Wii Sports Club Review (Wii U)
Over 82 million people owned the original Wii Sports, a number that trails only Tetris on video games' all-time best-seller list.
The question Nintendo is now asking, by releasing a high-definition, online-enabled update of its iconic, motion-controlled mini-game collection, is how many people are looking to pay $40, 8 years later, for essentially the same games?
Technically, Wii Sports Club is tennis', boxing's and baseball's first appearance with MotionPlus support -- bowling and golf used the peripheral in 2009's Wii Sports Resort, which drew "only" 32 million owners. These minor improvements to swing detection and remote calibration, though, do little to deepen each event's shallow gameplay.
Tennis' developers, a mixed team of Nintendo EAD and Namco Bandai employees, could have experimented with using the Wii Nunchuks' joystick for manual player movement. Or at the very least, they could have included an option for one-on-one singles matches. But instead, the sport's only new gameplay idea is three simple training events, which teach you to return easy shots from a sluggish ball machine. Online, teaming up with a random partner for four-player doubles matches is impossible as your teammate must be playing alongside you -- in person -- to enter tennis' four-player online mode.
Bowling is also spoiled by poor online design, as you'll spend more time spectating than throwing, since all four competitors must share the same lane, instead of bowling simultaneously across multiple lanes. If you choose to play the bumper-guarded, 100-pin mode instead of the standard, open-gutter 10-pin setup, you must hope that your opponent doesn't know how to perform the automatic strike rail trick (which hasn't been fixed since its discovery in the first Wii Sports), otherwise, your foe will easily be able to roll a perfect score of 3,000 pins. Another long-standing issue with bowling is the inability to turn off the ball's dotted arc path, which removes all the guesswork from aiming and makes it too easy to repeatedly line up perfect shots.
Boxing, one of the three events that has seen significant gameplay changes for Wii Sports Club, now supports up to two remote controllers per fighter, as players finally have the option of dual-wielding Nintendo's waggle toys. In the frenzy of a fist fight, however, the devices struggle to register more complex motions like hooks and uppercuts. Boxing's biggest flaw, though, is its unbalanced energy meter, which saps your target's stamina following a successful hit, but completely disregards any blows that whiff. Punch spamming, as a result, is not punished like it should be. The boxers' recovery speed also seems far too quick in Wii Sports Club, as well-timed blocks and dodges don't seem to open up many good counter-punching opportunities.
Baseball also suffers from imbalanced gameplay, making it the least fun of the five available sports. The defense gets the benefit of automated fielding, except for during pop flies, which must be caught by tilting the GamePad up and angling it like it was a fielder's glove. Hurlers have four different pitch types at their command: a sinker, a rising fastball, a curveball and a screwball. As the batter, recognizing the incoming throw type proves difficult, as the ball doesn't start breaking right away, and the pitcher can mask his chosen pitch's path by mixing up his velocity. A rising fastball, for instance, can come in at 60 MPH, just as easily as it might hit 100 MPH. A left-leaning screwball, likewise, could reach 90 MPH, or it could arrive in almost half that time. Hitters are further handicapped by having no visible strike zone to help judge balls from strikes. With so much going against the offense, most of my three-inning baseball games in Wii Sports Club have ended with the losing team being shutout -- and usually no-hit -- while the winning team prevailed off a lucky, seemingly random solo home run.
Golf, which requires tremendous finesse, not simply good timing, has the highest skill ceiling in the collection. But it's also the sport that's most hurt by the controls' lack of physical feedback. As you grip your short, stubby remote, and stare down at a tiny ball that exists only on your television and inside your GamePad, it is hard to get any feel for how firmly you should be swinging your imaginary club. Even while maintaining a steady stance from one shot to the next, I continually saw similar swinging motions register wildly different shot strengths on my screen. After 18 holes of motion-controlled miss-hits, most gamers will just wish that they were back in the Mushroom Kingdom, playing with Mario Golf's reliable three-click swing meter. As in bowling, online golf matches will make you feel more like a spectator than an active participant, since you must alternate turns with up to three other players. When it takes 45 minutes to complete three holes of golf in a three-person pairing, it's clear that simultaneous play should have been an option for online rounds.
Waiting for your turn is tolerable in real-world links and bowling alleys, since you can always strike up friendly conversations with fellow competitors. Being sociable isn't an option to help pass the time in Wii Sports Club, since opponents can only communicate using three predetermined text messages. While Nintendo has every right -- and plenty of reason -- to silence online strangers' angry swear words and ignorant hate speech, the company has no logical basis for blocking consenting friends from chatting freely online, especially on a console where the primary controller already includes a built-in microphone.
Wii Sports Club's multiple pricing options end up being the only innovative aspect to Nintendo's unimpressive repackaging of five flawed, dated minigames.
To support their $40 asking price, Nintendo needed to include more sports, or introduce deeper strategies to these simplistic, overly familiar events; as is, there isn't much reason to revisit Wii Sports Club regularly, outside of the occasional slumber party or family get-together.
With so many design and control flaws, Wii Sports Club's one notable achievement is being an effective demonstration of Nintendo's ongoing struggle to create compelling high-definition software that can appeal to today's sociable, online-focused gamers.
Visuals: Jagged edges -- caused by anti-aliasing's absence -- are the only noticeable blemish inside Nintendo's charming, colorful country club.
Audio: A soulless, mindless light rock soundtrack offers only a few repetitive synthesizer chords and some forgettable slap bass lines.
Controls: Every minigame requires a Wii Remote Plus, or an original Wii Remote with the MotionPlus adapter plugged into the bottom; there is no functional difference between the two setups. Boxing works best when holding a remote in each hand, though it can be played in a special one-handed mode, if you own only one wand. The Wii U's unique GamePad controller is oddly underutilized, functioning only in golf and while pitching/fielding in baseball.
Online: Unlike Mario Kart 8, Nintendo's other big summer release, Wii Sports Club relies on cheap, outdated peer-to-peer networking. The lack of dedicated servers means that online lag varies, depending on your opponent's geographic location and connection quality. Games with fellow Tennesseans and nearby Georgians ran smoothly, as if everyone was swinging their remotes inside a single living room. Contests with distant Californians and Montanans, however, were marred by significant latency.
Replay Value: Given how hard the flailing motion-controls will workout players' wrists, arms, shoulders and backs, maybe Nintendo knew what they were doing, after all, by designing Wii Sports Club for short, infrequent play sessions.
Final Score -- 5.0 (Average)