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Wii Fanboy Review: Summer Sports: Paradise Island


Destineer's Summer Sports: Paradise Island follows the same idea as Wii Sports: an assortment of casual sporting events to be played in multiplayer, with simple, representative motion-based controls. While it's obvious that this is where the money is on the Wii (to the point that even Game Party is a hit), Destineer smartly chose not to imitate Wii Sports outright.

Summer Sports seems to be an attempt not just to cash in on the Wii Sports phenomenon, but to serve as a companion to Nintendo's remarkably popular Wii pack-in. To that end, it features eight games that Wii Sports does not, and a surprisingly effective island theme.

Some of the minigames are total clunkers that make a compelling argument against motion controls, but some manage to deliver on the promise of Wii minigame collections: simple-to-understand controls in unique, fun games.

Summer Sports uses a simplistic, Dreamcast-esque graphical style. The characters are depicted in realistic proportions, but use smooth, low-poly models, and the environments are likewise low on details but smooth. While the graphics aren't technically impressive, they serve the game well, providing an upbeat, happy feeling. Similarly, the pleasant steel-drum-based musical score (along with steel drum menu sound effects) lend the game a calm, vacation-like feel.

Since Summer Sports is a collection of self-contained sporting games, I thought the best approach would be to discuss each separately, followed by analysis of the game as a whole.

Basketball: The basketball game is based on three common "casual" half-court basketball variants: H-O-R-S-E, Around the World, and Shot Clock. In H-O-R-S-E, one player picks a location from which to shoot, and (if the first player makes the shot) subsequent players must match it or else receive a letter. When a player accrues the full word "horse" (or any word up to five letters -- you have the option!), they lose. In Around the World, players shoot from a sequence of locations around the hoop. And in Shot Clock, players have a set amount of time to shoot as many goals as possible.

All of these variants allow players to set the options -- shot clock duration, number of shooting locations, the word (and the length of the word) to substitute for "horse." The only problem is the game. Shooting a basket involves holding the Wiimote with the B button facing you, holding B, and flicking the Wiimote forward in a throwing motion. It is extremely difficult to adjust your shots or to know how the movement relates to the distance and direction of your shots, which means that you miss about 90% of the time.

Horseshoes: Horseshoes uses either an underhand or a "boomerang" motion to simulate tossing horseshoes. Each player tries to land horseshoes closest to (or around) a stake in the ground, over a player-specified number of rounds. The difficulty is just right here -- your throws seem to correspond to onscreen events pretty well, and waggling harder seems to be equivalent to throwing harder.

Croquet: Croquet uses Wii Sports golf-style controls (hold A and swing as if you were swinging a golf club) on a traditional nine-wicket croquet course. Croquet works quite well as a Wii minigame, because the swinging motion required for a croquet mallet is quite small and sensible for indoor play (and not crushed TV screens).

Basketball: For some reason, two of the eight games on the menu are basketball. The only difference is that the second basketball game takes place in a driveway rather than a basketball court. Both have the same gametypes, options, and gameplay. There is no discernible difference at all between the two other than the appearance of the backdrop. Baffling.

Volleyball: Volleyball in Summer Sports is incredibly frustrating. It's a traditional beach volleyball game: bounce the ball over to the other side; if it hits the ground on your serve, you get a point. Unlike basketball, the controls are fine: move the Wiimote in roughly the direction in which you'd like to bop the ball, or hold B and waggle to pass. The problem in this game is with the camera: whether in the default dynamic view or the Wii Sports tennis-style view, the camera jumps around far too much to see what's going on. You serve the ball, and then, when the other player would be trying to return the serve, the camera jumps into another angle. In the overhead view, the camera doesn't change angles, but instead just jerks around. It ensures that you can't see what's happening to any useful degree.

Mini-golf: Miniature golf is the star of Summer Sports, in my estimation. Each of the nine holes is in a different theme, from a haunted house to a medieval castle, with appropriate decorations. Thematic stage elements like suits of armor use full 3D models not seen elsewhere in the game. The courses all have unique and clever gimmicks, like a barrel that fires the ball across the course, or a thin platform with heavy wind blowing across it. Like a great mini-golf game, Summer Sports mini-golf's courses are either impossible to recreate in real life or would be prohibitively expensive.

Badminton: Badminton involves swinging the Wiimote in the direction you want to swing your tiny racquet, like ... well, you know. That sports game. It works fine, but it doesn't matter, because badminton uses the same awful camera as volleyball, and is thus unplayable. Yes, the camera is that bad.

Lawn darts: Most people would agree that playing lawn darts on a TV is a safer option than the real thing, in which children are handed spears. Players take turn tossing lawn darts at a target on the ground, in order to meet (but not exceed) a set score. Occasionally, a seagull carrying a five-point target will fly by. As inured as I am to video game violence, I still found the intentional targeting of a bird in a semi-realistic sports simulation ... jarring. Hilariously so.

All seven (eight-ish) games suffer from one overarching problem: they go on for too long. A round of H-O-R-S-E in Summer Sports can last about half an hour, especially if nobody can actually shoot right. Elaborate transitions between turns, awkward, jerky "ready" animations and the interminable wait for the game's projectile (golf ball, for example) to reach its "resting" state contribute to the unnatural extension of gameplay. Even in an enjoyable game like mini-golf or croquet, the sheer duration of the games makes them boring.

The tedium can be mitigated in two ways. It's always a good idea to reduce the number of rounds/holes/points in each game to the lowest levels possible. The second method of breaking up the boredom is significantly more innovative and awesome: in each of the sequential-play games, players waiting for their turns can taunt the active player. Taunting in Summer Sports takes the form of ridiculous sound effects played through the active player's Wiimote speaker in order to disrupt his or her concentration. Developer Digital Embryo put together a collection of the very best public domain sound effects, from car horns to telephones to -- most importantly -- the iconic Wilhelm scream. Each player has a different set of sounds, activated with the D-pad. Playing the screeching Wilhelm while your friend is practicing a golf swing does not ever get old. It just gets more and more hilarious.

Basketball in particular suffers from a more insidious and less addressable problem: unclear representation of motion controls. The problem with simulating some activities with the Wiimote is that it's hard to tell exactly which aspects are simulated. The motion of throwing a basketball in Summer Sports is much like the motion of throwing a real basketball, but real basketballs have things like weight that give you feedback, and they react according to the full range of physics. If you throw a basketball and it fails to reach the goal, you know how to throw harder; similarly, if you throw it too far to the right, you know how to adjust to the left.

But there's no way to know how the Summer Sports universe calculates these things -- how actual physics are represented in the game. To throw harder, do you move the Wiimote faster? Follow through longer? To aim left or right, do you tilt the remote? Twist it? Since you're not really throwing anything, and doing so in a world that was made up by some guys, you can't really tell. In essence, "simplifying" the world and your interactions with it has made something very basic extremely difficult. It's simpler than the real world, but infinitely more complicated than a digitally-controlled game. You can experiment over and over to try to figure it out, but just as it takes forever to learn how to shoot a real basketball, the minute variation inherent in any analog control scheme prevents you from reliably experimenting.

You could wrestle with this issue, which is a potential hazard for any Wii game, or you could just ... not play Summer Sports basketball.

I tried to work out the score for Summer Sports in two ways: first, by trying to give a score that would roughly average the scores each game would get on its own, and second, by considering Summer Sports as a holistic experience. Either way, the result is the same: it's not a total failure, nor is it Wii Sports 2. It would fall directly in the middle, were it not for the mini-golf game and the taunting.

Final score: 6.0/10

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