Genre: Arcade Flight
Release Date: March 23, 2007
I realize that the entire market strategy for Nintendo these days has been "games for non-gamers," but I must admit that it's taking me some time getting used to the format shift. Since picking up the Wii, I have engaged in games and activities I would've never dreamed of before, and the subject of today's review is no exception to that. Had you told me mere months ago that I would be playing a title centered on birds that fly planes, I would have scornfully mocked you. Now I must hang my head in shame, admit I've done exactly that, and tell you the gritty details. Without further ado, I present to you a critique of — drum roll, please — Wing Island.
When I examine the basic premise of this title, I can't help but think that a game about snorkeling dolphins would make as much sense. Who am I to toss suspension-of-disbelief out the window? Why would I choose now to split hairs insofar as realism is concerned? What is this basic premise, you ask? You play as Sparrow Wing Jr., an inhabitant of an island paradise populated by fowl; he runs a handyman business inherited from his unnamed grandfather. The other swallows on the island pay Sparrow Jr. to do an assortment of odd jobs that inevitably involve flying around in a cherry-red prop biplane.
Occasionally, Sparrow will have some friends with him helping out on these missions, flying in air-show formation. All that's missing is "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by the Scorpions. Our plucky hero's gang consists of Puffin Chirp, the mechanic and receptionist for Sparrow's business; Crane Splendid and Swan Sweet, a couple who function somewhat like big brother and sister to our hero; Hawk Old, an experienced pilot who was a close friend of Sparrow's grandfather; and Owl Fatman, the Friar Tuck of the team.
Along the way, you'll find yourself doing an eclectic mix of different tasks — dive-bombing cows with nets, trying to make sure they can't get too far away from their owners; dousing fires with water; delivering crates of goods; dropping bombs on rocks in an inlet; and popping balloons in a race against time. While these all might seem simple enough, trust me when I say that they are not. This is mostly due to the controls, which we'll touch on a little later.
When you start the game and play through the storyline mode, you're initially given your series of missions on a single island. However, as you progress, you unlock other islands and the missions contained therein; there are three islands to "conquer" in total. Each successfully completed task pays out a certain amount of cash, which you use for maintenance of your dilapidated old flier. Over time, you can also purchase new planes. This becomes important, as the speed and handling of the two default planes you begin with is quite limited. Not to worry, however, since you can also purchase upgrade parts for your beaters to bring out their aerial best. Booster upgrades, weight-reduction upgrades (presumably for a higher top speed), and handling upgrades are all a matter of cash in hand.
Wing Island sports a rather intimate form of multiplayer control. Player one uses the Wiimote, player two uses the Nunchuk, and from there, it's only a matter of time before the two gamers are spooning out of necessity. As we shall shortly see, this is a less than ideal arrangement not only because it forces players into potentially uncomfortable closeness, but also because it further exacerbates issues of control.
Can you say, "segue"? Yes, seg-way.
The single greatest flaw (and there are several) of Wing Island lies in the controls. I know how sensitive the Wiimote and Nunchuk are, and I'm aware that all the Wii requires is a slight flick of the wrist to register on the screen. That people tend to over-exaggerate their movements is incidental and merely a reflection of their enthusiasm. You don't have to flail madly; you just want to. In the case of Wing Island, however, you have no choice but to gesticulate absurdly, and all without the gibbering amusement so prevalent in other titles on this platform. Moreover, all this excessive movement usually doesn't work anyway. It takes an average of four wide-swinging motions to execute a roll, and just as many klutzy thrusts trying to get the speed boost to work. Need to switch formations? Good luck. By the time you manage to make the Wiimote figure out what you're trying to do, the moment has passed, and your formation pretty much doesn't matter anymore. To make a long story short, this is the worst motion-sensing implementation I've seen thus far on the Nintendo Wii.
Graphically, Wing Island is quite weak. I realize that the Wii doesn't quite have a DX-10 monster powerhouse of a GPU sitting under the hood, but the lackluster display evident here wouldn't have taxed even last generation's hardware. The models are simplistic in the extreme, with poly-counts so low as to give the whole world a building-blocks feel. Covering those models are basic textures with minimal detail, and there are almost no special lighting or surface effects at all. Even the artistic direction lacks in focus, sitting somewhere between Disney and Warner Bros., but without the charm or loose energy of either.
The sound effects are basic to a fault, too. There is no voice acting whatsoever, just a strange gibbering-chirp that is supposed to be an abstraction of what the characters sound like when speaking to each other. One would think that maybe, at the very least, the developers would have come up with a roughly swallow-like sound. The best way to imagine what the characters in Wing Island sound like is to place your finger between your lips, move them up and down rapidly, and hum through your teeth. The result is ridiculous-sounding and utterly un-birdlike. Beyond this, the rest of the audio is like the graphics — lacking in depth, richness, and variety. However, no other aspect of the audio is as absurd as what passes for voices.
Wing Island is just not fun. It's close to intelligence-insulting in its attempts to pander to "all ages," it's needlessly difficult, suffers from exceptionally poor controls, sounds ridiculous, looks unexciting, and offers basically nothing for anyone. If you want cute, there are far more (and better) options on the Wii. If you want exciting, you'll sadly not find it here, either. Your money is better spent on Virtual Console titles that have been obsolete for the past four or five console generations.