EA Playground (Wii) review
"“Includes Dodgeball!” exclaims the cover of EA Playground. I guess in grade school, we all enjoyed pummeling our peers, especially that distinctive thunk of rubber meeting face. However, dodgeball isn't the best game in this bunch, just the most recognizable. This title features seven events in all, but with mixed results. Some really capitalize on originality and simple controls. Others, though, are too basic to really keep you engaged. "
“Includes Dodgeball!” exclaims the cover of EA Playground. I guess in grade school, we all enjoyed pummeling our peers, especially that distinctive thunk of rubber meeting face. However, dodgeball isn't the best game in this bunch, just the most recognizable. This title features seven events in all, but with mixed results. Some really capitalize on originality and simple controls. Others, though, are too basic to really keep you engaged.
Of course, all are best enjoyed with other people; several of the games support four-player action. But to unlock all the power throws, top speeds and special moves, you'll have to wind your way through the single player mode. You start out as the new kid in school by choosing a character. Stalwarts in each event are scattered around the yard, waiting for a worthy challenge. Beat them in a regular game, and you gain currency (marbles) to buy new abilities and open up the next level. Thing is, you can also take on special dares, which impose specific criteria to victory. It gives the games an extra edge, but I wish the dares changed as you moved up the ladder.
Unfortunately, there's no way to customize your little kid before you set them free into this competitive world of perpetual recess. The avatars look like shrunken teenagers, with hip clothes but oblong, cartoonish heads. They also speak in gibberish – you have to rely on subtitles to understand them – which contributes to a playful nature. The real star, though, is the wide-open playground. There are expansive parks, a huge stadium, a little treehouse, and even a hedgerow maze. Items are littered everywhere, so it encourages exploration of the whole environment. It's just fun.
Kicks, a combination of soccer and volleyball, stands out as the most original offering. There are two players on each team, and they have to keep a soccer ball in the air, passing it back and forth with a limited number of touches. The ultimate objective is to bury the ball in the back of the opponent's net. Timing the shot is important. If you shoot at the apex of a pass (and if you've unlocked it), then you'll unleash a super-hard kick. If you mistime it, then the ball will ding harmlessly off the crossbar. When the other team has possession, one teammate stays up at the tennis-style net, the other defends the goal. The same sort of simple swipe is all you'll need to block the shot; the computer takes care of positioning. It's fast-paced and exciting.
In Paper Racers, you fly a paper airplane through an obstacle course. The path could lead through a cluttered school hallway, where you swoop under chalkboards, or out in a rocky canyon with tricky rock formations. This event excels because of intuitive controls. You hold the remote like you're throwing the airplane, then tilt it in the desired direction. It's smooth and responsive. Dart Shootout mimics an on-rails shooter, replacing bullets with foam darts. In addition to tagging pop-up targets, other kids will jump out and return fire. You can block their attacks with a shield, but it's more fun to shoot their darts right out of the air.
Past those three games, the outcome starts to slip from your control. Dodgeball is basic 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 affair, with the participants crammed in a rather small space. The same flick of the remote will either fire the ball at your opponent or make you dive away from an incoming strike. But victory is dependent on your computer-controlled teammates. Slot Car Racing is wild an unpredictable. There are four lanes, with one vehicle starting in each, and they frequently split off and wind around in different directions. There are a lot of bumps and jumps; it's possible to land on top of a car and bounce over it. You can switch lanes too – by moving the remote in the opposite direction – and knock other drivers out of the way. But there are so many powerups that no lead is ever safe. It feels like simple luck to cross the finish line first.
The remaining two games are just too plain. Wall Ball places two players in a three-sided area. The competitors alternate slapping a ball against the confines with the aim of making the other player miss their turn. Here the computer controls all movement, so you only get to determine the timing and direction of the hit. In tetherball, timing is all there is. Players stand on opposite sides of a vertical metal pole, and they hit a ball tied to the pole back and forth. This ancient playground staple won't even be familiar to most kids.
At least the activities are unique. EA Playground could've easily been packed with hoops, darts, and other overused minigames. But it went for a really playful message, bolstered by the whimsical atmosphere. If there were more events, more variety between challenges, or at least a greater percentage of really exciting ones, this title would've been excellent.
Community review by woodhouse (February 15, 2009)
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