Gym class is the worst part of a school’s curriculum. There are few things more cringe-inducing than the shrill screech of a coach’s whistle. The morning sun turns the basketball courts into giant frying pans. The students around you are in a constant state of exhaustion due to their lacking physical skills. You can hear them grunting with each agonizing push-up. Their faces are the color of mashed tomatoes and flooded with sweat and tears. You can smell the sweet fragrance of body odor drifting out of the locker room. There are a few people here that are born to be athletes, the ones who are always picked as team captains and like to show off their finely honed skills. Then there’s you, the average kid trying to make it through the hellish gauntlet without collapsing. You’re not as strong or fast as the best of the students, but you’re not one of the poor souls that inevitably fall short of the class’s standards. All you’ve got is some decent hand-eye coordination, enough energy to last until lunch, and the prayer that you won’t make an ass out of yourself in front of that coed you’ve been pining after. Thus, the daily trials of gym class begin anew.
Sound familiar? Don’t be ashamed. Many people have had to deal with their own ineptness in front of others. But for those of you that dread any physical activity whatsoever, Wii Sports may provide some relief. Though this title comes bundled with the Wii console and operates as a thinly veiled tech demo, it still gives people a chance to participate in the sports that so many have come to love over the years. Instead of donning your gym clothes, you’ll get to pick up the WiiMote and square off against a computer-controlled tennis player. If you don’t feel like renting out a pair of shoes, Bowling allows you to take to the alley and knock over some pins. You’ll get to show off your batting skills at Nintendo’s baseball stadium and kick some ass World Series style. For all the Tiger Woods wannabes out there, the golf simulator lets you take swing at getting a hole in one. Then there’s Boxing, the game that allows you to act out as many cheesy Rocky montages as your imagination will allow. Coupled with an assortment of mini-games designed to test your accuracy, strength, and physical endurance on a daily basis, these challenges offer an experience unlike any other sports video game before them.
Tennis pits you and a partner against a pair of opponents. Once you mange to serve the ball over the net, you’ll spend the majority of the time hitting it back and forth until someone (probably you until you get a feel for the controls) manages to miss their mark. Using the WiiMote as a racket is remarkably easy; you’ll be able to perform forehands, backhands, lobs, and all those other technical tennis terms that nobody really cares about. The only thing you’ll have to worry about is the angle of your wrists, the arc of your swings, and hitting in the ball in the desired direction. Unfortunately, this is the extent of the game’s depth; since running and diving around the court it done automatically, it requires little in terms of physical effort. Tennis attempts to make things seem more interesting by including a cheering crowd and the sound of a real ball getting smacked around, but it doesn’t make the experience any more involved. The only saving grace comes with its mini-games; hitting practice, aiming, and target breaking is far more challenging than the main feature.
Unfortunately, the baseball game is also afflicted by the same shortcomings. As you stand at home plate, you can hear the dull roar of the crowd, see the countless billboards sprinkled throughout the massive stadium, and even a jumbotron looming over center field. Despite this wonderful presentation, Baseball amounts to little more than a hitting and pitching contest between you and the computer. Since the WiiMote substitutes for a baseball bat, you’ll have to hold it over your shoulder and assume the stance of a professional player. Depending on the strength, angle, and timing of your swing, the ball can end up zooming back into the pitcher’s glove or rocket into the upper decks for a home run. Pitching to your opponents is equally engaging; depending one which buttons are pressed during your simulated throw, you’ll be able to perform a multitude of pitches. The game even simulates physical exhaustion; as the game wears on, your pitcher avatar will grow weary (complete with tiny beads of sweat!) and start screwing up more often. Should the opponent manage to hit the ball, it’ll be up to your AI-controlled teammates to save the day. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t include any kind fielding gameplay whatsoever. Instead of being able to throw a wayward ball to the bases, the game will automatically calculate how far the hitter can progress depending on the length of time needed to retrieve the ball. The game tries to make up for this by including catching errors, desperate Derek Jeter-esque slides, and other aspects that make the game seem more realistic. That doesn’t save Baseball from being half of the regular sport.
