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This seems to be a good month for those that enjoyed Wii-Sports at launch, but have struggled to find anything else quite as good since then. In addition to Boom Blox, the game in hand today Sport Island (Decca Sports outside Europe), finally provides a confident follow up to Nintendo's first party sport game. What's more it's been produced by a third party - the holy grail of success for platform holders.
Wii-Sports Resort (Wii-Sports 2) is coming soon, but Sport Island has been out in Japan for some time, and more recently hit the States. Now it's Europe's turn for some varied sporting goodness. For some reason they have also seen fit to change the game's name. This must have cost a lot in terms of marketing and packaging material, so we guess they had a good reason - although this currently eludes us.
The game itself is built around ten different sports. Badminton, Motocross, Karting, Snow boarding, Football, Basketball, Curling, Archery, Ice Skating and Beach Volleyball. Each of the games can be played in a variety of modes and with various combinations of players. Single player takes you through a progressively harder field of competitors until you have conquered a particular event. Party games task you with completing training challenges in each activity - requiring you to obtaining a certain score or time before you can progress. Multiplayer mode enables you to play with (or against) up to three people (not including yourself), although the precise combinations vary from sport to sport. Basketball, Soccer, and Badminton are two 2 player games, where Archery, Kart Racing, Motocross, Beach Volleyball, Figure Skating, Curling and Snowboarding support up to four players.
Each of the events provides varied and enjoyable gameplay. This is more than matched by some great menu screens that enable simple game setup and selection. Time has been well spent to ensure you can easily move from sport to sport with the minimum of fuss. Mario and Sonic at the Olympics could learn a valuable lesson here. This simple intuitive interaction also extends into the game controls proper. Although they are towards the simpler end of the spectrum, the majority of mechanics feel well balanced. My kids even found the motion sensitive steering use d in the karting and biking to work better for them than Mario Kart. When a third party manages to trump Nintendo's own controls you know they have invested a lot of time into their scheme.
The emphasis throughout is fun and simplicity and it's a combination that works well. Pretty much all members of my family could jump in and enjoy a quick game of something or other.
Other controls that work well are the Wii-Tennis style badminton. Here you can control the flight of the shuttle with the angle of the Wii-mote and the weight of the shot with the amount of motion applied. On top of this the angle of the controller applies a fare degree of directional control. I've played this for a few hours and I'm still discovering additional nuances. Other events apply less imaginative interactions, such as the Ice Dancing Nun-chuck stick directional control and Wii-mote waggle jumps. But overall there is easily enough here to keep the hardest of Wii-Sports enthusiast happy.
While Sport Island may get edged out by Wii-Sports and Mario and Sonic at the Olympics for pure quality, it more than makes up for this in fun and overall presentation. Little visual touches, from the different Mii-like players, to the way the setup screen morphs into the in game scoreboard all contribute to making this feel like a polished experience. The emphasis throughout is fun and simplicity and it's a combination that works well. Pretty much all members of my family could jump in and enjoy a quick game of something or other.
The audio may be a little dancey and repetitive for some tastes but there is nothing to distract too much from the gameplay itself. A little more voice work may have bolstered the characterisation of the different competitors, but even this would have been a big ask.
Some events can feel like they are a bit too simple to be lasting fun. Football for instance lacks the tactical aspects that make that sport so much fun, and Basketball is limited to three on three action. And the Archery is a little simplistic after playing the exactly Wii-mote Nun-chuck implementation for Mario and Sonic. But overall the games hang together well and give a great overall impression.
It will be interesting to see what sort of price Sport Island actually hits the shops at. If it can get towards the GBP 29.99 mark rather than the full price GBP 39.99 then it represents great value. Overall this is a great little package of games that should do really well at retail.
We hope that other third parties take note of what can be achieved on the Wii by the application of Nintendo's own formula. Accordingly Sport Island does well because it focuses on fun over depth and simplicity over complex mechanics. Round this off with some well implemented controls and Konami are onto a winner.
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