better with deeper controls. Also worth mentioning is that you can’t control your character, he runs around the court independent from anything you do with the control. Part of me wishes that I could both control the character and hit the ball at the same time.
After bowling and tennis the rest of the games are decidedly less interesting. Baseball should be fun, but it’s marred by a few strange game play choices that will have you scratching your head. The game feels natural when you’re using the Wii remote to bat, but not so much when you’re winding up to throw the baseball. It’s also disappointing that you can’t control your players on the field, when you hit the ball it automatically decides how many bases your character will advance, which takes a lot of the excitement out of baseball. I suspect that it won’t be long before 2K Sports or Electronic Arts comes up with a better baseball game that allows you to have full access of your team.
Also disappointing is boxing, which is the only Wii Sports game to use the nunchuck. Given Nintendo’s history with this sport (mainly with the classic Mike Tyson’s Punch Out) I was expecting a lot, unfortunately boxing is just a little too simple for its own good. As you might expect, boxing is performed by you holding both controls and then wildly punching at the screen. You can dodge left and right by holding the controls and moving in that direction, which is one of the few things I really like about this version of boxing. On one hand I like the direction Nintendo is taking their motion sensing control, the idea of actually using your body as a control is a good one that will no doubt be used in better games in the future. But while I commend Nintendo for at least trying, there’s no excuse for the simplistic play mechanics that get boring after only a few rounds. This may be fun in the split-screen two-player mode, but it won’t take long before you’ve grown tired of flailing your arms around at your virtual opponent. What’s especially painful about the execution of this game is that you can see a lot of potential; this is one of those sports that should have been amazing but falls short because of the disc’s push towards simplicity.
Boxing and baseball aren’t the only bad things about Wii Sports though. I’ve managed to save the worst of the games for last, and that’s because it’s a real stinker. Golf is a love it or hate it affair, but I can’t imagine anybody actually having a good time with this round of golf. While it’s true that it shouldn’t be compared to the likes of Tiger Woods PGA Tour or even Hot Shots Golf, this Wii golf has a hard time even getting the main components of the sport right. I like the idea of holding the Wii’s remote like a golf club, but the way the game is built it makes it extremely difficult to judge how strong you’re going t hit the ball. The game sports a power meter which you are supposed to use to gauge how strong to hit the ball, but it’s just too easy to hit the ball so hard that it doesn’t go where you want it too. If you swing the remote too hard the power will actually burst out of the top of the meter, which means that the ball will go in the wrong directions. Putting is even worse since the game is so unforgiving. Throw in a limited amount of options and you’ll be hard pressed to find somebody who actually has a good time playing this game. Golf is easily the worst part of Wii Sports; it’s almost a pain just to try to get the game to play right and that’s not what I am looking for in a good sports title.
While Wii Sports stresses simplicity, there are a couple of extra modes that are worth checking out. First up is the training mode, which offers you 15 different mini-games based on the five sports. You only start out with five mini-games to play, but as you do better in the game you will unlock more interesting modes that you will probably come back to more than you initially think. Most of the mini-games are pretty standard; you’ll have target practice with tennis, swing control in baseball, and a bag to beat up in boxing. There are a couple of standout mini-games, though, including a mode in bowling where the computer keeps adding more pins for you to hit, ultimately leading to a moment where you have to hit dozens of pins at once. It’s fun to go back to these mini-games and improve your score, but at the same time a lot of the problems I had with the main game are still apparent in this mode.
Along with the training mode is a fitness mode that has you doing your best to perform basic tasks in each sport in order to determine your fitness level. The game charts your fitness level and only allows you to play this mode once a day. This is certainly an interesting idea, but I’m not sold on the idea that hitting balls back and forth is an accurate way to tell if your fitness age. I suspect there will be a lot of people who score poorly not because they are out of shape, but rather because they haven’t mastered the controls of each sport. Either way, I like that Nintendo is trying new things, even if the mode’s accuracy is in question.
What’s cool about Wii Sports is that you get to take your Mii characters into the game. Currently this game is the only one to support the Mii characters, so this may be the only time your favorite user-created character has a chance to shine. While I love the idea of creating characters and playing with them, there’s something disconcerting about playing sports with people that have no arms and the occasional lack of legs.
Along with simple game play comes extremely simple (often bare) graphics. Perhaps I’ve been playing too much Gears of War and Rainbow Six Vegas, but it’s hard to be real impressed with the visuals in any of the sports in this package. The sports don’t look bad or anything, but they are hardly a show piece for the Wii’s power. The game play is the real star of this game, and even that can be a bit rocky at times. While the graphics won’t impress there is something to be said about seeing my faux-celebrity Mii characters (Ali G, Tom Cruise, Woody Allen, etc.) walking around the bowling alley or playing a game of baseball.
It’s hard to complain too much about a pack-in game, but it would have been nice if the quality of the sports was a little more consistent. Had this been released as a standalone game it would have been a tough sell, so perhaps Nintendo did the right thing by using Wii Sports as a way to get people accustomed to the new control. But part of me wishes that the games were a little deeper and offered a longer lasting experience. Ultimately Wii Sports is a fun title worth checking out, even if you get bored of it after only a few tries.