Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: Arcade Sports

For every WiiWare gem like Cave Story, Mega Man 10, LostWinds or Rage of the Gladiator, there are at least fifty games that make you cringe. Most of these developers are small and just trying to turn a little bit of a profit by making a little game. Many try to make a game based off a really basic premise, or possibly cash in on the success of other, superior games.

Arcade Sports, is a horrible, horrible cash-in that attempts to ape Wii Sports. It’s a basic compilation, including bowling, air hockey, snooker, and pool. It also feels really warmed-over. What went wrong? Let’s take a look and see if we can’t also sort out a few things with motion controls.

A Brief History of Motion Controls

Since the dawn of gaming, we’ve been trying to find more intuitive ways of controlling our games. Nintendo struck gold with the original NES pad, and every gaming controller since has been a refinement or addition to their original device. Nintendo struck gold again with the Wiimote with the promise of more intuition. For example, when playing bowling, instead of pressing the Z button and using the targeting reticule, you can mimic the motion of bowling and the ball will roll like normal. As evidenced by the large sales figures, this has gone a long way toward breaking down the barriers separating man and machine.

So why are we examining all of this? Because the point of motion controls is intuition: Being able to look at what’s going on on-screen and figure out your motion. That is exactly what Arcade Sports lacks, especially in the bowling section.

For instance, to bowl, you aim the ball, press A twice and then...what? I tried mimicking the bowling motion. Nothing happened. I flailed the remote a little bit and the ball flew out of my hands toward the pins as if rocket-propelled. I repeated the action on the next frame and nothing happened. I moved my hand quickly upward. The ball rolled slowly and hooked even though I purposely didn’t twist my wrist to set up a straight shot. I tried repeating the movement. Nothing happened. I flailed wildly. The ball rolled softly straight ahead.

I could sit and try and figure exactly how the motion is supposed to work, but that’s really not the point, is it? Motion controls are supposed to be intuitive, and Arcade Sports completely lacks intuition.

Another thing that we can pretty easily agree on is that the original Wiimote lacked precision. That’s why they had to release Motion Plus. Therefore, I’m completely baffled that someone thought that Air Hockey would be a good inclusion in Arcade Sports. In Air Hockey, you have to move quickly and precisely, and in Arcade Sports your controller gets confused and loses track of where your paddle is in the heat of action, or you find that you’re pointing offscreen and have to scramble to get back to your paddle. It’s also impossible to line up a shot with any accuracy, leading to the computer embarrassing you repeatedly, even in practice mode. This lack of precision also kills pool and snooker, although to a much lesser degree.

This is exactly what Sony refers to when they boast about how accurate their system is, but at the risk of getting way off the subject, it’s not always the hardware’s fault. Wii Sports laid down a really accurate template for doing bowling, for instance. It works great and feels like real bowling. These games? I don’t even know what they feel like, but they ain’t pool, snooker, bowling and air hockey, that’s for sure. The accuracy of the device doesn’t necessarily matter, but how the developers use it that will make the more lasting impression.

More Problems Than You Can Shake A Pool Cue At

The computer also has an unfortunate tendency to use rubber-band AI. I’ve actually never seen a more outrageous use of it. For instance, the computer will clamp down with the first three or so balls pretty badly. Then, after that, it will actually start SETTING YOU UP FOR SHOTS. I saw the computer player shoot the cue ball in such a way that it rolled to a gentle stop in the easiest position for me. Once you’ve potted a few, the computer clamps down again and finishes you off. I mean, that’s lazy. Only a child would be taken in by such tomfoolery.

I should say that the one facet I did like was that while playing pool, they would show you not only what angle your cue ball would strike at, but also what direction your ball would ricochet in and what direction the ball you strike would go. That’s like, one good decision out of 80 made here.

I could go on about the ugly graphics ,or the fact that the framerate drops when your bowling ball goes down the alley, or how there’s such an unnatural curve to your shots that it sometimes feels as if your ball hit a gopher or a camouflaged cat hiding underneath the alley, but I’m spending far too much time on this game. Suffice to say, it’s not good.

Here’s the thing: I have no problems awarding extra points to a game that aims high and misses. Not everyone can be Miyamoto, but at least you’re trying, right? However, I get very angry when a game aims for the ground and misses. And falls over. And then poops itself. That’s Arcade Sports in a nutshell.

Final Grade: F

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