Carnival Games

[25 September 2007]

By L.B. Jeffries

PopMatters Associate Multimedia Editor

Carnival Games is a new title from Cat Daddy games and serves as a decent addition for any fan of Wii mini-games. Not counting the unlockable content, there are a total of twenty mini-games here of varying quality and appeal (depending on your age) that successfully evoke the feeling of being at a carnival. Cheeky game attendants, enthusiastic hosts, and ever-piping organ music are all here to add to the experience of being at a real carnival.

It would be too space-consuming and ultimately redundant to go into each game, but by my count there are three that fall into the category of highly addictive, five that fall into unplayable, and twelve remaining that could go in either direction depending on your own preferences. The horse racing and skee ball games are just as great here as in real life, while the football pass and frog leap games seem almost maniacally difficult. I was initially critical of the tossing games, where you time your throw with an erratic cursor, but I’ve softened up after watching some younger cousins love them. Overall, the biggest problem with the bad games isn’t the physics or controls, but rather that just like their real-life counterparts, the outcome is stacked heavily against you. Part of the concept of a carnival game is that it keeps you playing (and forking over cash) through frustration, and for some mini-games, that difficulty is faithfully maintained. If there is one rule that Wii Sports outlined for all future Wii mini-games, however, it’s this: always err on the side of the player winning too much.

The multi-player mode, as with all mini-game collections, is where the title delivers the real value. They are courteous enough to provide the option for single controller swapping, but the choice of games that can be played this way is limited. With multiple controllers, however, the game plays just like it does in single player mode. It’s actually somewhat reminiscent of being at a real carnival as you wander through each alley and point to the different games you can try.

However, moments like this are weakened by the menu system’s lack of ambition. It would be far more interesting if I was actually looking around a carnival rather than just pointing at different signs that represent various games. More attention could’ve gone into evoking a sense of place and activity, of actually creating a fully realized visual representation full of decorated stands, crowds, and endless hidden visual quirks. The game tries to create little moments like this with monkeys waving or rodents popping out of the ground, but they are afterthoughts when they should’ve been expanded into one of the pillars that make this game stand out.

Tossing darts at balloons.  A classic.

Tossing darts at balloons.  A classic.

The ticket system is also a fairly odd addition given its lack of actual value in the game. The utilitarian principles of Locke have been always been a foundation of video games: the more time you put into a game title, the more features and abilities you earn. I play Smash Brothers after beating it once to open up new characters and levels. I kill the same monster over and over again in Aria of Sorrow because I need the monster’s soul ability. I level up my materia until I’m strong enough to beat Emerald Weapon because…well, I’m not really sure why I did that, but the point is that it adds five or six hours of playing time to the game without much extra work for the developers. The player works for these new features because of the promise that it will make the game more fun and interesting. Yet in Carnival Games, the only worthwhile goal is collecting prizes to unlock the extra mini-games. There isn’t really much point to the ticket system, which can only be used for nonsensical features like the fortune teller or buying wacky clothes. Dressing my avatar up in new outfits doesn’t improve my playing experience beyond pure aesthetics; this isn’t a bad thing, but it certainly isn’t enhancing the experience as much as it could either. Although the decision was probably meant to tailor the game for younger players (the prize system is fairly easy to beat), they should have made it so you used the tickets to open up new mini-games to draw out more playing time.

Overall, several of the games could’ve been better and the presentation has a lot of unfulfilled potential. The average player could pick this title up and very likely find 7 or 8 games they’re willing to play with their buddies over cold ones. The average parent will find approximately that same ratio of games that will keep their kids happy (and be able to join in as well). Mini-game collections like Carnival Games are mostly just exercises in the tail wagging the dog anyways. With the new Wii-Mart coming online soon, developers will simply throw mini-games into the market and see which ones take off. Over time, they’ll bundle the hits into collection disks and save us all the trial and error of playing games that fall flat alongside ones that don’t. Until that day comes, Carnival Games is still a good purchase for any mini-game loving Wii-owner.

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