Reviewed: February 1, 2010
Released: October 13, 2009
What the heck are Squeeballs? I think that's the question everyone has when I mention the Wii's new Squeeballs Party. In an obvious attempt to ride the Wii's wave of waggle-happy casual gaming, the folks at UK developer Eiconic Games and US publisher Aksys Games (what's up with the spelling at those places?), throws equal parts Boom Blox!, de Blob, Cooking Mama, and even Wii Sports into a gaming blender and comes out with a smooth and frothy minigame slushy that is every bit as good as its ingredients.
Then, possibly in taking a cue from Rare's Viva Pinata titles, they have coupled the minigame collection with an entirely new set of cutesy novelty characters just begging to be branched off into toys, cartoons, and other sideline projects. This time, it isn't candy-filled Papier-mâché animals, but the Madballs-meets-Webkinz characters called Squeeballs who will be mashed, multilated, and maimed in this off-color, but ultimately family-friendly "E" for everybody game. But do we really need another $30 minigame collection on the Wii? Not really. But do 360 folks need more first person shooters, or PS3 folks another racing game? No, but you don't see us complaining about over-saturation with those genres.
I know you seldom hear this from a reviewer, but one of the highlights of Squeeballs is the surprisingly entertaining and well-produced cutscenes that introduce the fuzzball characters to the player. There really isn't much to the actual storyline, but quality and presentation are definitely better than most of the Wii fare. The minigames themselves range over a surprisingly large variety of activities. Everything from slingshot-archery like painting and cannon-firing games, to tennis and baseball variants, to a take on the Japanese classic "Irritating Stick" (Google that one folks) - the Squeeballs pretty much run the minigaming gamut. The game case boasts 150+ minigames, but that is a little bit of a stretch as most are just minor variants of the dozen-or-so core modes.
None of the game modes are all that unique - most can be directly attributed to one or another existing minigame collections - and at doesn't take long before the variety seems to wane. A few are definite gems; The cannon firing game actually has the gamer volleying Squeeballs back at the cannon using controls similar to Wii Sports Tennis/Baseball. And as a long-time fan of Irritating Stick, I loved the challenge posed by the Shock mode. But there were a few stinkers as well, including the frustrating Feeding Frenzy and the exhaustive Pumping minigames.
No surprise, the controls are designed around the Wii's motion input, and for the most part they are well thought-out and intuitive. There are a few games which have the gamer waggling frantically without any obvious purpose, but that tends to be on the wackier challenges, whereas the games that really should require skill and finesse (bowling, etc.) actually do a pretty good job at capturing unique gestures and movement. The degree of detail may not quite reach Nintendo first-party quality, but it certainly is better than much of the shovelware that has been churned out on the system. Squeeballs' controls do not support the Wii Motion Plus adapter, but the omission is hardly missed.
Visually, Squeeballs Party definitely surpasses the quality of a majority of its budget-priced competition. The cutscenes are theater quality 3D, and although the in-game visuals aren't quite as polished, they definitely hold their own in the low-res world of the Wii. Squeeballs Party supports progressive scan while maintaining a steady clip of 60 frames per second. While the visuals are surprisingly polished for a budget title, the audio is about as basic as it gets. Still, given that the game is intended for party play the heavily recycled sound effects will hardly to be noticed over the exclamations of the crowd and players, so the lack of attention is forgivable.
The game features a single player story mode, and party mode support for up to 4-players by passing controllers. Much like any other minigame collection, the crux of the gameplay can be fully experienced within the first 30 minutes, and the entire game completed in a matter of a couple of hours of play. But the focus is definitely on the Party mode, which offers a unique value of its own - given the fun that was had in our group session, it is definitely worth a few value points.
So, while the Wii universe certainly does not really need another minigame collection, you could do much worse that Squeeballs Party. The game delivers pretty much everything it promises, even if the lofty claim of 150+ minigames is a bit over-exaggerated.