The Deca Sports series may be one of the kings of Wii shovelware. Neither Deca Sports nor Deca Sports 2 is loved by critics, but their Wii Sports-derivative gameplay has proven to be a hit twice in a row, and they make good party games. The problem comes with the fact that some of the sports aren't really sports and barely qualify as minigames. Combine that with graphics that somehow don't capture any charm, physics that often make little sense, and almost no exploration of the potential of some features, and the series drops purely into shovelware territory. Notice that the series has never left Nintendo platforms, where this kind of material is more common.
This "proud" condition continues with the series' third entry and first system jump, Deca Sports DS, with the exact same combination of picking a team, picking a sport and playing. The title avoids using any existing sports from the series but consequently chooses some ludicrous events to extend the gameplay. A few saving-grace features make the game tolerable, but even for die-hard fans of sports minigames, it's difficult to justify the purchase — aside from the surprising incorporation of a feature from the DS' past.
Yes, the game offers single-card multiplayer for all 10 sports! Since the sports lack significant customizations, the send time is reasonably quick, so a game can be going in a few minutes for two to six players, depending on the event. Some even offer co-op play, just to be thorough.
The problem is that most of the games are barely tolerable even with friends, and they're explored less deeply on the DS platform than even Wii Sports.
Golf gives you five clubs and a Super Swing Golf-style perfect hit mechanic that is too easy to obtain. Precise shots are too easy to flub, and the backspin gimmick is next to impossible to use.
Ping pong is serviceable, but of all things, Rhythm Heaven's minigame feels more like the real thing. Rugby is modestly realized but incredibly easy to break on offense. Even on the game's highest difficulty, which must be unlocked, I managed to win 42-0 on my first try. The breaking trick isn't even difficult: The AI almost never tries to intercept thrown balls, so passing at a regular rhythm nearly guarantees victory.
As for sepak takraw, I spent a half-hour online to determine if this volleyball-like sport actually exists. (It does.) Somehow, I suspect that it's easier to play in real life than with the ridiculous timing requirements in the game.
Sky diving pushes the definition of what makes a suitable video game sport, and its patently ridiculous controls (flick-based motions) force you to try and match formations. You don't have to worry about hitting mates or judging for time, but you have to match as many formations as you can in one minute.
Cheerleading tries to avoid being an Ouendan rip-off by replacing hitting specific on-screen points with hitting directions. It still turns into an Ouendan rip-off, but it also doesn't make rhythmic sense and uses annoying remixes of the existing game music.
Wall climbing is a pure tapping exercise that's been unnecessarily moved onto the touch-screen, with a perfectly predictable pattern making it unusually easy to break even for this game. To test things out, I played the easy race twice, turned off the sound, hid the DS' top screen ... and won the race perfectly. It's not a good sign of well-done gameplay, especially when I've never seen a rock climbing wall that consists of one linear path and nothing else.
Clay shooting eschews the light-gun-on-the-DS tradition in favor of handling like most DS first-person shooters. It also reminds players why most first-person shooters don't work on the DS. While this makes the sport behave closer to how it does in real life, it has to throw in touch elements for shooting, so you aim the shot by dragging the stylus around, releasing and then tapping to actually shoot. The results turn the idea from misguided into utterly idiotic.
Arm wrestling is a scratchfest for the first seconds and then turns into a giant, boring game of chicken where the AI regularly cheats. Finally, bobsledding manages to be one of the most fun games in the pack, but it only offers a few boring courses and almost none of the subtlety that the real sport mandates. If you avoid hitting the walls, you're in the clear, without exception.
All of this is punctuated by rather ugly-looking, generically dressed Not-Miis who affect gameplay in fashions that most people won't ever notice. At least the game adds the ability to make slightly custom teams: picking from one of eight generic emblems; 10 colors for the uniforms; and basic hairstyles, skin colors, and sizes for each character. Most of the time, you'll be happy with sticking to the generic teams, since distinguishing your nicely customized designs from the seven included teams is pretty much a matter of guessing during actual gameplay. The sound effects, similarly, are low-punch generics, with OK mixed music of almost no variety. You don't even get as much as one track per sport. At least the game avoids having voices anywhere and thus avoids making itself seem even worse.
Somehow, that delicious single-card multiplayer makes some of the games — a different set, depending on the player — tolerable and even modestly enjoyable. In spite of low-quality graphics even by DS standards, bothersome sound, ridiculous game choices, and terrible controls for those selections, Deca Sports DS manages to provide a little bit of fun for some players. Now, if they were to take the best four or five games from each entry and slam them together, maybe, just maybe, they could make a game worthy of an OK rating. However, the likely sale counts will ultimately keep them just as happy.
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