Publisher: Global Star Software
Developer: Cat Daddy Games
Release Date: August 28, 2007
At the outset of raging success that to this day, almost a year after launch, still finds Nintendo's Wii console, with its evolutionary, if not revolutionary, control scheme, practically airlifted from shop shelves by waiting customers the very moment shipments are unpacked, the question for third-party developers was, What will we do with this thing? (Of course Rockstar Games knew exactly what they'd do with it: develop something gruesome and antisocial. Wiimote garroting of Miis, anyone?) But for more conservative developers, a quandary: the usual sort of titles adapted for Wii controllers, or innovative new gameplay designed around Wii control? Developers taking the former path soon discovered a difficult truth; just because you integrate Wii control into Wii versions of your multi-platform titles doesn't mean you'll do it well, with the native fluency of Nintendo's first-party titles. Wii releases of games available on other consoles often lag behind their cousins in good control mechanics. Game designers motivated by the latter challenge hit another wall, a tall barrier topped with loops of razor wire, realizing that Wii control or no, truly innovating in today's chock-full games market isn't easy.
Both options being problematic in their own ways, many Wii developers became adherents of a third philosophy: Shove everything out the door you can with Wii control because those consoles are hot, hot, hot and while compatible games are selling out right and left, people will buy just about anything for that little marvel. Almost surely, thus was born Global Star Software's Carnival Games.
The premise of Carnival Games is simple; in fact, you may be able to pick up on it by the name alone. Carnival Games is a collection of about 25 mini-games best suited for small groups or parties — there is a single-player mode, too — all of them reproductions of pay-to-play attractions you might find at any rundown carnival midway. When I was a carny-visiting child, the first places I asked to go were the midway arcades, but my parents always held them for last, not as a reward, but because they knew, after numerous failed attempts at winning even nickel prizes at shamefully rigged games, my overcast mood would sour the remains of the day. Carnival Games does an absolutely outstanding job bringing all the frustration and sawdust-scuffing conniptions of real midways to the Wii. Some of the games seem near-impossible, others suffer from poor Wii control implementation and still others aren't such a blast as they first appear.
The controls are straightforward and work fairly well in games like Balloon Darts. With your remote, aim the on-screen cursor at a balloon — the smaller the balloon, the greater the score — and with a dart-throwing motion, necessarily aborted before release, launch your dart in the general direction of your target. Sometimes you'll hit it; most times, you'll at least hit a larger balloon in the vicinity. It's simple and it works, but it's hardly a thrill.
The Dunk Tank looks like a better bet. (For those unfamiliar with the bizarre customs of small-town Midwestern American life, a Dunk Tank is a contraption consisting of a cage, a cat-calling dunkee seated inside on a crossbeam, and a target attached to a lever-release mechanism extending out the side; hit the target with a thrown softball square, true and hard enough, and the lever will yield, collapse the crossbeam under the crass country-boy's weight, plummeting him a short distance to the bottom of the cage, which is traditionally filled with several feet of water, unless you're playing in a particularly rough burg. You're allotted a few balls per play to accomplish this task.) It's all good fun in the real-world version. Unfortunately, in Carnival Games, aiming your softball with the standard cursor, locking it in and then making your overhand toss with the Wiimote would result in a dunk every time.
In order to emulate the difficulty of pulling off a real dunk, the developers devised another system of targeting, one that involves a swirling green comet looping around in front of the lever-arm target. Time your forceful throw to the moment the comet's head covers the target's center, and you've got your dunk. The comet's pattern varies, and unlike the real deal, the target shrinks after each successful dunk. It doesn't take long to figure out the aiming system's pattern, but when you do, you won't have accomplished much because no one really gets wet. The same green-comet targeting system is used for every game in which a simple cursor-target system would make winning the game far too easy. If you know carnival midways, you know you rarely win.
