Welcome to another installment of Wiikly WiiWare Wiiview. This week, we’ve some good and some bad…really bad. The games this week are Flowerworks, Stop Stress: A Day of Fury, Magnetis, and My Dolphin. We also have a bonus Learning With The PooYoos review because the game managed to slip by unnoticed from a previous edition.
One thing we haven’t been seeing enough of on the WiiWare front lately is a steady influx of decent puzzle games. After all, that is the sort of thing that a service like this does best. Thankfully, Flowerworks is here to help fill in the gap. Flowerworks stars a little plant-like creature named Follie who has left her home planet because it is a hopeless gardening nightmare. On route to her grandmother’s planet, Follie’s seeds freak out and send the ship hurdling down towards an unknown cozy little planet. Rather than worrying about finding a way off of the planet, Follie takes it upon herself to populate the rather average landscape with beautiful flowers. There’s always time for a floral makeover, right?
Once you have control over Follie, you can then navigate through a mostly-2D environment where you can collect coins, hints, and seeds. Each area also has a glowing white circle that will transport you to a puzzle round, which can be activated if you have enough seeds of a specified color. There are other areas to explore as well, but each path is blocked by a giant lawn gnome. Although they don’t ever do or say anything, according to Follie, they are very mean and can only be pacified by earning enough stars in the puzzle rounds, the number of which is specified on each gnome’s hat. Having done this, you can shake your Wii remote near the gnome to bury it and continue on your merry way.
Okay, so the story is pretty bad. The writers seem to be trying a bit too hard to make this game appeal to children, which probably isn’t the right direction to take because it might actually be too difficult for many kids. However, for the typical casual gamer, it is actually a rather fun game with a unique style of gameplay. At the beginning of each round, you will have a couple of small seedlings barely poking out of the ground. As pollen buds float up from below, your task is to collect them and shoot them at the appropriately-colored seedlings so they will grow and blossom into flowers. Once a flower has grown large enough, it will start a countdown. During this time, you have to add as much pollen to the flowers if you can before time runs out. If the timer reaches zero and a flower hasn’t bloomed, you lose. Also, if you don’t pay enough attention to a flower, it will wilt and die, also resulting in a loss.
Of course, if that was all there is to it, it would be too easy. In order to actually score enough points to earn yourself some stars, you can’t settle with just launching a pollen at a time. The trick here is to line up your sights in order to hit other pollen on the way, resulting in a combo that will set off flowery fireworks. Depending on the size of your combos, a number of bubbles will appear, which you can juggle until you are ready to pop them and give yourself special powerups to help your flowers grow. To control your line of fire, simply direct Follie by pointing her near a flower and she will automatically aim at it. To target that flower, you can hold down the A button. It is crucial to remember this because if you neglect to do so, you will often end up aiming at the wrong flowers. Thankfully, switching targets is handled efficiently by moving near another flower (while targeting) and hitting the B button.
The technique takes some time to get right, but it adds a fun challenge to the game. And if you can master it, you can really rake in some major points. This is important because after the first round, the game immediately becomes more challenging. As you continue, there will be more flowers, and some of them will require you to mix pollen colors mid-air in order to make them grow. Although tricky at times, it is very fun when the pace starts to pick up. Outside of these puzzle rounds, navigation isn’t quite so refined. Follie can be controlled by pointing and clicking, which feels very unnatural, or by using the d-pad, which is jerky and poorly executed. However, the adventure provides an appropriate segue between levels and allows opportunities to purchase upgrades and abilities from the greedy inhabitants of this little green planet.
Although strongly aimed at children, Flowerworks is a game that can be enjoyed by any casual gamer who enjoys a fun challenge. A tutorial is available for those who need it, but it is surprisingly barebones and not terribly helpful. On an up note, the game’s music is consistently fun, playful, and refreshing. Even after hours of playing, it doesn’t seem to get old. Flowerworks also provides a Quick Play where you can practice and try to beat your high scores. It’s great if you just want to play a quick round or two, but you will be spending most of your time in the adventure mode. And there may only be 50 levels, but because your performance has a visual effect on the world around you, there is somewhat of an incentive to come back and improve your scores. The game’s theme may not appeal to many people, but it is a solid game that stands out in the current influx of WiiWare flops. It’s a bit of a rose in a patch of weeds, if you will.
Anyone interested can try out an older PC demo on the Flowerworks web site.
