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Now the Wii is turning into something of a phenomenon, every one and his mum is looking to get in on the action. EA can perhaps be forgiven more than most as they came out of the gate with strong support for Nintendo's diminutive console. Early on they showed an impressive understanding of both their own titles and the Wii's controllers as they expertly backed in some waggle into Madden, FIFA and Tiger Woods.
Keen to capitalise on this promising early start they have more recently turned up with some original properties. These games are pitched squarely and farley at the Wii's demographic and look to provide a rounded experience that picks up not just waggle, but the whole Wii philosophy and aesthetic. Today we have a game in hand that stands alongside MySims and Boogie as an offering for both younger and casual gamers.
EA Playground is surprising on a few levels. Firstly, the inclusion of the publisher's name in the title is unusual. Whether this represents confidence in its success or an attempt to bolster a possible failure remains to be seen. Secondly, this is a game that appears to be for pre-school kids, but actually turns out to have something for pretty much all the family. Its four player mash-ups have been the subject of many a breakfast table debrief as we relive the previous evening's exploits.
The games range from Swingball, Gliding and Dodgeball to Scalectrix.
The game is tied together by a series of play environments (playground, park and stadium to name a few) that can be explored by the MySims styled player. Within each space there are a dozen or so kids that can be challenged to a series of different games. These games make up the majority of the meat of the experience. Although at first they seem to be pretty derivative mini-game fodder, given a little time (and as we shall discuss in a moment - some human competition) and they develop into pretty nuanced experiences.
The games range from Swingball, Gliding and Dodgeball to Scalectrix. Don't get me wrong, this is certainly no Wii-Sports beater. The controls here are much simplified and less is made of accurate gestures, opting instead for a timing based approach. This does however have the side benefit of levelling the playing field. Pretty much any one, young, old, newb or pro can come to this game and have a good few hours fun with it.
As alluded to above, the multiplayer is where the fun really kicks off. You can challenge up to four players to any of the games, which thankfully are unlocked from the start. As you do play through the single player you are rewarded with additional skills and circuits for each game, a much more sensible approach than forcing players through the single player before they can enjoy some human competition.
Probably the stand out game in out family is the Scalextrix racing. Each of the four players has a can on the track and uses the Wii-mote B trigger as the go/stop trigger. You then tilt the controller left or right to switch lanes and maximise the number of power-ups and boost bars you pick-up. As you become accustomed to each track you find players construct their own (pretty involved) tactics to get to the finish first. Whilst the game would have been topped off if you could actually corner too fast and leave the track, as it stands it's a lot of fun, and has been the hit of the autumn for our kids.
These simple pick-up-and-play games are exactly what the Wii is all about.
That, as they say, is about it. The visuals, music and effects aren't going to break the bank, but certainly do everything that's asked of them. One thing to mention is that you should really invest in those extra Wii-motes for Christmas day as all the family are going to want their piece of the action. Whilst other reviews may not have found enough depth or challenge in EA Playground Games, that for us is exactly the genius of it. These simple pick-up-and-play games are exactly what the Wii is all about.
The only slight check on proceeding is the full price tag on this release. Other games of this ilk seem to have (sensibly) taken it upon them selves to drop down to the GBP 20 mark. GBP 40 still seems a little steep for this game (and we really enjoyed it). Perhaps this is one to watch for in the Boxing Day sales. Either way, pre or post Christmas, we're sure you won't be disappointed.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: