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NDS Review - 'World Championship Games'

by Dustin Chadwell on May 4, 2009 @ 3:29 a.m. PDT

World Championship Games, known in Europe as International Athletics, is the most realistic athletics simulation available on handhelds. Featuring 14 varied track and field events playable in jaw-dropping international stadiums, the game delivers online and wireless multiplayer fun for up to four players via the Wi-Fi channel and local LAN.

Genre: Sports
Publisher: Game Factory
Developer: Code Monkeys
Release Date: March 10, 2009

If you're going to come out with an Olympics-style game on the DS, you should try to pass the bar set by Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, or else gamers have very little reason to check out your title. World Championship Games tries to do some interesting things with the DS control scheme, but aside from that, it pretty much pales in comparison to Mario & Sonic.

Note, for instance, that there is no Olympic license attached. It's not a big deal and certainly doesn't affect the gameplay, but without it, some of the immersion is lost, and while there's a decent selection of countries to pick from when creating your character, it's not nearly as robust as it could be. Obvious ones are represented, but for those of you who enjoy playing as the underdog, well, chances are that you won't see them here.

Graphically, World Championship Games is a mess. The character models are ugly, and they all have blade-arms that resemble those of the liquid T-1000 Terminator from the second film. Likewise, the locations are pretty bland, with some really simple texture work that stands out as being remarkably ugly 3-D work, even on the DS, which isn't exactly a 3-D powerhouse in the first place. It's definitely enough to be distracting, and while you spend a lot of time looking at the bottom screen for the controls, the lack of graphic fidelity causes odd glitches that distract you when you need to be looking at the top screen. It's one of the worst-looking DS titles I've played in recent history, and it would have benefited from a more stylized interpretation rather than the realistic approach that it was going for.

World Championship Games has a pretty solid lineup of events going for it. There are 14 different events divided into four different categories, and you can take your created character through all of them, instead of having to divide it up among four different characters. The single-player game gives you a few options in tackling these events, and you can choose from the Quick Event mode, decathlon, or the full-blown tournament. Each mode will pit you against a number of computer-controlled characters, but you're not stuck watching them take their turns; instead, the final numbers are posted before you make your attempt, which is nice because it gives you an idea of what to shoot for.

Certain events will give you multiple tries to get things right, and that's something you'll find useful, especially when you first start to play. Some events are pretty difficult to figure out, and while the game gives you directions prior to each event, they don't do a great job of explaining the basic mechanics. For instance, you'll be running either for the high jump or hurdles event, and the bottom screen displays a translucent bar with footsteps vertically going down the screen. You need to tap the footsteps when they hit the middle part of the bar, creating something akin to a rhythm game.

This isn't particularly difficult, but for events like the high jump or hurdles, you also need to hold down the L or R shoulder button to adjust your angle, and then press or release it again to actually do the jump. It's all a pretty big pain to handle, especially since you need to divide your attention between the top and bottom screens to do so. Some events make use of a meter or two on the bottom screen, while others want you to visualize your timing according to where your character is located on-screen, which doesn't work too well. It certainly takes a lot to get used to the timing required, and I think that most players will be frustrated enough to quit once they reach that point.

While 14 different events make a pretty good selection to select from, it doesn't make for a particularly lengthy single-player mode. Once you get the hang of the controls, you can increase the difficulty a bit (there are three levels to choose from), or you can try to take your game online, but good luck with that. It's not that the online mode doesn't work; in fact, I'm a bit surprised to see it supported here, but it has to do with the fact that nobody seems to be playing this game. Over the past weekend, I tried multiple times to find other players with the game, but I couldn't find a soul to connect with online, which was disappointing. If by some miracle you do get online, keep in mind that it's pretty much just a Quick Event competition; you can't participate in online tourneys or decathlon events. There's also support for up to four players with local play, either with their own carts or through the Download Play option that only requires one owner to have the game. The feature is certainly nice to have in a competition-based game like this one.

Unfortunately, the bad definitely outweighs the good when it comes to World Championship Games. I'm all for more attempts by developers to do something interesting with the controls on the DS, but World Championship Games tries a little too hard to be inventive, and the end result is a bit messy. The game could have used a bit more polish and testing because the controls aren't always clear with their direction, and the events often end up being more frustrating than fun. Combine that with some ugly 3-D graphics, and you're left with a product that doesn't have much appeal, especially since DS owners can go with better products that offer the same theme and sports. I can't say that I'd recommend this to DS owners, even as a rental, so it's best to avoid this title.

Score: 4.5/10

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