Monday, 23 November 2009

Wii Sports Resort: Swordplay.

Kirsty made the mistake of buying a second-hand Wii from someone at work two weeks ago. Since then I've been spending every break in my busy work schedule (and some of the time I should be working) playing Wii Sports Resort. It's 12 games in one, all requiring you to use the Wii's motion sensor remote in ways vaguely approximating the wielding of certain sports utensils, such as oars, bats and kendo sticks. The clever conceit is that all these activites are available at a resort called Wuhu Island - which would be so much ho-hum if the game developers hadn't designed the whole island in detail and given you the option of exploring it with a seaplane. So it's sort of like going on a brief holiday to a place too fantastic to really exist, and I like that in a computer game, particularly if it's raining outside.

Anyway, I'll do a quick run through the activities and say what I think of them. In one player, the general mechanic in each sport is that the more you play it, the more experience you get, the tougher your opponents become. If you start losing, you drop points and your opponents get weaker. This works well up to a point, forcing you to discover new techniques that will give you the edge without ever overwhelming you too badly. However, not having any control over the level of difficulty means that every game requires concentration, somewhat depriving you of the option to just relax and go on autopilot. It also robs you of any sense of 'beating the game', since the contests are never-ending.

Case in point - Swordplay. This is my favourite of the games on offer, since it reminds me of playfighting as a youngster. You swing, thrust, parry, knock opponents into the water or off the hillside and generally make-believe you're a samurai/fencing genius. It's loads of fun in two-player, where you can taunt each other as well as inflicting humiliating blows. In one player, I've played it to death, beaten the 'champion' and collected many of the 'stamps' that supposedly signal the depth of your achievement. All this means is that I have to spend every battle now constantly blocking while I wait for the tiny opening in my opponent's defence. If I'm lucky, I might get three or four good bitchslaps in per match, but most of the time, it ends in a stalemate.

The Showdown mode, where you face off against waves of weaker opponents while making your way across the island towards the ancient ruins and the volcano, also suffers. At first I was slicing through opponents left, right and centre, bowling them into each other, taking their feet out from under them, generally being the ruthless, invulnerable ronin I always knew I was on the inside. However, as the stages become tougher, it soon becomes apparent that no matter how many enemies gather around you, only one of them will face off with you at a time. Continuing to treat them like a hoarde of attackers just means you get your arse kicked for being too hasty - you have to concentrate on one at a time, patiently watching for the best time to strike while the others dither, awaiting their turn.

The Speed Slice mode is fun for a while - a referee throws various objects towards you, from clock radios to watermelons to bamboo poles, and you have to cut them in the direction instructed faster than your opponent. The best thing about it is that you get a few moments before the next round, during which, if you're frenzied enough, you can actually slice the object in question to ribbons.

What's missing from Swordplay - and this is a theme throughout Wii Sports - are two things: firstly, a more free-roaming mode which lets you explore the island in your samurai gear, challenging strangers to fights. It would be particularly satisfying if you could march right up to the table tennis court and take revenge on whoever beat you in the last match.

Secondly, and more importantly, the level of violence is too low. I know this is meant to be a family game, and so we can't really kill people. Fair enough. But the worst you can ever do to an opponent, it seems, is disappoint them. When they roll off a cliff, they're immediately saved by a balloon. When you knock them to the floor, they sit around wriggling their legs for a bit as if mildly inconvenienced. Even after plunging into the sea from an elevated platform, they turn up moments later, dripping and looking just ever so slightly downcast. Not to mention you're fighting with coloured sticks instead of swords.

I dunno - maybe I'm perverse. The only enjoyment I ever got out of The Sims was sealing two people in a room adjoining their house, with a window so that they could watch their girlfriends carry on their lives untroubled while they slowly went insane and starved to death. I never got far on Rollercoaster Tycoon because I couldn't resist building a ride that ended half way through, in mid-air, calling it 'Certain Death', and then watching as hundreds of tiny sprite-based punters queued up, screamed with delight and then with terror, as they expired in a corkscrew of flame. Part of what I like about games is doing things that you can't do in real life because you're considerate of other people's rights and feelings. Games characters don't have rights or feelings - they just exist as part of an extended formulae for getting the player's brain to release endorphins. So I would have really appreciated being given the option to march into the town square in my swordplay gear and start knocking holiday-makers down like skittles. And I'd have appreciated seeing opponents you have bested clutching their knees or chest in discomfort, losing their grip on their swords, crawling feebly away or flat out not moving, so as to imply they've actually had enough, rather than simply being 'tagged out'.

I said I'll do a 'quick run through' - actually, I'm doing my usual thing of going into far too much detail. So I'll save the other sports for another day!

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