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Wonder World Amusement Park

(Majesco; US: 8 Jul 2008)

Wonder World Amusement Park falls into the crowded genre of mini-game collections for the Wii…and falls awkwardly and flailing, at that. In concept and execution, it’s similar to the last year’s superior Carnival Games title from developer Cat Daddy Games. The basic gist: Use the unique 3D motion-detecting capabilities of the Wiimote to approximate the experience of playing carnival games.


It’s a great idea whose time has come—and apparently gone—without any developer truly realizing the potential of the concept. Think of all the stoopid fun that can be had at the carnival midway (and when I say stoopid, I mean stoopid fresh). Throwing softballs at milk cans. Fishing plastic frogs out of stagnant pools. Tossing darts at balloons. Shooting water guns. Shooting pellet guns. Skeeball. Dunk tanks. The endless variety of things one can whack, and things one can use to whack other things (I’m talking about whack-a-mole games here, smart guy). For just such activities was the Wiimote invented.


So, here we have Wonder World Amusement Park, which takes the basic premise of a midway mini-game collection and delivers a breathtakingly underwhelming experience. Some of the 30-odd games are compelling enough to motivate repeat play, but most are paragons of uninspired game design, and several are simply, conspicuously bad.


Of course, the individual games are the meat-and-potatoes of a collection like this. Most successful are the shooting gallery type games, of which there are several. All use the same control paradigm—use the Wii nunchuk to aim and the Wiimote trigger to fire. It can be fun to blow away several dozen bottles and ceramic pots, and you’ll find your nunchuck aiming skills improving with repeat play.


All the other games are variants of a handful of types—the fishing game, the whacking game, the throwing game, the tile-puzzle game. By far the most frustrating are the games requiring small, delicate movements—like that the old electric buzzer game where you move a ring encircling a buzzing wire (here called Ready Steady). The Wiimote technology simply isn’t sensitive enough for a game requiring precise movement like this. No matter how close you get to the screen, and how steady your hand, the cursor inevitably wobbles. I used words playing Ready Steady I haven’t uttered since my hometown Detroit Tigers gave away the 2006 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.


Other games are just plain weird. In one, the object is to grab descending spiders and fling them away from Little Miss Muffett who—as is her eternal wont—is eating her curds and whey. To do this, you must master a truly peculiar flick-and-release maneuver with the Wiimote. It’s not impossible, and you can get the hang of it after a while, but unfortunately that point comes long after you’ve stopped caring, and the only reason you’re still playing is because you’re supposed to write a review of the fricking game.


Anyhoo. Wonder World does offer the standard options for a mini-game collection. There’s a multiplayer party mode for playing against your friends, and a quickplay mode for jumping directly to individual games. Unfortunately, you can only jump to the games you’ve already unlocked in Story Mode.


And in Story Mode, you will quickly go insane trying to figure out how the utterly arcane ticket/point economy works. See, you win tickets by playing the games, but you also have to spend tickets to play the games, and then you use those tickets to buy your way into the next area, wherein you lose all your tickets and have to start over, unless you want to try one of the rides, which you also have to buy a ticket for, except that the ride is actually just another game, and next thing you know you’ve jumped in your car to embark on a tri-state killing spree.


But hey, that’s just my experience. It hardly seems worthwhile to add that Wonder World‘s colors, music, textual dialogue—all those little aesthetic touches we look for in superior games—are all C-minus grade or worse. If you’re interested in a second opinion, I can dutifully report that my five-year-old son, who is something of a Wii savant, only occasionally returns to Wonder World to play the shooting gallery games. Significantly, he has poured several dozen hours into Carnival Games over the past few months.


As have I, come to think of it. Carnival Games ain’t perfect, either, but it’s a lot more elegant than Wonder World. The midway mini-game collection is a great concept for a Wii party game—someone just needs to step up and really do it right.

Rating:

Glenn McDonald writes about popular culture from his home in lovely Chapel Hill, NC. His humor essays have been described as "grammatically consistent" and "remarkably frequent". He is editor of the Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me daily news quiz at NPR.org, and a film critic at the Raleigh News & Observer. He lives virtually at www.glenn-mcdonald.com.


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