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Horrible Histories Ruthless Romans Wii Review

19/08/2009 Family Family Gamer Review
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Horrible Histories Ruthless Romans Nintendo Wii

Horrible Histories Ruthless Romans

Nintendo Wii


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Family Guide Gamer (Wii)

Horrible Histories comes to the Wii and not only creates a well balanced experience, but manages to combine education and gaming. Although the gore of the book is tamed a little for the Wii audience, the game looses none of the classic Horrible History obsession with interesting and slightly morbid minutiae.

For those that maybe missed the books, Horrible Histories are Terry Deary and Martin Brown's fresh take at engaging youngsters with that sometimes dry subject, history. Their selling point for the kids is that they don't sanitise any of the gruesome facts, in fact they celebrate them. This, they suggest, is a small price to pay if it means engaging children with a whole range of different historical eras in great detail.

The books repeat the success of the likes of Asterix and Tin Tin in getting kids reading and learning without actually realising it. They too pick up the graphic novel style and include some relatively graphic and genuinely humorous cartoons on most pages.

The transition from book to game is a difficult one (although perhaps not quite as problematic as that one from game to film). And for Horrible Histories there is the sense that its gruesome aspects become a little bit too near the bone when children are actually enacting them rather than reading about them. So, quite sensibly, the Wii game offers a slightly toned down and less shocking take on the realities of historic life.

There is a nice balance between action and learning here.

The game in hand is the first in the series for the Wii, Horrible Histories Ruthless Romans, and as its name suggests picks up with life of ancient Rome. Players are treated to a graphic novel style introduction voiced by Terry Deary himself and delivered with considerable success. The drama that made the books so engaging is found here in full theatrical form.

Players can then play the game in three ways. The main story picks up the struggle of young Rassimus to achieve glory as a gladiator and obtain his freedom. Here players must work their way through minigames and roman history quizzes to gain access to fight a series of gladiators. All this is wrapped up in an explorable Roman city, in which are found not only the events but mini fact books that prepare players for the history tests they need to pass.

There is a nice balance between action and learning here. Although players need to be prepared to do a fare bit of reading, the prospect of less challenging fun is never far away and there is a genuine sense of achievement to progression.

Alternatively, players can opt to go straight for the mini games. Here they can play any of the 25 games available against the computer or up to four friends. Each game picks up an activity with a Roman theme that usual involves a combination of reactions and Wii-mote gestures. The simplicity here works well, and although the Wii-mote pointing can be a little fiddly at times, the cartoon presentation and stop frame animation make it an enjoyable and really unique experience.

They can also choose to just play the Gladiator contests. As in the story game these involve each player picking a champion and then picking a particular action at which to compete - gestures, button pressing or drawing. During each fight the player performing these actions the quickest comes off best. Two of three rounds are usually required before someone is out of health and a winner is declared.

All the family them, regardless of age and ability would enjoy the multiplayer mini-games and battles.

Finally, players can also choose a risk type campaign. Here up to four players battle to dominate a map. Each player selects a region and then tries to win the mini-game to gain control of it. The game is over when one player has all the regions in their colour. Again, a simple idea with a strong Roman theme that works well.

As you can tell, there is a lot on offer here. And it works as a whole because of the hand drawn cartoon style. This along with some sensible direction means that players avoid any of the shocking realities of Roman life. Gladiator battles are obscured by Scooby Doo style clouds of dust, and mini-games that involve hitting or slashing are pitched against straw manikins rather than real people.

Our game was packaged with the related book, and this seemed the best way to get the full Horrible Histories picture. Those not yet hooked in the family, or those a little younger could enjoy the Wii game, whilst those wanting a slightly more hardcore take on the history could flesh things out by reading the book. All the family them, regardless of age and ability would enjoy the multiplayer mini-games and battles.

We were was excited about the release of Horrible Histories on the Wii for some time, and it is a relief that it has arrived in such solid form. While the edginess of the books is lost a little, the experience still oozes that great Horrible Histories balance of honesty, fun and education. We will look forward to the next game in the series.

Written by Andy Robertson

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Andy Robertson writes the Family Gamer column.

"Videogame reviews for the whole family, not just the kids. I dig out videogame experiences to intrigue and interest grownups and children. This is post-hardcore gaming where accessibility, emotion and storytelling are as important as realism, explosions and bravado."

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