Precise controls; solid online experience; clubs and Miiverse integration; more sports to come in the future, but what's here is engaging
No online chat; presentation is bland compared to Wii Sports Resort
Many ascribe part of Wii’s success to Nintendo’s clever decision to package a copy of Wii Sports with every console sold. The pack-in game delivered not just an engaging assortment of sports games to play, but was a showcase for the Wii Remote and the fun to be had with motion controls. With the launch of Wii U, Nintendo decided to go a similar route and highlight its new GamePad with Nintendo Land. Unfortunately, Nintendo Land did little to draw in both old and new fans; now, roughly a year after Wii U’s launch, Nintendo has come full circle and is offering Wii Sports Club as a downloadable title. An HD overhaul of the original Wii Sports, Wii Sports Club has also been outfitted with online multiplayer and a communities system, elevating what was an already great game to an even better one.
The key to appreciating any Wii Sports title is realizing that the series doesn’t take itself too seriously. Wii Sports Club is no different, as the two sports available at launch, bowling and tennis, are not pitch-perfect recreations of either. The play mechanics are basic; physical movement (walking, running) is handled by the computer, while the player swings the Wii Remote for tennis and pulls back and thrusts the Wii Remote forward to bowl. As is typical with the series, Wii Sports Club uses minimal button presses during gameplay, which makes the game accessible to multiple player skill types. Wii Sports Club is like previous installments, in that there’s something about the lack of traditional button implementation that makes players feel like there are no barriers between them and the game, which is an excellent way to get non-traditional gamers in on the action. It doesn’t hurt that the controls are spot-on; both tennis and bowling feel incredibly natural, and the physics are a fair facsimile of reality. Don’t expect anything new from either sport, though, as these are the exact same versions of tennis and bowling from Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, respectively. That might be a negative for some, but there are other additions that should appeal to those wanting something different this time around.
The pricing model for Wii Sports Club isn’t something I’m basing my score on, but I think it’s still worth mentioning. There are two ways to play the game; 24-hour Day Passes for $1.99 and unlimited Club Passes for $9.99. When players first download the game, there is a free 24-hour trial period in which to explore and play the sports to see if they’re worth buying. At any point during or after the trial, the player can choose which pass they want to buy to continue experiencing Wii Sports Club. As Nintendojo detailed last week, Nintendo’s goal with this pricing model is to offer those who only play the game socially to opt out of committing to a full purchase. This is a convenient option that should satisfy anyone looking to play the game, whatever their circumstance might be. I will say that anyone looking to do a 24-hour Day Pass might want to reconsider if they know they’ll be playing Wii Sports Club more than five times in the future, but to each his own.
Wii Sports Club starts by asking the player to join a club. The options are all based on the fifty states here in the US, different countries around the world, or the more anonymous world club that doesn’t specify any geographic allegiance. The player’s club choice isn’t permanent, but switching can only be done once every 24-hours. Outside of personal preference, there’s no in-game advantage to be had from any particular one, so choose freely. Nintendo has added a series of what are basically achievements that can be unlocked during gameplay in Wii Sports Club. Called stamps, there are quite a few to collect between both sports and can be viewed in the player’s Stamp Collection screen. Beyond that, there is also Miiverse integration, where players are encouraged to boost their club’s popularity by posting. Overall, the club and Miiverse inclusions are well handled, creating a sense of community along the lines of Wii Fit U, but not as extensive. It would have been nice to create personalized clubs in the way that players can make their own gym communities in Wii Fit U, but it’s a minor gripe that doesn’t take away from Wii Sports Club.
Wii Sports Club has made improvements to the series’ formula, but it’s not perfect. The HD upscaling has been handled well, retaining the bubbly personality of the original Wii Sports games while also reinvigorating the presentation. Still, it’s nothing that really showcases the raw power of Wii U’s capabilities, and underwhelms compared to even Wii Sports Resort‘s visuals; aside from a lower resolution, Resort‘s presentation is more impressive. Part of the reason might be that there’s not a whole lot of activities in Wii Sports Club outside of bowling and playing tennis. With only two sports available at launch, Nintendo is taking things slowly with Wii Sports Club, planning to release golf, boxing, and baseball at a later date. That doesn’t make the two sports currently available any less fun, but it does limit the experience.
Nintendo has finally brought online multiplayer to a Wii Sports game, and has done so with aplomb. Finding matches is fast and simple, offering players the chance to go against friends, strangers, or members of their club. Matchmaking is quick; I hardly ever waited in a lobby to find someone to play against, and even when I did, it was very brief. Nintendo wisely decided to allow players to practice whichever sport they’re playing while waiting, which is a lot funner than staring at a static loading screen. In my playtime, I’ve experienced very fluid matches overall, with minimal lag save for the occasional session here and there. As more players download the game and jump online, it’s unclear how Nintendo’s servers will handle the demand, but so far they’ve done well.
Tennis offers either singles or doubles single-matches, with doubles allowing players to bring a second player along for the ride. Bowling has a bit more variety with the option of playing spin control, 10-pin, or 100-pin games, but is single-player only. Probably due to the all-ages nature of the title, Nintendo has opted to not offer voice chat, but the d-pad can send three messages during gameplay that appear onscreen and are all notably friendly in tone. It’s a bit of a letdown for those who’d just like to talk without harassing anyone, especially considering how social an experience Wii Sports titles are known for being, but isn’t game-breaking.
Playing offline is fun as ever, providing the same suite of game modes as online but with the option for multiple players to join. The controls and gameplay are also equally smooth and precise playing offline. Offline features a training mode for both sports if players want to get in a little practice with the controls or fine tune their techniques. If online included voice chat I might feel differently about this, but Wii Sports Club is funnest with people actually in the room and enjoying one another’s company. On the other hand, there’s a unique sense of competitiveness to online play, so it’s perhaps fairer to say that both modes provide different but distinctly fun experiences.
Wii Sports Club is a fine addition to Wii U’s library that pushes the series forward with the addition of solid online play. The core experience remains as compelling as ever, offering play control that is both satisfying and inviting to players of all skill levels. Though the presentation has been upscaled to HD, it still feels like a step backwards compared to Wii Sports Resort‘s bright and fun visuals. With only two sports currently available, Wii Sports Club isn’t as robust an experience as it could be, but what is there will still keep players entertained for hours. With the promise of additional sports in the future, there’s a lot of potential for Wii Sports Club, and it’s easily worth a download for anyone who owns a Wii U.