When the Nintendo Gamecube settled into third place during the previous console generation, many publishers shifted their efforts to the vastly more popular — and profitable — PlayStation 2 and Xbox. But the surprise success of the Wii, which just crossed the five million sales mark (faster than any other console in video game history), has publishers scrambling to get their games back on Nintendo's mass-market machine.
Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of catalog mining. Previous-gen PS2 and Xbox games like Ubisoft’s "Blazing Angels" and "Prince of Persia" were gussied up with Wii Remote controls and then shoved out the door to capitalize on the system’s momentum.
After Ubisoft, Electronic Arts is the next major third-party developer to redirect resources to the Wii. Not only has the gaming giant set up Wii-dedicated development teams, but within the last month, EA has released no fewer than three Wii titles: "SSX Blur," "The Godfather: Blackhand Edition," and "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07."
All three $50 games are based on previous PS2 releases, but feature varying degrees of new Wii-centric features. While "Tiger Woods" is pretty much just the PS2 game with the golf swing mapped to the Wii Remote, "SSX Blur" shares only the architecture of previous releases in the franchise — the art style and controls are brand new. Guess which one is better?
Go swinging with 'Tiger Woods'
If the golf segment of the pack-in "Wii Sports" is an appetizer, EA's "Tiger Woods" is the main course. This is a full-featured golf game with multiple real world courses and play options, such as a quick game or the ability to wade into tournaments. The bad news first: "Tiger Woods" is not an attractive game compared to other Wii efforts, even though the game was upgraded with widescreen and progressive scan support. The colors are muted and polygon edges are harsh. If you are a graphics snob, "Tiger" bites. "Wii Sports" is actually a cleaner-looking golf game, in spite of its decidedly more simplistic graphics.
The good news, however, is the control. "Tiger" is a huge first step toward realizing the full potential of the Wii's innovative motion controls. There is something inherently cool about performing an actual swing in your living room and seeing Tiger himself do it on-screen.
You must learn to swing straight though, because the sensitive controls draw you no quarter. If you finish your drive with a sloppy angle off to the side, the ball will hook. Slicing and hooking are legit golf strategies, but when the controls are too quick to punish you for slight inaccuracies, the game crosses the line between "real" and "really frustrating."
'SSX Blur' goes a step further
"SSX Blur" is the newest entry in EA's long-standing snowboarding franchise. The original "SSX" was the most noteworthy of the PS2's launch library, and while "Blur" doesn't rock socks in the same way, it's still an attractive addition to the Wii's collection.
EA deserves points for not taking the easy way out and just letting you steer the snowboard by tilting the Wii Remote like many other Wii racing games. Instead, you use the Nunchuk attachment to carve the mountainsides and perform tricks with the Wii Remote.
Mastering this scheme takes effort, and that may freeze out the casual crowd the Wii often courts. However, the hardcore crowd will appreciate that more complex controls actually allow for some amazing mountain performances. To pull of the game's toughest tricks — called Ubers — you must draw increasingly complex patterns in the air. These aren't easy to do when your boarder is rocketing downhill at 70mph, but there is a sense of accomplishment involved that is rewarding.
Cartoony, but not over-the-top
"SSX Blur" enjoys a hot soundtrack from Junkie XL that morphs depending on your trick performance. As you lay down more and more successful tricks, the song fills out with new sounds and beats. The new art style could be called cartoon-y thanks to its wild splashes of color and stylized boarders, but it's not over-the-top.
Now, mentioning that a Wii game looks cartoon-y always rouses detractors that believe the Wii will end up, like the GameCube before it, as the dumping ground for rated-E games. EA's "The Godfather: Blackhand Edition" (and Rockstar's upcoming "Manhunt 2") should stay those sentiments.
'The Godfather' is not just a straight port
"The Godfather" takes the sandbox-style gameplay popularized by "Grand Theft Auto" and adds a regimented story that fleshes out off-screen details from the cinema classic. You are a lowly Mafia soldier working your way up the ranks of the Corleone family, interacting with the Don, Michael and Sonny.
The sprawling M-rated "Godfather" has already seen release on the PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360 and PSP and was met with general acclaim, but the Wii's "Blackhand Edition" is not just a straight port. EA has added hours of new missions for would-be Dons to stake out in this epic.
The extra content is certainly appreciated, but what really makes this Wii edition so engrossing is the smart use of the Wii Remote. When roughing up a rival gangster, a swing with the Wii Remote translates into an on-screen chop across the jaw. Shop owner not coughing up protection money? Squeeze the triggers on the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to grab him by the lapels and then push forward to throw him to the ground. That kind of immersion really connects the player to the adventure more than a simple press of a button.
Newcomers should seek out the Wii version explicitly because of the control, but players that have already notched the original on their gamer belt should also consider revisiting "The Godfather" for the extra content and new level of interaction.
EA's sudden dedication to the Nintendo Wii should be encouraging for owners of the new machine. A wealth or dearth of support from the world's largest third-party publisher can have a huge effect on a console's success. EA's sports games helped the Sega Genesis wrestle half of the market from Nintendo, but a lack of Madden and other EA properties helped bury the Dreamcast before its time.