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'Carnival Games' misses the thrill of the midway

How can you lose with a video game called "Carnival Games"? The new title for the Nintendo Wii gives you a duck shoot, a ring toss and other carnival classics — but it doesn't give you the thrill of the midway.
Though "Carnival Games” makes thorough use of the Wii’s motion-sensitive Remote controller, the thrill of the midway is nowhere to be found.
Though "Carnival Games” makes thorough use of the Wii’s motion-sensitive Remote controller, the thrill of the midway is nowhere to be found.Global Star Software

I love carnivals. I love the sugary food, the carnies, the fun games and the cheap prizes that go with them. That’s why I was so excited to play Global Star Software’s “Carnival Games.” Sadly, it didn’t take long for my excitement to turn sour.

This E-rated game just couldn’t bring the thrill of the midway home to the living room.

With no story line at all, “Carnival Games” (for the Nintendo Wii, $39.99) simply drops you into the heart of an amusement park where you can try your hand at more than 25 mini-games of skill and chance. All the midway favorites are represented, including the duck shoot, ring toss, and yes, even Skee-ball (though it’s given the name Alley Ball in the game).

“Carnival Games” is similar in look and feel to Nintendo’s “Wii Sports,” right down to the cartoony Mii-like design of the characters. Miis are the personalized avatars players create with their Nintendo Wiis and, unfortunately, you can’t import them into “Carnival Games.”

Meanwhile, like “Sports,” “Carnival” makes thorough use of the Wii’s motion-sensitive Remote controller. Want to play the balloon popping game? Swing the Remote as if you’re throwing a dart. Ready to play Ring Toss? Simply whip the controller sideways as if you’re tossing a ring.

Unfortunately, not all the mini-games are this intuitive to control. Most of them seem plagued with aiming issues or with motion controls that feel little like their real-life counterparts. Others, like the ball-throwing game Lucky Cups, seem to disregard your commands completely and rely solely on chance, resulting in a less than rewarding experience.

If you do manage to get a ball in a cup, or win any other game, you’ll receive a prize and some tickets. These tickets unlock new content, like clothing for your character or new playable areas. Unfortunately, these new areas offer little incentive to keep playing.

For example, you can unlock Super Alley Ball, but it’s just Alley Ball with bumpers in the throwing lane. Whoopee. Or you can play the Meter-O-Love – and I use the term “play” loosely here. All you do is hold the Wii controller to your heart and the meter will tell you where you rank in the world of love, from “boring” to “lovable” to “hot stuff.” Just like in real life, it’s little more than a waste of time and tickets.

The game makers did try to string some extra playing time out of the prize system which, just like at a genuine fair, lets you bundle together smaller prizes and trade them in for a bigger one. While that’s cool in the real world because you can walk around showing off the giant toy you’ve won, doing so in the digital world doesn’t supply the same visceral reaction. Why would I want to play the same disappointing game over and over again if all I get to show for it is a toy that looks slightly larger on my TV screen? I wouldn’t.

Ultimately, there’s very little replay value in “Carnival Games.” Of course, that’s the nature of the business in the real world. Midways are filled with games that entice people to quickly play and then move on. Carnies want the rubes to come and go, because there’s no money to be made if someone gets to play all night for a quarter.

What replay value there is in “Carnival Games” is found in the multiplayer mode, which allows up to four people to play together. After all, no one wants to go to fair alone. Still, unless you and your friends desperately need a midway fix, you might want to skip the “Carnival” this year.