Stop Stress: A Day of Fury
With a premise reminiscent of Falling Down, it is easy to expect a rage-filled adventure full of fun and mischief…and smashing things to bits. For the most part, Stop Stress delivers just that. Unfortunately, they seem to have left out the fun. The game starts off with a series of mediocre drawings that depict stressful situations. Once you are in control, it is up to you to guide the protagonist through his apartment on a mission to destroy all of the alarm clocks. It is mildly entertaining at first, but after mere minutes, it becomes one of the most annoying games I have ever played.
If Abylight’s goal is to make the player feel the stress of the protagonist, then they succeeded tremendously. However, while this method worked quite effectively for Punch-Drunk Love, it made Stop Stress incredibly difficult for me to play. The constant blaring of horns and bombardment of bugs is enough to drive anyone crazy. It might not be so bad if the controls weren’t so painful. And I mean that in a literal sense. The game takes on a first-person perspective and expects you to flail about wildly as you try to whack all of the adversaries coming at you. Being a regular Wii gamer, I’ve built up somewhat of a tolerance, but my wrist was sore after only an hour of bashing in car windows. It makes a fun idea not very enjoyable.
This might just be a personal issue, but another problem I had with the game is the fact that it is overly silly. There are so many things that could have been done for this game, but the majority of your adversaries will be giant bugs, floating clown faces, lint monsters, stoplight spiders, baby gorillas, and things of that nature. And the respawn rate is set way too high. Personally, I think a game like this would greatly benefit from being a side-scrolling platformer. If that were the case, even the ridiculous enemies might at least be fun to fight. Instead, you either swing a weapon at them or reflect items that they throw at you. Overall, a very mediocre game.
As long as video games remain in production, there will probably always be new Tetris imitations coming out every couple of months. This month, it’s Magnetis. As is standard, Magnetis is a falling-block game. Surprisingly, this game handles the concept in a somewhat unique manner. Here, we are essentially given just a few different kinds of blocks: left magnets, right magnets, and conductors. The object is use the conductors to link left magnets with right magnets to create magnetic links. Doing so will clear those blocks and net you some points. What truly sets this game apart from most others is the control scheme. Rather than controlling the blocks as they fall, you actually have almost no control over them whatsoever. They fall from the center and there’s nothing you can change their path. You can switch the blocks—which come in pairs—but that’s it.
So, what do you do exactly? In Magnetis, the playing field sits atop a conveyer belt, and much like the 3D levels of Nintendo64′s Pokémon Puzzle League, you actually move the playing field itself. It may not sound like this subtle change would make much of a difference, but in reality, it can make the gameplay rather tricky at times. Of course, that’s what makes the game as fun as it is. To add to the challenge, the pace of the falling blocks increase at a rate which is likely faster than what you are used to. On your first few playthroughs, you may find yourself struggling to survive only five levels in. It doesn’t help that conductor blocks eventually disappear after not being used for some time and some of the magnets are different colors and can only be linked with their like-colored counterparts; failing to do so will result in bad blocks that can only be cleared by linking magnets near them.
Magnetis supports up to four players in a few different competetive modes to help spice things up. For two players, there is also a co-op mode, which isn’t particularly interesting. If you want to play with a friend, you are better off duking it out rather than trying to work together. Unfortunately, there is no online playability to speak of, but for most people, the singleplayer modes should be more than sufficient at keeping you occupied. If it is any consolation, the music in Magnetis is fantastic. Easily one of the best soundtracks of a WiiWare title to date. Even many large retail titles don’t sport tracks as enjoyable and energetic as these. The game’s menus are sloppy and the controls will be awkward for most without switching to Horizontal mode, but this is a fun game that deserves several hours of play-time.
My Dolphin offers up a story that makes Flowerworks sound like Shakespeare and cutscenes that make Stop Stress look like a work of art. The game opens up with a series of child-like drawings and a story about a boy who is sad for no apparent reason. The storyline of Blaster Master—which involves a tale of woe about a young boy losing his beloved pet frog—used to bum me out when I was a kid. The opening of My Dolphin will likely depress the hell out of your children. Without getting into too much detail, the premise of the game is that a boy was very sad, so King Triton sent him a temporary dolphin friend to cheer him up. Years later, that boy grew into a white man with a Japanese name and he now provides the same service for others for no explained reason. As the game states: “He sent dolphins to sad people and gave them a Wii remote and nunchuk. …But no one knows why…”
Yeah, that’s some real Grade A storytelling there. Best of all, this asinine plot is completely unnecessary and has nothing to do with the game itself. The entire point of the game is to control a little dolphin and put on shows for two-dimensional faceless spectators. You can either put on a single show, which is virtually pointless, or you can compete in a championship in which you are the only participant. At the beginning of each level, you are instructed to perform a set of certain tricks that must be done in order to pass. However, simply earning enough points will grant you access to the next performance, which is basically the exact same thing with a higher goal.
The gameplay of My Dolphin is mindnumbingly simple. When it’s time for a trick, you have to press the one or two buttons shown on the screen, flip the remote up, and then flip it back down. Unless you’ve never used a Wii and have no idea where the buttons are, there is little chance of flubbing up. Even if you do have trouble, it’s okay because even completely failing to do a trick will still earn you points. On some of the earlier levels, simply wagging the remote—to simulate swimming—will earn you enough points to pass. Aside from the performance, there is also Play Time, where you can practice tricks, check your dolphin’s stats, and “play” with your dolphin. Sadly, “playing” only entails petting the little guy. If you have any hopes of playing with a ball or ring, those have to be unlocked (not downloaded) by spending additional money in the Wii store.
Unfortunately, My Dolphin has no redeeming qualities that I can find. Very young children might get a kick out of pretending to know what they’re doing, but anyone older than 4 years old will be bored to tears. From what I can tell, there are less than ten music tracks, all of which are incredibly repetitive. After hearing a song for five seconds, you have already heard what the entire thing sounds like. There may actually be more songs in the game, but if there are, they are too similar to be easily discernable. And worst of all, there is no pause menu whatsoever, you aren’t even given an option to exit the game once you’ve realized what a terrible time you’re having.
Learning With The PooYoos: Episode 1
Learning With The PooYoos was actually released during a previous week, but because of poor advertising on Nintendo’s part, it completely slipped under the radar unnoticed. But fear not, dear readers, for we have got a slightly belated review for you right here this week. Unless you are a parent or grandparent of a young child, you most likely won’t be interested in this title. However, even if that is the case, you may still want to continue reading for more information…just in case. If it isn’t already readily apparent, Learning With The PooYoos is meant for very young children, probably no older than 3 years old. However, that doesn’t mean it has no appeal for older crowds…
For being a game that is meant for much younger generations, I actually found myself being genuinely entertained by the mini-games and cute characters. Sure, the most complex part of the game involves pointing the remote at bubbles, but they made it fun, even for a grown man such as myself. The entire game features playful unobtrusive music and warm, welcoming narrative…and did I mention the cute little characters? They may have a silly name, but the PooYoos are downright adorable. If stuffed toys were made available, I honestly think I would consider purchasing the turtle who wears his shell as a backpack. And if even a cynic like me can enjoy these little cell-shaded animals, then I know kids will just fall in love with them.
This is the kind of children’s programming that I can support. It’s bright, colorful, and cute, so kids are drawn in immediately. And it talks to them like many Noggin shows often do, but that extra level of interaction will help keep them enthralled and feeling like they are actually participating, even if it is as simply as waving the remote or pressing buttons to make noise. Best of all, they might even learn a few new words and maybe even some good manners. There are a couple of small problems, however. First of all, the game is very short. With only two sets of three mini-games, the entire experience will probably only last about 20 minutes. It may leave some kids begging for more. Also, while it’s great that it tries to teach kids new words, I don’t really think showing them in cursive is going to help much.
The time constraints are a big knock against the game and it’s not necessarily an adequate learning tool, but even taking that into consideration, it is a fantastic experience that most young children will adore. And as children are prone to do, they will probably be able to play through it several times before it begins to wear thin. Anyone with more persistent children have nothing to worry about because it genuinely is quite entertaining and will likely take a long time for it to overstay its welcome. Even so, there are thankfully more episodes planned for the future. Whether they are popping bubbles or dancing with an umbrella, any child between the ages of 2 and 3 will have a blast learning with the PooYoos, and even the credits are enjoyable. My wife and I are expecting to have a baby next year and I can honestly say that I would be glad to include this in our future child’s library of games and toys.
Flowerworks was developed and published by Nocturnal.
Stop Stress: A Day of Fury was developed and published by Abylight.
Magnetis was developed and published by Yullaby.
My Dolphin was developed and published by T&S Ltd.
Learning With The PooYoos: Episode 1 was developed and published by Lexis Numerique. It was released for WiiWare in North America on 11/23/2009.
All other titles were released for WiiWare in North America on 12/7/2009.