Developer: Panic Button
Release Date: June 2009
When most people hear about lumberjacks, they either think immediately of Monty Python's famous "I'm a Lumberjack" sketch or Paul Bunyan of American folklore, but the venerable profession is still alive and well today. Although current lumberjacks use plenty of high-tech tools to get the job done, they still gather in the small town of Hayward, Wisconsin, every year for the annual Lumberjack World Championships.
Majesco and Panic Button have taken the core elements of the lumberjack competition and brought them over to the Wii with Go Play Lumberjacks, one of the newest party games in Majesco's Go Play series of party games. Currently set for release in June, we recently got in some game time with an early version of Go Play Lumberjacks to see how things were shaping up.
Designed to center around tournament-style competition, most of the content is locked when you first boot up the game. In order to unlock new events, you'll need to complete open events with a second place finish or better. In all, there are 16 different events, split among five different categories: Axe Throwing, Chopping, Climbing, Sawing and Water Events. Each of the individual events is based on a real-life counterpart, so while there is a bit of artistic license taken with the motion controls, nothing here (with the possible exception of the coin grab event) is wholly fictional.
All of the events use the standard Wiimote, with many also supporting the Balance Board. The Balance Board is completely optional, so if you don't have the accessory, you're not prevented from competing in the events. Even if you avoid the board, though, don't expect Go Play Lumberjacks to be a cakewalk. The sawing and climbing events require a great deal of shaking and swinging of the Wiimote, guaranteeing a basic workout for your arm.
One big plus is that all of the events are designed to be played with up to four players on a single screen. This is the ideal setup for a party game, as you don't have to worry about a split-screen setup reducing everyone's view to a tiny box in the corner. Each event is easy to pick up and play, with a straightforward sense of controls. Optional instructions are offered before every event, in case you're a new player and aren't sure what to do.
The characters provided are just as colorful as the competition, though like the events, most are locked from the outset. You'll start with the option of playing as a lumberjack, a short-skirted blonde, a ninja and a pirate. Some of the unlockable characters include a cowboy, a knight, a robot and your very own Mii. In all, there are a total of 16 different personalities to take into the competition.
Although our build of the game was pretty much complete, there are still a two main areas that need polishing before Go Play Lumberjacks ships in June. The most noticeable item is the CPU difficulty, as the computer-controlled characters don't seem to provide an even challenge across the different event types. In any competition that requires fine motor skills such as aiming or balancing, blowing out the computer-controlled players is practically a sure thing. When it comes to movement-based challenges, however, such as the sawing events, you can be shaking that Wiimote at lightning speed and still have the AI breeze on by. We're all for a challenge, but if the developers can level out the difficulty curve so it's a bit more consistent across events, it would be a huge plus.
The other bit of the game in which we'd love to see some changes is the soundtrack. Since we're playing an early preview build, it's quite possible that what's here is merely placeholder music, but in its current form, there's not much variety. This is one area where Majesco could really do some interesting things by using appropriate tunes. If they leave it as is, it'll be something of a wasted opportunity.
With a planned retail price of $30, Go Play Lumberjacks is aiming to both establish an ongoing line of Go Play party games as well as provide decent value for the money. While we can't speak to either of the other two planned games in the series just yet (Go Play City Sports and Go Play Circus Star), we can safely say that you shouldn't write off Go Play Lumberjacks simply because the premise might seem a bit silly. If the team at Panic Button can make sure the rough edges are sanded down before this one ships, there might just be a few more flannel shirt-wearing Wii owners out there this summer.