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Wii Review - 'Jenga: World Tour'

by Erik "NekoIncardine" Ottosen on Jan. 26, 2008 @ 6:25 a.m. PST

Jenga is based on the world famous wooden block tower building game and offers unpredictable, quick-paced, tactical play that combines suspense and risk-taking.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Atomic Planet
Release Date: December 7, 2007

I'd be wasting your time if I didn't first state that Jenga is an awful game. Period. The $30 virtual, Wii version of the popular tile-tower party puzzle game has nothing to offer over its real-world counterpart; if anything, it will keep you from ever wanting to play any form of Jenga ever again. The real thing will give you all sorts of interesting fun. The Wii version will give you a headache, and you'll often feel like screaming out of annoyance. That's no fun. The Wii game is so frustrating, it's not easy title for an objective review, but I will try my very best.

If you have not played Jenga, I am sorry for you. The basic premise is a very tall, precarious stack of tiles, constructed in levels of three each. On your turn, you remove one tile from some lower level in the tower, placing it at the top. Your goal is to not knock it down. This gets quite difficult very quickly, requiring a strong sense of balance, an exceptionally careful hand, and some strategy in which tiles you select and where you place them (plus some luck in choosing tiles thinner than the other tiles on that level of the tower). If this sounds like a great idea for a game to port to the Wii, you are either thinking of the potential of the signature Wii control system, or you're not thing clearly. Atomic Planet very clearly demonstrates both perspectives: Obviously, they set out to put real effort into the title, and then apparently threw in the towel, ultimately rushing out a near-monstrosity. While the retail release is bug-free — at least by a strict technical definition of "bug" — the end result does not feel at all like Jenga, and numerous issues of mechanics in the title produce the same sort of chockablock pile of rubble that ends a real Jenga game.

A game of Jenga: World Tour begins with a grating, synthesized four-note theme. The game takes a hit just on the merit of its poor presentation in the main Wii menu. Starting up, the game is tagged with a line declaring it "edge-of-your-seat fun," then prompts you, rather oddly repeating the process at every play session, to select your preferred language. One tutorial rife with annoying voices later, you are in theory ready to play.

After playing just one level of Jenga, you'll discover how badly the game fails at simulating real-world Jenga. All of the tiles look the same, restricting the Jenga-initiated player's accustomed assessment by sight of the tile tower — what you'd expect to do in determining which tile to remove without pointing the cursor at every single tile. When you've selected one of the green-colored tiles, hopefully the right tile, you can try pushing or pulling it — respectively, the A and B buttons on the Wiimote — out of the tower. Pushing tiles out will cause the tower to move, usually knocking it over. Pulling them out, unless your moves are both very precise and excessively exaggerated, certainly a control mechanics paradox, again, the tower falls. When pulling as opposed to pushing, you are given the option to "pin" tiles to prevent them moving quite so much.

The game's problems in this area of play are threefold. First, the tiles don't move as you'd expect from playing with a tangible Jenga tower; instead, they seem bound to the game's own unrealistic rules of physics — for example, it's as if the tiles are wrapped in sandpaper, creating a great deal of friction between them. Next, "power-ups" sometimes occurring during play will muck things up to an even greater degree, unless you have set the game's user-defined option to play without "power-ups." Finally, and most significantly, if you're trying to make any real progress in the game, none of your play affects the computer opponent's play. The AI is unbalanced, never acknowledging your improvements in play. The computer opponent will perfectly pull a tile and set it atop the tower in a few seconds, even when a perfect landing should not be possible, while your moves take half a minute or more in cautious tapping, then swinging about in motions for which human arms were never meant. Based on the single-player AI, it seems the computer opponent can only lose the game in rare cases when the human player is exceptionally lucky. It goes without saying that a computer opponent forever unbeatable by any rational progression of game skill is an unforgivably frustrating design flaw.

At least, we hope, it looks good, right? Unfortunately, no, the visual aren't even up to par. As previously stated, the sound effects before the game even begins are annoying, and indeed worse are the tutorial voiceovers that continue throughout the game, even outside the context of the tutorial mode. There are other problematic or just plain poor sound effects: a "magical swoosh" sound; the clacking effect assigned to wooden tiles tapping one another that sounds nothing like its real-world Jenga equivalent; a soundtrack that seems merely dubbed off the demo mode of a cheap, toy Casio keyboard.

Jenga: World Tour's graphics include a few styles of Jenga tower, all of which make every tile appear exactly like any other, as opposed to the differences in grain pattern that make real Jenga tiles unique. There is a selection of gameplay venues, including a bar, a tiny medieval castle and, somewhat bizarrely, an Antarctic locale. All of the environments are static, with background animations adding visual interest to the gameplay, which leaves each match feeling a cold, lonesome experience. You may also select from one of eight player avatars, none of which are the least bit attractive.

If you've read this far and you're still interested even a bit in Jenga: World Tour, I can advise you should altogether give up video games as a pastime. To buy this game is to reward and perpetuate mediocrity in game design and implementation. This is just a poor title, taking advantage of a well-recognized Jenga license, neither doing justice to the original game nor supplementing it with features that might make the Wii video game version fun, even if it were still a bad simulation. Your gaming dollar is much more appropriately spent buying a real Jenga set, experiencing the phenomenon as it was meant to be played. You can add Jenga to the growing list of real-world games mistakenly assumed to easily translate to Wii's unique control mechanism.

Score: 3.5/10

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