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Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
 
2/16/2007 11:28:00 AM

Review: Wii Play

By Adam Duerson

In my experience, the most effective way to judge a Wii game is by the size of the crowd it attracts to my abode at the end of a long New York City night and by the number of times said crowd returns to play that same game in the weeks to come. Wii is a communal system, so games should encourage community, right? (Side thought: perhaps this is why Wii has yet to offer online play.)

By that measure, Wii Sports has so far stood leaps and bounds above all else. Even at 3 a.m., "Tennis anyone?" is still met with cries of "I got first!" Likewise, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz still holds some drawing power (wee hour hammer throws, sling shots and home run derbies being favorites). And Super Swing Golf? That one never really caught on with the late night crowd. Having recently added Wii Play to the repetoire, I think it's safe to say that fishing and ping-pong (two of the nine games on Play) will be early morning mainstays for some time to come.

Wii Play
Wii Play :: Table Tennis :: Nintendo
For those unfamiliar, Wii Play is a collection of "games" (ping-pong, pool, air hockey, skeet shoot, fishing...) that almost identically mimicks the setup of Wii Sports (which had tennis, baseball, bowling, etc.). Presumably there will also be a Wii Activities title with crocheting and paint-by-numbers somewhere down the line. In fact, it's probably best to approach Play as a Sports sequel of sorts, especially since Play similarly serves as a tutorial on the functions of the Wii remote.

In Play, gameplay pits competitors against each other using the same Mii avitars that were created for Wii Sports and the setup is the same as in Sports: choose any of nine games and go head-to-head or earn medals by achieving benchmarks in individual competition. There is also a similar mixture of frustratingly simple children's fare and absurdly innovative two-player games, the most addictive of these being Fishing. Here, one or two players dangle remotes into an over-stocked pond like they would a reel-and-rod, then wait for Wii-nibbles—vibrations on the remote—before yanking back their prey. Gameplay is fast and encourages competition (for example: you can scare fish away from your opposing angler by splashing your lure around), plus it's pretty simple to follow: points go to the biggest and most plentiful fish. If I'm making the decisions at Nintendo of America, this is exactly the type of thing I blow up into a stand alone fishing title.

Play's take on Ping-Pong is more akin to Tennis in its head-to-head competitiveness, but uses a completely different racket/paddle control system. Instead of swinging a remote, you simply aim and move your padel using a cursor, much like a laser pointer. The effect appears very similar to Wii Sports' Tennis, perhaps, but at times it's too fast, and it's certainly not as impressive to watch as Tennis for a bystander. (Remember: community.)

Wii Play
Wii Play :: Laser Hockey :: Nintendo
The same pointer system is used in Laser Hockey (which plays like a souped-up Pong) and in the Shooting Range. For anyone who's played the dive bar staple Big Buck Hunter, the Shooting Range is pretty derivative: the boucing can and shoot-the-U.F.O. missions are ripped straight from Buck. But it's also encouraging to see how well point-and-shoot can be pulled off with the remote. With any luck, a full-fledged version of Buck Hunter will make its way to the Wii soon enough. Rip-off or not, I'm already a range junky.

As far as utility goes, Play's take on Pool is the only game besides Fishing that uses the remote in a realistic manner, and perhaps it suffers for it, too. It is difficult to imagine a remote as a pool cue, so controlling the aim and strength of a shot in Play's nine-ball game take a little too much figuring out for the plug-and-play Wii set. I liken it to the darts game that appears in Super Monkey Ball. When you pull back and throw a remote like you would a dart, something feels all wrong. Same goes for an imaginary pool stick.

The rest of Play acts as a series of tutorials on how the controller can be employed, including a Find Mii game that, in simplest terms, plays like Where's Waldo. Of course, since Play is all about the Wii remote Nintendo has packaged one with every Play game. Nice idea guys. But I might have appreciated it more three months ago... Back when the system came out... Before I went out and bought a set of four controllers myself. Thanks.

Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 7.5
Wii Play is ALL ABOUT gameplay, and it's handled with mixed results. Nintendo's best efforts are demonstrated in Fishing and Ping-Pong. But they leave much to be desired with Air Hockey.
Graphics: 5
You get exactly what you're expecting from Wii, especially given what we saw in Wii Sports: Characters that resemble PlayMobil toys and cartoony backdrops, with a touch of anime. Nintendo knows the Wii's restraints and plays well within them.
Replayability: 10
This is strictly case-by-case. Play can grow pretty tiring if you're fiddling around by yourself or simply trying to earn a Gold Medal in Pool. But add an opponent (or a group of competitors) and Wii Play is at its best.
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2/15/2007 01:56:00 PM

Review: Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo DS)

By land, sea or air.
Race by land, sea or air.
NINTENDO
By Jake Luft

Batman has Robin, Radioactive Man has Fallout Boy and Donkey Kong has Diddy Kong.

First introduced in the raucous Super Nintendo title, Donkey Kong Country, little Diddy is all grown up now. (At least, he's grown up enough to have a licence to drive a go-kart, a hovercraft and an airplane.) Diddy trades in his sidekick status for marquee billing in Nintendo's latest addition to the Mario Kart family of go-kart racers, Diddy Kong Racing.

It's a worthy successor in what has become a video game racing dynasty on par with Gran Turismo and Project Gotham. At its core, Diddy Kong Racing isn't much different than a typical Mario Kart game. You hop in a horsepower-starved go-kart and try to turn and burn your way through the tracks, picking up weapons and power-ups and hitting the speed-burst arrows.

What sets Diddy apart is the free-roaming adventure mode that lets you take the story at your own pace as you explore an exotic tropical island. You can swap out your go-kart at any time in favor of the hovercraft or the single-engine prop plane. Each of the three vehicles are distinct enough that you'll have to adjust your racing style to accommodate them. For each race you finish, you are awarded a golden balloon. The more of these you collect, the more of the island is unlocked. But if you proceed to quickly, you'll end up over your head and find yourself getting dusted right from the starting gun. The key is to advance gradually and upgrade your various vehicles with the coins you collect from the racetracks.

The touch pad on the DS, the bottom screen that allows you to interact with the games on a tangible level, adds a subtle dimension to the gameplay. At the start of each race, for example, you can give yourself a boost by rubbing a pixelated wheel (for the go-kart), a propeller (for the plane) or a fan (hovercraft) furiously back and forth. You can also use the pad to unlock secrets as you roam around the island -- just stop and experiment when you see a hand icon pop up on screen. Perhaps the best use of the touch pad is in the magic-carpet-ride levels, where you use the stylus (the stick the DS comes with) to "pop" balloons and collect coins as you progress through the level on the track. (This was a big hit for my 3-year-old daughter.)

The use of the weapons, which you unlock by driving into floating balloons, is where most of the strategy in this game can be found. There are offensive (e.g. missiles) and defensive (e.g. oil slicks) weapons. You can either use them right away, to minimal effect, or save them and try to "upgrade" with power-ups by finding coins or simply driving into another balloon of the same color. Upgrade a missile twice and you get a level-three missile, which will seek out the race leader and knock him silly.

Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 8.5
If you are looking for realistic racing, this isn't it. As is the norm with Nintendo games, they trade in realism for simple, rewarding fun. All three vehicles will feel like they are plodding at first, but they improve markedly as you buy new parts. Diddy has a nice, gradual learning curve, though when you get to the advanced levels you will have to exercise some grey matter and memorize where all the power-ups are on each track to have a chance.
Graphics: 6.5
"Functional" is about the best thing I can say for the look of the game. The landscapes are blocky and there isn't much detail anywhere in the game. The one exception may be when you "draft" behind another race and you get a cool, streaks effect.
Replayability: 9.0
The variety offered in the online play is a feather in Diddy's red baseball cap. The game offers single-cartridge support, which means you can play against a buddy who doesn't own the game. Plus, you can play up to six players at a time with the Wi-Fi multiplayer races. Frankly, the only thing that keeps me from playing this game more is that the small buttons make my hands feel so grubby. Sometimes Nintendo is too much like Trix -- just for kids.


