My first experience with Wii Sports came in 2006 when my friend Tim brought over his newly-purchased Wii, which at the time was a huge novelty for gamers and non-gamers alike.
We started with baseball, and my first instinct was to get into an actual batting stance with the Wii Remote above my shoulder. The first pitch came flying in from the stubby-looking Mii on the mound, and with an audible and satisfying crack from my Wii Remote's speaker, I sent it flying over the left field wall for a home run. That one swing of the bat sold me on the potential of the Wii as a new way to play games, and I certainly wasn't alone. The Wii dominated sales for three years on the strength of Wii Sports.
Today, of course, I play Wii Sports Baseball much like everyone else: by holding up the controller with one hand and sort of waving it in the air to get my hits. It's just as effective, and it has the bonus of not giving me "Wii elbow"; proof enough, perhaps, that the novelty of motion controls has long since passed. Nevertheless, there's still a bit of magic to be found in the newly-released Wii Sports Clubs, which is essentially an HD remake of the original Wii Sports for the Wii U. It doesn't amount to much more than an eight-year-old tech demo, but I had more fun than I expected revisiting boxing, baseball, bowling, tennis, and golf, most of which have been enhanced in some way for the Wii U.
Bowling, of course, is still the king. Though it hasn't been enhanced in any really discernible way outside of supporting online play, it still feels the most natural and well-realized out of the games on offer. It even goes so far as to make it possible to put spin on the ball, though it's done mechanically in-game rather than with the Wii Remote. Along with golf, which now supports the Wii U gamepad as a way to position the club, bowling definitely feels the most "real" of the Wii U collection.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is boxing, which is every bit as clunky as it was on the Wii, even with the addition of Wii MotionPlus support. Every punch goes out with a slow, piston-like thud, making them easy to block or otherwise avoid. Tennis, meanwhile, is fun for a few minutes, but it quickly becomes apparent how difficult it is to aim the ball. Baseball is noticeably improved thanks to the introduction of the Wii U gamepad as a second screen that can be used to track and catch flyballs, but like most baseball games, it suffers from repetitive mechanics.
All told, not much has changed in terms of actual gameplay from the days of the Wii, even with Wii MotionPlus support. Some of the sports are stronger than others, but they are all pretty shallow, making them little more than basic party games. Their strength back in 2006 was in their novelty and their promise for the future. I enjoyed Wii Sports, but I saw them as more of a proof-of-concept for motion controls than anything. I always figured that 2K or EA would come in and use Wii Sports as the basis of a serious sports sim. And to their credit, they did try. But in the end, the millions of middle-aged moms and dads who made the Wii a mega-success preferred Carnival Games and Dancing with the Stars, and the trickle of serious-minded sports games dried up.
That's not to say that Wii Sports is totally without merit. I'm surprised how well golf and bowling in particular have held up over the years, and all of the games remain easy to pick up and play. Nintendo has also done a good job of adding value to the package with sophisticated stat tracking and online play. Insane as it is to think of people logging in to bowl online, they do exist. The other night, I bowled a rousing game with a mutton-chopped Mii by the name of "Texas," who serenaded me with a "Howdy" every time he got a strike. It's difficult to imagine the Wii Sports online community having any legs, but it's a fun alternative if you don't have any friends in-house willing to play a round of golf.
As for the stat tracking, I'll admit to being impressed by the rankings that Nintendo provides. Wii Sports takes a page from the FIFA series by encouraging players to join a club based on their location, then ranks each club by its win-loss percentage. Picking the Minnesota club also meant that I could opt to be matched up with people in my home state as well as see contextual Miiverse posts praising my successes and mocking my failures. As social integration goes, the Wii Sports clubs are surprisingly modern, and go well beyond anything available in Madden NFL. It's a feature that sort of makes me sad that EA has completely abandoned the Wii U. I would love for Tiburon to take a few notes from Nintendo.
For all that though, Wii Sports still isn't much more than a curiosity. Its commendable that Nintendo has used this opportunity to add gamepad functionality, online support, and Miiverse integration, but there's no hiding the fact that they're dressing up what was once a free pack-in meant to sell people on the potential of a now dead platform. Like the motion controls it was meant to promote, Wii Sports' time has long since passed. But as an inexpensive party game, not to mention an oddly entertaining trip down memory lane, you could certainly do much worse.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: It's Wii Sports... in HD! Experience Wii Sports' blocky Miis and low-res textures in glorious 1080p.
- Sound: Wii Sports' music is pretty minimalist outside of a few catchy menu tunes, but it gets the sound effects right. The crack of the bat when hitting a ball is every bit as satisfying now as it was in 2006.
- Interface: Wii U's interface is simple but effective. It's quite easy to jump into an online game thanks to random matchmaking that can be accessed upon choosing a sport. The addition of gamepad support adds value to the package.
- Lasting appeal: Wii Sports Club does its best to boost its longevity with a variety of new features, but its hampered by the deliberate simplicity of its design. Golf and bowling can be fun, but many of the mini-games get repetitive after just a couple rounds.
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