Reviewed: November 22, 2007
Released: October 22, 2007
As the Wii rounds out its first year of immense popularity, game developers are clamoring to cash in on the casual gaming craze, and come up with the new interactive Wii title. This time around, it is EA who recently dropped a nifty little number called EA Playground.
Trying hard to match the fun and immersive feel of Wii Sports, EA Playground blends elements of a Sims-style elementary school simulator, casual sports title, and character-building RPG. And generally, EA does a stand-up job. True, experienced gamers will most likely find the list of mini-games as overly easy and repetitive, but the elementary school set will find EA Playground to be a lot of fun.
EA Playground features a handful of mini-games based loosely on common playground activities – but with a significant amount of twists added give each of the games a unique feel.
For instance, the game Kick blends elements of volleyball and soccer into a feet-only over-the-net volley game – except unlike volleyball or tennis, the only recording scores go for balls that make it into the goals placed at the end of the court. Another example – Wall Ball – takes the common game of Handball and adds a ton of power-ups and warp portals to mix things up a bit.
In all, there are seven mini-games to choose from; Dodgeball, Tetherball, Paper Racers, Slot Car Racing, Kicks, Wall Ball, and Dart Shootout. None are all that difficult to master, but a few do take a bit of practice to learn the not-so-intuitive motion-based control scheme.
For example, Tetherball – which should be a fairly cut-and-dry swinging of the controller to whack the ball – does not always seem to register the motions in the right timing and hitting the ball seems more like luck than skill.
Slot Car Racing is another awkward – but fun – game, which uses slight tipping motions of the Wii controller to change lanes and bump opponents. The problem is, the Wii controller is almost too sensitive to slight motions, and you never really feel in total control of the car. Not that you necessarily need to be in control – the cars are driving on slotted tracks with little-or-no danger – but it would be nice.
Even Kicks comes with its own set of control problems based on the awkward sideways perspective, which is bound to throw off Wii Sports’ Tennis vets for the first couple of plays until they realize they need to swing sideways, not forwards.
Still, the games are mostly enjoyable; Slot Car and Paper Racers are my personal favorites, and my 6-year-old daughter is the housemaster of Kicks and Dodgeball. Wall Ball and Tetherball, on the other hand, seldom fall in rotation simply because they did not require much thought or skill.
EA Playground takes care of business using only the Wii remote – not the nunchuk attachment. This is nice for families like mine, who have invested in a second remote, but not an additional nunchuk, to play the two-player multiplayer mode.
The game proceedings are tied together with a overlying sticker collecting mechanic, where players can amass a small fortune in game-specific stickers which are sometimes awarded by beating boss characters, and sometimes purchased using marbles, which serve as in-game monetary units. Players have a virtual sticker book, and can place the stickers anywhere on the particular event’s page. It definitely gives gamers incentive to keep plugging along.
EA Playground features some of the better graphics found on the Wii so far. Striking a similar appearance to EA’s recent MySims, EA Playground features a cast of charming bobble-headed kids representing an array of cultures and races. The kids are perfect examples of kindergarten-cool; sporting enough sideways baseball caps, sporty backpacks, and fingerless gloves to make Hanna Montana puke. Still, the elementary schoolers think it is cool, so what the hey, right?
The backgrounds are vibrant, colorful, and full of life. All around the playground, parks, and surrounding areas are jammed with kids swinging, playing ball, and shooting marbles. It really adds to the atmosphere and sure beats the static menus of Wii Sports and Wii Play.
EA Playground’s sound leaves a bit to be desired – the background music is decent, but the Simlish-style language used for the voice acting is nowhere near the quality of the Sims series at expressing emotion.
The sound effects are fair, but definitely nothing to brag about. The slot cars have a very realistic whine, and the different balls have very distinct sounds as they come into contact with walls and feet, but all in all the sound effects are simply serviceable.
Younger gamers will find a ton of gameplay to be had in EA Playground, but experienced gamers will soon find themselves tired of the repetitious rehashing of the same few mini-games, only with slightly higher difficulty levels each time.
The sticker collection system adds a definite sense of purpose to the proceedings, and younger gamers will feel a desire to collect all the stickers and fill up their personal books.
The game could stand to have a wider range of mini-games, and I would have liked to see a bit more connection between the motion sensing capabilities of the Wii and the onscreen action as I felt a tad detached from the proceedings – if these items are addressed for a future sequel, we might have the next WarioWare or Cooking Mama on our hands.