Wii Sports Resort (Wii)
Since late 2005, Nintendo has been promising that the Wii Remote would change the way we played games by replacing button-presses with real-world motions. The original Wii Sports, packaged with the Wii, single-handedly sold millions of Wii systems at $250 a pop, many to people who had never before considered picking up a game console.
But Wii Sports' proof of concept for a marvelous, motion-controlled future was aided by a significant helping of smoke and mirrors. Extended play showed that the Remote wasn't accurate enough to detect the angle of a tennis racket as it made contact with the ball, or correct swinging form in Baseball or Golf. The cracks in the motion-control scheme really started to show in the Boxing mini-game, with matches that universally devolved into a mess of random Remote- and Nunchuk-swinging that had little to no correlation to the action on-screen.
You can tell that my friends and I didn't take this screenshot because one of the players is attempting to block.
There was a ray of hope in the original Wii Sports: The bowling mini-game, unlike the others, showed the real promise of motion controls by accurately detecting the angle and power of your Remote swing as you hurled the virtual ball down the lane. Here, finally, was a game where the Wii Remote was used in a way that couldn't be emulated by a traditional controller -- where how you moved the Wii Remote was just as important as the fact that you were moving it at all.
Most third-party Wii developers failed to follow the example of the bowling mini-game, or even the other, less-accurate Wii Sports games. Instead, the Remote in most Wii games was used as a crude cudgel, a binary detector used to activate moves -- punches, sword-swings, magic spells, etc. -- that we've been seeing in games for decades now. Perversely, instead of replacing button-pressing altogether, shaking the Wii Remote simply became another way to push yet another button.
So we come to the Wii MotionPlus accessory and Wii Sports Resort, Nintendo's bid at true, accurate motion controls. The value of the upgrade is apparent the first time you gently wave a kendo sword from side to side, or twist a frisbee disc in your hand, or dip and push a canoe oar through the water, and see your on-screen Mii do the exact same actions in the exact same way. This feedback loop between the Remote in your hand and the Mii on the screen is immediate and satisfying in a way it never was with the pre-animated approximations of the past. For the first time, it feels like the Remote really is the object the Mii is handling, not just a white hunk of plastic with a touchy accelerometer inside.
Once the "Gee Whiz, It Works!" phase of the proceedings fades away, it's up to the actual games in Wii Sports Resort to prove that this new technology can be used to improve gameplay. The 12 sports in Wii Sports Resort are frustratingly inconsistent on this score.
At the top of the heap are the games deep enough to let a strong player improve through more accurate physical movements. In Archery, for instance, you have to calm your breathing and steady your bow hand to have any hope of curving a shot around barriers and through strong winds to hit a moving target 45 yards away. In Table Tennis, knowing when to twist your wrist under the ball for a floating drop shot, and when to slam it over the ball for a devastating smash, is the difference between victory and defeat. And while it's easy enough to throw a straight shot for your pooch to catch in Frisbee Dog, curving the disc through floating balloons to hit a target requires precise combinations of angle, power and release timing that can take quite a bit of practice to master.
After these three enjoyable, endlessly replayable options come the games that have interesting and accurate motion controls, but don't have enough depth to put them to good use. The Basketball mini-game does an excellent job of transforming a quick overhead flick of the Remote into an on-screen three-point shot, but once you've figured out how to make that first basket, the same exact motion will sink a million more. Swordplay, which promised to be an excellent demonstration for the accuracy of Wii MotionPlus, succumbs in multiplayer to the same Remote-flailing that undid Wii Sports Boxing. And scooping the Remote back and forth across your body to propel a canoe can be frenetic fun -- especially with friends -- but the motion is so repetitive and simple that the whole event can be essentially mastered in a single play.
At the bottom of the barrel are the games in which the Wii MotionPlus accessory -- and motion control in general -- seem completely incosequential. Simply tilting the Remote back and forth to power a board up and over a motorboat wake (Wakeboarding), using the Remote and Nunchuk like pedaling feet (Cycling), flying a dogfighting plane, or guiding a falling skydiver (both in the Air Sports section) all fail to garner much lasting interest. Though the jet-ski controls in Power Cruising are accurate enough, the simple course design means the races also don't have nearly enough staying power.
Some of the second- and third-tier games are redeemed slightly by additional play modes that shake up the gameplay a bit. Indeed, working through hundreds of computer-controlled opponents with a kendo sword is surprisingly more difficult and satisfying than simply taking a swing at your friends, as is passing the ball to computer-controlled allies in a simplified version of a basketball pick-up game. Even the surprisingly relaxing Island Flyover mode, where you lazily fly around looking for unexpected landmarks on the vibrant Wuhu Island, is a welcome addition. But none of these modes are really enough to extend the basic shallowness of these games. They come off as the kind of one-note mini-games that have characterized the Wii up to this point, not the fully fleshed-out games that are needed to show off its new potential.
I haven't yet mentioned the two Wii Sports Resort sports that have made a return from the original game: Golf and Bowling. That's because the new technology and intervening years seem to have done very little to change these games. True, the straightness of your Mii's golf swing is now somewhat dependent on the straightness of your Remote swing (though I could never seem to get the form just right). And there are a few new holes and modes to test your skills. But overall, these two rehashes felt like a way of padding the Sports Resort lineup from 10 to an even dozen.
Even when the gameplay itself feels phoned in, though, little presentational touches help carry the game along: The way your Mii's hand stays up after the final shot in a three-point contest. The way your dog happily wags its tail and whistles as it returns a thrown frisbee. The way the game populates its cast with popular characters uploaded to the Check Mii Out Channel. These and other small moments show that the game wasn't phoned in, even if some of the gameplay seems to be.
Wii Sports Resort and Wii MotionPlus are a sign not just of failure on Nintendo's part, but also of a battle rejoined. It's a battle to create true verisimilitude in gaming, to eliminate the barrier of the controller and create an experience as close to a true simulation as possible. It's a shaky first volley against the coming onslaught of Sony's and Microsoft's own motion controllers, but it's one that should keep Nintendo in the game for a little bit longer.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.