The franchise that launched a thousand mini-games and single-handedly transformed the Wii from Nintendo's Last Hurrah into Grandpa's Fun Box is back. Wii Sports Resort, Nintendo's latest entry in the war on hardcore gaming, has been released to the parents of what five years ago constituted Nintendo's core audience just in time for America's little brats to get shipped off to school and get out of Mom and Dad's hair long enough for them to get their waggle on.
Nintendo is nothing if not a shrewd operator. The success of Wii Sports begat a flooded market, as developers large and small attempted to make the mini-game lightning strike twice. Their efforts were largely forgettable.
Instead of wading headlong into the fray and risking consumer backlash, Nintendo sat silent and enigmatic, a golden, smiling Buddha atop the pile of corpses that is the market which it birthed. Occasionally, the Buddha would speak, shifting the mountain beneath it as more knockoffs scrambled feebly toward Nirvana. "Wii Fit," it would say. "Wii Play. Wii Music." Always smiling, Nintendo.
So much trouble over a glorified tech demo. Wii Sports was a manifesto intended to reveal to players (and other developers, though they never pay attention) Nintendo's lightweight, all-inclusive vision for the console. It was fun, sure, but lurking beneath the fun of Wii Sports was the intent to instruct players and the desire to entice them out of their money. Wii Sports was Sesame Street if Big Bird took up stripping.
Wii Sports Resort attempts to do the same, but this time, the message is more difficult to convey. Fifty million Wii owners already know how to make asses of themselves in front of their friends—but to convince those users that not only is there a better way to do it, but that they also need to drop $60 on the sequel to a free pack-in to find out how, is a Wiimote of a different color.
So how does Nintendo reinvent the wheel? Through the Wii Motion Plus, an unassuming little dongle that plugs into the business end of a standard-issue Wii Remote and—well, it's complicated. Let's just say that two accelerometers are better than one and be done with the virtual physics lesson.
If you think that's a condescending explanation, wait until you pop Resort into your console. The first five minutes of the Resort experience consists of a lesson in how to plug the Motion Plus into the remote. It's an unsurprising bit of banality in a world in which new Wii owners have to be reminded not to throw their controllers through their TVs, but the trip to Wii Kindergarten is still annoying, especially since unlike real kindergarten, you can't skip it and go get high behind the swings.
Then they throw you out of a plane, which is both a neat way to introduce players to the game and a great opener for a surreal Wii Lost-esque game which will never be made.
After the hardware lesson and the Fisher-Price cinematic opening, players find themselves greeted with a comfortably familiar interface with a few new bells and whistles thrown in to make navigation even easier.
And then, on to the Wii Sport-ing. If you don't know what the Wii Sports series is all about by now, please take me to whatever magical fairy kingdom you've been hiding in since 2006 so we can frolic with the unicorns and commune with nature.
Resort does what Sports did; a dozen competitive games, varying from the classics (bowling, golf) to the outlandish (swordplay, aerobatic duels), are distilled down to a series of hand motions which can be tracked by the Wii's controllers and delivered in a family-friendly package calculated to maximize fun value over a large population. Few will obsess over Resort, but fewer still will find nothing to like about it.
Resort's core mechanics have been beefed up a little from Sports' more rudimentary functions. Golf is golfier, bowling more accurately represents bowling, and Frisbees do whatever the hell they feel like doing, which in my experience is what real Frisbees do. Games new and old alike reach the bar for accessibility and fun set by Wii Sports while (more importantly) showcasing the subtle improvements made to the Wii's controls via Motion Plus.
Does Wii Sports Resort perform as intended? Yes—the magic, amazingly enough, is effectively recaptured—but it's a hard sell as a full-fledged game. If Nintendo's goal is to get third parties on board with the accessory (a historic Nintendo weak point), they're going to need more market penetration than Resort can reliably provide.
Dropping its price right around Christmas time would be a good idea; bundling Resort and its prequel with new systems (and then undercutting the competition by around $20) would be even better. You're made of money at this point, Nintendo; if you want to get us nice and re-addicted, you can take the hit.