For all the kudos gamers give to the social-gaming scene on Xbox Live, there’s still something special about playing against someone in the same room. Maybe it’s our arcade-spawned DNA, or maybe it’s the competitive nature of humans, but going mano-a-mano in person always takes 51 percent of the fun-factor vote. Case in point: the Nintendo Wii. With arguably limited online functions, Nintendo’s console has charmed thousands of gamers with its intuitive gameplay and its knack for tickling the same-room competitor in all of us. The latest Wii game to do this, EA Playground, provides the perfect example of this phenomenon, particularly among the younger crowd.
EA Playground is a relatively simple game inspired by the playground games we all grew up with. Using the Wii Remote, gamers can participate in digital versions of dodgeball, tetherball, slot-car racing and wall ball, while also trying their hand at paper-airplane “flight simulation,: a soccer/volleyball hybrid known as “Kicks” and a kid-friendly House of the Dead clone called Dart Shootout. By simply aiming the Wii remote, swinging it around and pressing just a few buttons, players almost feel like they’re in third grade again — minus the wedgies.
The game’s premise is as simple as the controls: wander through a series of playgrounds searching for the “champs” in each mini-game, taking them on in a series of challenges and winning their stickers and marbles, which act as the in-game currency with which players buy power-ups and special moves. Once players achieve the maximum ranking in each game, they earn the opportunity to compete against the Playground King and, if they beat him, earn the title of playground champion.
Although the mini-games themselves are surprisingly fun, actually navigating the playground is a total chore. The problem lies in the controls, which are spot-on in the mini-games but fall horribly short when it comes to walking from mini-game to mini-game. Walking, done with the D-pad, often feels like the on-screen character is only able to move in four directions. Although this doesn’t seem like a big deal, several non-game activities involve cruising through the playground with speed and precision, and when you’re only moving in four directions, “precision” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Fortunately, between-game movements are kept to a minimum, but those problems still underscore how much this game lives and dies by the multiplayer experience.
In the multiplayer modes, there is no walking. There is no marble-collecting. There is no leveling-up. And, more to the point, there is no mercy. Each of the game’s mini-games is unlocked from the beginning, and there’s nothing quite like a human opponent to bring back those scarred-childhood dodgeball memories. True, the single-player campaign has some impressive AI in the later playgrounds, but there’s something about playing tetherball against another person that fuels those competitive fires and begs for “just one more game.”
EA Playground isn’t an Earth shattering, hardcore experience, but it’s not meant to be. EA Playground is, as its name implies, a game focused on childlike activities and playground-inspired fun, and that’s exactly what it delivers. Hardcore gamers will find fault with the poor walking controls and short single-player experience, and they may even question the game’s AI, in spite of its serious challenge in the last few levels. But gamers who can relax, tap into their inner child and go into EA Playground looking for a fun, get-off-the-sofa experience will walk away pleased. And really, isn’t recess supposed to be a pleasant experience?
– Jonas Allen