Buffet-style Gaming, All You Can Eat
When the Wii was introduced in 2006, it was marketed as a kid-friendly console with easy-to-use controls and a wealth of titles that the whole family would enjoy. Its premier launch title, Wii Sports, made eloquent use of the new controls and brought even small children together with their older siblings, parents, and grandparents to experience the joy of gaming. Inherently social, these games function adequately by themselves, but when played with a roomful of friends, they provide an environment that supports real-life social interactions that transcends the console and television and seems to break through the fourth wall of what we internet geeks call “meatspace.”
Add Go Vacation to the ranks of social games that bring face-to-face interactions into a virtual world. Its premise is simple: the game takes you to a virtual resort where you can participate in a variety of mini-games thinly disguised as sports and recreational activities. But don’t confuse it with Wii Sports Resort. Go Vacation has four times as many activities as Sports Resort, and it also includes exploration and collection elements that are lacking in the Wii Sports franchise.
Go Vacation offers the player four distinct resort locations, each with its own games, activities, and modes of transportation. At the Marine resort, which is unlocked at the game’s start, you can walk around the island to explore, though going on foot is excruciatingly slow. You can also hop on an ATV and drive to where you want to go, which is much faster and more exciting, or you can use a personal watercraft to navigate to the water-based activities. The player can import a Mii or create a new in-game character, and there are various base costumes to choose from and more to unlock at each resort.
Usually I play a game to completion or very close to it before writing a review. But in this case, Go Vacation is so broad that I was only able to play the first stage at the Marine Resort exhaustively. I did unlock and explore the other resorts to a lesser degree, but I’m not able to comment on each and every mini-game in this space. I will say this, however—some of the mini-games are really, truly, incredibly fun. The water gun fight on the marine resort, skateboarding in the city, and throwing snowballs in the mountains were standouts for me. But some of the mini-games are real stinkers.
The good news is that the game doesn’t punish you for not liking a particular game, and there’s no need to grind here. All you have to do is try an activity once—you don’t even need to clear it—and you get a stamp just for making the effort. If skydiving leaves you cold, simply move on to ATV racing and you won’t miss a beat.
Go Vacation is Sports Resort all grown up. Sixty different activities across four settings offer plenty of variety, and each activity has three levels of difficulty, which gives its ability to be replayed a boost. It’s also got a great two-player mode, and it allows players of vastly different levels to compete on their own terms, so I was able to enjoy some of the mini-games with my kids, ages three and six. When I played with a casual-gamer friend, we had a good time trying out tricks on rollerblades and throwing pies at each others’ faces, but we didn’t come away from the experience clamoring for more. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but it wasn’t compelling enough to keep us coming back.
And that’s really what bothered me about the game. It was enjoyable to play, but there are so many other games available that tell compelling stories or do really interesting things with gameplay that Go Vacation almost feels like a throwaway game. Unless you have an obsessive drive to explore and unlock all available rewards, you won’t play it start to finish. Instead, it’s a game that you might pick up when you have an hour to kill, when you have guests who want to try the Wii but aren’t experienced gamers, or when you just need a break from more serious questing fare. It’s well-executed and well-conceived, but with cartoonish graphics and no strong story element, it’s just not meaty enough for most serious gamers.