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2/13/2007 03:21:00 PM

Pro Evolution Soccer '07 review

Pro Evolution Soccer '07 review
Konami
By Lang Whitaker

Occasionally I'll flip past TV Land or Nick or Nite, and 10 minutes later I'll find myself engrossed in a rerun of Cheers or The Andy Griffith Show or some other show from the B.C. era. (Before Cable, if you were wondering.) I will watch for a while, and usually I'll enjoy the program, laughing at the hijinks of Barney Fife or whoever. These shows are usually outdated and possibly in black-and-white, but the content is so well executed that they're completely worth watching.

And then I'll flip the channels again and end up on some show on Discovery HD. The shows on Discovery HD are generally dry, boring programs that do very little to entertain me. But I end up watching them for an hour anyway, just because they're in HD and look amazing.

Which is a better option? I'm not sure. Is there a right or wrong choice? Probably not. Basically, I'm choosing between style and function.

Generally speaking, this is the same conundrum I find myself confronting regarding the two newest soccer simulations on the market: FIFA 07 and the newly released Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2007. I reviewed FIFA 07 a few months ago, and that review remains on point. FIFA 07 for the Xbox 360 is a stunning video game, but the actual soccer lags behind the look of the game. And after a week of playing the first next-gen version of Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer on my Xbox 360, I'm convinced that this game is the opposite of FIFA: Not the prettiest game, but the central content -- the actual soccer -- is pretty darn good.

For those who are longtime console soccer players, the Winning Eleven games have always held almost a mystical appeal. While EA Sports purchased the rights to all the players and leagues, Konami's Winning Eleven series was never as polished, never included as many real teams or players, but the gameplay was always terrific.

I've always hated this. Unless it's illegal -- as in the NCAA Football games - if a company wants us to believe they're fully committed to producing the best game possible, they should shell out the money and put it out there. (Much like I feel sports owners should do, but that's another column.)

Winning Eleven has always used a bunch of weird stage names for some of the world's best teams. North East London, for example, remains the alias of Tottenham Hotspur. This year, new teams include Boca Juniors (a.k.a. Patagonia). And unlike in the PlayStation 2 version of the series, there's no way to change the team name. And to me, it's just not as much fun as it could be otherwise to play a season as North East London in a league that has no name. (Also, the U.S. National Team players all have fake names. If you don't mind going through and changing all their names, it's not a problem.)

Another strike against Winning Eleven is that it just isn't as pretty as FIFA 07. The load screens in FIFA allow you to practice one-on-one moves against a keeper, and the fonts and black background are elegant. Winning Eleven, with its bright white screens and dull graphics, can seem a bit more haphazard and less put together.

The one place where Winning Eleven really stands out is in the actual soccer. FIFA plays fine and looks great, but you can't play real soccer, at least not like they play on TV. So you have to get used to making long runs up the middle and playing short corners every time. Winning Eleven is a lot more realistic -- short, quick passes pay off, and if you pause in midfield to look around, you'll almost certainly have the ball stolen. It's also much harder (and realistic) than it is in FIFA to beat a defender off the dribble. It's tough to score, but that's what makes it the beautiful game.

Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 8
Winning Eleven probably has the best soccer gameplay on the 360 this year. Good news for those of you who prefer this franchise.
Graphics: 7.5
The 360 graphics just aren't as sharp as those on FIFA 07's version of the game. Winning Eleven's first 360 offering doesn't look terrible, but it's not sparkling either.
Replayability: 7
Without many leagues, the dynasty mode in Winning Eleven is lacking. There's also no challenge mode available. Online play offers some relief.


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