Bowling, on the other hand, provides a far more complete experience (sans the smelly rented shoes). You’ll wander into Nintendo’s version of your local bowling alley; you’ll get bombarded with sounds of cheering crowds, balls thundering across the polished wooden floors, and the crashing of so many bowling pins in the other lanes. Once you’ve armed yourself with a ball, all you have to do his hold down the correct buttons, make an underhanded swing, and watch your bowling ball smash into your targets (with instant replay, no less) in the distance. Your success relies completely on the way you turns your wrist and arm during the throw; the ball can veer off in almost any direction if you’re not careful. Once you’ve figured out how your bowling skills work, you’ll be able to move your avatar’s body onscreen and aim where the ball should be flung. If you’ve factored in the angles, spin, and strength of your throw perfectly, you’ll rack up a high score in no time. Considering that Bowling includes mini-games designed exactly for practicing those same aspects, you’ll have plenty an opportunity to augment your skills.
But if you need something a bit quieter, Golf will whisk you away to a golf course that makes Pebble Beach look like the Jersey shore. There are no cheering crowds in sight here; the only movement comes from the light rippling off the waves in the nearby coastline, the clouds drifting overhead, and tree leafs swaying in the gentle breeze. The terrain is marked out with realistic colors and imagery; the contrast between darker rough areas and freshly cut fairway ensure that you’ll be able to see your desired targets with ease. You’ll need such a serene atmosphere, too. Like its real-life counterpart, playing Golf can be absolutely nerve-wracking. In order to hit the ball, you’ll have to hold down the A button on the Wiimote, angle the controller over your shoulder, and hopefully smack the ball across the course. Unlike Baseball, this game requires far more finesse; hitting a ball too hard or turning the WiiMote incorrectly will make the ball drift off course and cost you valuable points and distance from the target. Though Golf includes mini-games to train your swinging and targeting skills, the wind direction, sand traps, water hazards, and uneven terrain slopes make for a remarkably brutal learning curve.
Once you get fed up with the game’s high expectations, you can vent your frustrations in Boxing. There are no clubs, rackets, or balls to wield this time; the WiiMote and its Nunchuck attachment serve as your fists. You’ll have to assume a fighter’s stance by holding the controllers up to your body to defend against attacks, lean into or out of hitting range, and moving around the ring. Don’t be distracted by the roaring crowd, the shiny lights, or the goofy look on your opponents’ faces; this game is far tougher than it looks. While you can smack around a fair amount of your foes with a few quick punches, many of the later contenders will bob and weave around your attacks and take advantage of any weaknesses in your defense. The difficulty can’t be blamed completely on the AI, however. The controls in Boxing aren’t quite as responsive as the ones in the other games; making straight punches and jabs are easy enough to execute, but fast attacks, hooks, and uppercuts are often unreliable. As the counter starts running down the zero and the sweat pours down your avatar’s face, you’ll become increasingly dependent on dodging as opposed to actual attacking. It’s a shame that there are no awesome music tracks, gritty trainers, or even an Adrian-esque character to cheer you through the toughest battles. But hey, you get to smack some punching bags (and your coach, if you’re not careful) for practice, so it’s not entirely bad.
For a bundled-in tech demo, Wii Sports fulfils its role fairly well. It gives gamers a small taste of what the WiiMote can do for their gaming experiences and a reason to keep playing the new system, but nothing more. Its appeal and flaws lay with its simplicity. It boasts simulations of five classic sports that most people, regardless of gaming experience, can understand and play. You’ll be able to unleash your inner Andre Agassi, go on a (hopefully) steroid-free home run crusade, feel a sense of pride over a well-aimed bowling strike, putt around at your leisure, and face some of the toughest gaming boxers since Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. None of the games, however, feels like a complete recreation; questionable controls, lacking AI, and missing gameplay elements deprive it of a truly deep gaming experience. Despite such flaws, Wii Sports does what Duck Hunt and World Class Track Meet did for Nintendo twenty years ago: getting people active and interested in what the console can offer.