Review: EA Playground (Nintendo Wii)

EA PlaygroundWii Sports, which is included in the purchase of a Nintendo Wii, can provide a nice light workout. I’m not saying it is as good as even walking for an hour, but it certainly can get the heart rate moving and muscles aching and that’s better for your health than sitting on your butt for the same amount of time. The nine pounds I lost last month were probably helped by all the Wii Tennis I played.

However, Wii Sports only has five games and there isn’t much variety to them after you’ve played a while. For this reason, I’ve been on the lookout for games that offer similar gameplay. There are a wide number of sport titles available for the Wii, but they often seem to rely more on the nunchuk stick or the Wiimote nav buttons than swinging and waving the Wiimote. My guess is that many developers are stuck in their design rut from other systems where it’s all a matter of button combos, and far too many Wii games rely on a lot of button clicking instead of arm swinging.

After scouting around on GameTrailers.com and other sites, I decided that my next likely candidate (until Nintendo decides to make their next sports entry) would be EA Playground. If nothing else, it has dodgeball…and I LOVED dodgeball as a kid!

The premise (in storyline mode) is that your player runs around the schoolyard, woods and nearby stadium challenging other kids to various competitions. Defeat the kid once, you get a golden sticker. Defeat all the kid’s “dares” and you’ll get a “bag of marbles” for completing each one, as well as unlocking other more challenging kids who play the same game. You can visit the Sticker King to purchase stickers in exchange for your bags of marbles; the stickers will unlock special moves and abilities in the games. Once you have mastered all other challenges (more on that later), you get to face off against the Sticker King in all of the competitions. I haven’t gotten that far yet. (Again, more on that later.)

Dart Shootout:

Dart Shootout begins as your standard “Hogan’s Alley” of pop-up moving and stationary targets, then throws in some opponent kids who fire back at you with suction cup darts. This game’s more fun than frustrating, with a lot of kidding around by the enemy boss. Good replay value, especially as you can team up with a buddy for multi-player. My only complaint is that to play this in storyline mode requires unlocking the Woods, the last level to open, before you can play dart shootout at all. The other dart players tell you that they’ll play against you once you’ve challenged the kid in the woods, which is locked. That’s just a little mean. Also puzzling as to why they did that, given that you have to play a bunch of lesser games to unlock a fun one.

Dodgeball:

Best game in EA Playground, easily, which is why it’s ballyhooed on the cover. The controls are easily mastered, making it a simple matter of strategy and skill. One-to-four human players makes this comparable to Wii Tennis in exertion and sustained enjoyment. You won’t get tired of this one for some time, and it would be a good game to break out at parties.

It’s funny that we live in an era where the real life game is being banned from schools for various nanny-state hand-wringing concerns, but at the same time it’s finally being recognized as a real sport. The EA Playground version makes it akin to a Judo competition, with the challengers dressed as black belts and doing martial arts moves before the round starts.

Slotcar:

Another winner. Simple racing along preset lanes, and you skip across the lanes with a twist of the Wiimote. Along the way, you’ll encounter accelerating and braking strips and little boxes containing bonus items. You can raise a shield against attacks or drop a pile of tacks into the path of pursuing cars. Multi-player, too. If I have a complaint, it’s a standard one about any racing game: after a while, your thumb hurts from holding down the acceleration button constantly.

NOTE: The video above seems to be preview art; the final product is a bit more polished and the colored lanes don’t go green-yellow-red.

Wall Ball:

The last of the fun games, Wall Ball, is basically raquetball/handball by another name, with power-ups and wormholes thrown in. This could be another party game, as facing off against a real person would be more fun than a computer opponent.

NOTE: Again, the above is a preview video. The sound effects are a little different on the final version (not as annoying, in my opinion.).

Kicks:

Kicks is a made-up cross between tennis and soccer. It’s tough to figure out and so far I’m barely surviving it. It’s certainly not tripping my trigger, though possibly someone who understands what they’re supposed to do could be having more fun with it.

Paper Racers:

I thought this would be one of the best games in the package, but it’s proven quite frustrating. Some of the challenges involve hitting hard-to-see multicolor rings and all you can do is run the course again and hope that you’ve remembered every location. I suppose this could be a cakewalk to the kind of gamer who runs through Super-Mario games at top speed while memorizing every move to get every hidden item, but for me it’s almost unplayable. I’ve hit a wall in my ability to solve these puzzles and thus win the full game.

Tetherball:

All I can say is that this is as maddening and exhausting as real tetherball. Many’s the time I think I know exactly when to swing and yet I miss the ball. Others I’ve played this with have found it just as aggravating. Given the power-swings your opponent can use against you, as well as sending the ball higher or lower, the harsh timing of the ball adds too much difficulty to this game.

Frankly, I can’t see little kids playing this without crying. I know I do. I also clutch my chest and wait for my heart and lungs to slow down. I think I hurt my shoulder playing this! I want to finish the whole game but I just can’t beat the expert tetherball champs. To literally add insult to injury, every time the computer beats you the opponent character laughs at you and does this victory dance that just makes you want to hit that little son of a bitch in the mouth. I hate this game. Once I beat it, or stop playing because I’ve lost a limb, I’m going to finish the story mode and then never ever play tetherball again.

While we’re on the subject…in addition to the seven actual games, there are small story challenges which you must complete in order to proceed to the final face-off with the Sticker King. Dribbling a basketball is easy-peasy. Bug hunting with a small net is a bit of a pain only due to the 3D playing field and the flakey arrow controls. However, shooting free throws is proving to be another impossible challenge for me. As an arrow moves back and forth over the net, you have to shoot a basketball only when the arrow is in the middle…and the speed isn’t constant, and you have to shoot 20 balls in 30 seconds. Again, it’s a pain in the tuchas and I wish I could just skip this little auxiliary challenge, but I can’t.

EA PlaygroundThe irritating weaknesses in Paper Racers, Tetherball and Kicks would be less frustrating if it was possible to skip the story mode altogether and just play the games you like. However, Story Mode must be played for at least a while just so you can unlock all of the players, areas and power moves for use in the Game Mode.

In all, “EA Playground” offers a truly exciting game (dodgeball), several solid entries (slot cars, wall ball, dart shootout) and of the remaining three all I can say is that your mileage my vary. Somebody must like those games or they wouldn’t be in there. I give it a “B+”, and it only rates that highly because it’s possible to play the games you like while skipping sucky ones like Tetherball.

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