Other games include Alley Ball, known far and wide as Skee-Ball, but that moniker is a registered trademark; presumably, Global Star chose to fill in the blank rather than license. In the event, it's the same game: roll balls up a ramp, aiming for the chutes worth the most points. Hoops is the standard carny basketball game, with baskets curiously difficult to make even for seasoned street-court NBA hopefuls. Spilled Milk requires you knock down with softballs old-fashioned quart milk jugs carefully weighted and positioned so it's easy to tip one or two, but getting all three is rather hard; this game, too, uses the flawed whirling green-comet targeting system. Bowler Coaster asks you to spin a bowling ball up a curvy track to settle in a winning zone without then rolling over the far side or back to the starting point. Shooting Gallery and Shoot for the Stars … well, you can figure those out — firearms are involved. There are several additional game types in Carnival Games, none much more entertaining than any other. They're all artificially difficult, in fine carnival form. The games are divided into five different alleys, but you're instantly transported from game to game so there's no strolling up and down the alleys, picking games you'd like to play. In addition to the standard games, each alley holds two locked Super Games, reworked versions of games you've already played.
Carnival Games has both single-player and multiplayer modes, both of which obviously require the Wiimote control but make no use of the Nintendo Nunchuck analog-stick peripheral. The multiplayer mode allows assignment of up to four competitors, each to an individual Wiimote, or everyone can play with one remote, handing it over as a turn is taken. Single-player mode, called Prize Mode, pays out dividends in tickets and prizes used to play other games down the alleys or unlock those Super Games. There are two multiplayer modes: Competition and Head-to-Head. In Competition, winning games awards points; at the end of five randomly selected Carnival Games, the highest score wins — although these scores aren't tracked or carried over to future sessions. No prizes or tickets are awarded. Head-to-Head is also a competitive mode, and the only real difference between the two is that in Head-to-Head, players may select particular alleys and specific games to play on those alleys. Notably, if all players choose to share one remote in Competition or Head-to-Head, all games in which players must compete simultaneously will be eliminated from the random rotation or otherwise unavailable.
The game doesn't tap into the stored Mii character system. Designing and decking out a favored Mii to suit him or her to Carnival Games is a futile exercise because you just can't use them. There is a somewhat limited character creation system specific to the title. You can swiftly design your own ridiculous-looking carnival loiterer, and performing well in the single-player Prize Mode unlocks more options for character customization.
Audio and sound effects are just there. It's acceptable for this type of game, but they do nothing to conjure the distinct impression of being at a real carnival. The wisecrack lexicon of the game operators is limited: vaguely humorous at first, merely annoying after days of play. Graphics sport the signature Wii party-game look — the uninspired children's crayon-drawing motif so endearing when Nintendo Wii first trampled over the competition in the next-generation console market, now, 10 months on, weary and a blatant hallmark of slothful art direction.
Of particular note, in Head-to-Head mode, attempts to select the Love Lane alley route consistently caused the Wii to freeze and the screen to go dark, requiring a complete power cycle via the button on the console — the remotes were dead — to get back to the Wii home screen. I was unable to test on another Wii or with another copy of the game, but the Wii in question has never before frozen under any circumstances, and the game disc seemed in perfect condition. Cleaning the disc with a soft cloth didn't solve the problem, either. Disc manufacturing processes can introduce random problems in a small number of copies. This problem may be directly related to a single flawed disc, but buyers should be warned I may have lucked out, not tripping over further problems with the game's stability.
Carnival Games sports fairly mundane versions of amusements most of us would rather go out a couple times a year and play in the real world. These are treats, not daily fare, and they lose their magical luster when you have constant access to them. The Wii control implementation in the title is passable at its best, downright awkward at its nadir. The only grace that's saved Carnival Games from a final score firmly lodged in the pit of opprobrium between one and four is that it's obviously designed for children, and children do indeed enjoy it, both the single- and multiplayer modes. The title is also reasonable fun for a family, children and adults, to occasionally wile away an hour or so together, comfortably sprawled on the living room sofa. Carnival Games already sells below the usual price for a newly released Wii title; if you're at all interested in the game, it's certainly worth waiting for the price to come down even more.
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