Games 10/6/09: Wii Fit Plus, MySims Agents, The Warriors: Street Brawl

Wii Fit Plus
For: Nintendo Wii
From: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)

Nintendo lags behind convention when it comes to online content delivery, which is why “Wii Fit Plus” exists as a standalone disc only instead of a downloadable content pack for existing owners of the original “Fit.”

This doesn’t mean a whole lot of anything to those getting into “Fit” for the first time. “Plus” essentially replaces “Fit” on the marketplace: If you buy the $100 Wii Balance Board, this is what’s bundled inside now. Everything that was in “Fit” is in “Plus,” which is a standalone game despite some confusing language on the box that suggests you need both discs.

For those who already have “Fit,” the transition to “Plus” is about as smooth as it should be, particularly because “Plus” reads and converts your save data from “Fit” and doesn’t make you start all over with new data. In another nice touch, the game also specially recognizes returning players by quickly pointing out the new features and otherwise letting them get on with their workout.

The additions to the base program aren’t quite as extraordinary as one would hope from an additional 16-plus months of development time on Nintendo’s part, but they do fall roughly in line with what one might expect the asking price ($20 for game without the board) to deliver.

Most essentially, “Plus” adds the capacity to create custom exercise routines rather than simply play one exercise at a time and continually bounce between menus while doing so. It’s a pretty elegant system, too: The game’s preset routines are organized by goals and needs rather than exercise types, and you can combine these routines to build your own without much work. The freeform routine creator is similarly easy to use, though it’s not without limitations: You only can add strength and yoga exercises to this routine, and you can’t save and switch between multiple routines. A favorites list, which provides single-menu access to your favorite (and, cleverly, least favorite) routines, makes a very welcome debut in this area as well.

The other interface enhancements run the gamut. A pass-the-Balance Board multiplayer mode (only one controller and one board necessary) adds a fun competitive element to the aerobic and balance mini-games. The calorie counter is a no-brainer: There’s no way “Plus” can precisely gauge your caloric loss given the technology on hand, but a slightly imprecise measure of progress is a metric all the same. A feature that allows you to register and weigh babies and pets is a bit out of left field, but it works, and therefore has value to those who might wish or need to keep tabs on such things.

Predictably, “Plus” tops off the package with some exercises — only a few new strength and yoga exercises, but 15 new mini-games that include a Segway race, rhythmic Kung Fu, a snowball fight and a game that has you flying like a chicken. “Fit’s” sense of humor was an essential ingredient of its accessibility, and “Plus” does a great job of carrying the torch in that regard.

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MySims Agents
Reviewed for: Nintendo Wii
Other version available for: Nintendo DS
From: EA
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

Here’s a question: Whatever happened to the great educational computer games of yesteryear — “The Oregon Trail,” “Odell Lake,” but especially the sparkling likes of the Carmen Sandiego series? When did kids’ gaming become nothing more than fetch quest-a-thons licensed by animated movies of similarly uninspired ambition?

“MySims Agents,” the latest surprisingly good entrant in what has become a startling case of brand milking done completely right, doesn’t necessarily have the answer. But whether EA intended it as such or not, it is an overdue nod in that genre’s direction — a game that very explicitly encourages younger players and their siblings or parents to put their heads together and have some actual fun doing so.

Though “Agents” looks, controls and generally operates like most of the previous “MySims” games — you still design a Sims avatar and move him or her directly in a 3D game environment — the real crux of the game lies in solving cases as a local detective (and, eventually, a debonair special agent).

The system for doing so is, depending on your perspective, either elegant or simplistic.

A good (and, somewhat surprisingly, sharply funny) story glues the whole thing together, but the general gist is elementary: Your boss or clients give you a case and a few starting clues, and you need to interview people around town and use your detective tools (at first a rudimentary magnifying glass and crowbar, but eventually some gadgetry that would make 007 proud). There’s some light platforming action, and some of the gadgets give way to brief (and generally fun) mini-games, but the bulk of the game’s demands are cerebral in nature.

Perhaps knowing this and perhaps acting preemptively to keep players from getting stuck or excessively frustrated, EA compensated a little too much in the hint-giving department, and it’s possible to have your detective’s virtual notepad do too much of the thinking for you if you choose to lean on it. “Agents” tries to find a balance between posing a challenge and keeping players moving along, and there are times when it swings both ways — practically handing out the answers in some places, occasionally (but rarely) making it difficult to figure out where to even go in others when you’re between cases.

With all that said, though, the total package still emerges as a pleasantly surprising one-of-a-kind console game. “Agents” is a family game that really feels designed to be played by a family (younger players in the driver’s seat, parents/siblings at the ready to assist) instead of any old group of people. The base ingredients are implemented with polish, and the story keeps them interesting by mixing in new locales, gadgets and even the ability to recruit and mangage additional A.I.-controlled agents.

Per usual, “Agents” also offers more in the way of visual customization — in this case, decorative control over a five-story detective agency — than a game not brandished with the “MySims” tag would provide. The process is mostly ornamental in nature, but a game never hurt itself by giving players the freedom to personalize it.

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The Warriors: Street Brawl
For: Xbox 360 Live Arcade
From: Paramount Digital Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, violence)

If being both isn’t an option, then it’s probably, as “The Warriors: Street Brawl” demonstrates, better to be fun than good. “Brawl” emulates the mindless fun of sidescrolling brawlers from the 1990s, using 3D graphics and animation but playing out on a mostly 2D plane. It also incorporates a number of warts (sloppy collision detection, wild inconsistency with regard to environmental destruction) that probably should have been completely overcome since those days. More distressing is how easy it is for players (and, on harder levels, the enemies) to completely rig the fighting system: Blocking works as a cure-all defense against everything up to and including weapon beatdowns, and the AI is dictated by rigid attack patterns rather than actual intelligence. Some unfortunate boss fights merely amplify these blotches to various degrees. But guess what? The game’s fun anyway. For everything it gets wrong, there’s a crucial ingredient (satisfactory attack arsenal, nice sense of oomph to the fighting, good use of the movie that inspired it, lots of content to explore) it gets right. That’s especially true with friends on board: Any brawler worth its salt needs co-op support, and “Brawl” (four players online or offline, as well as a two-player versus mode) easily delivers in that respect.