It's a family game night where you don't have to feel bad about your purchase.
Since the introduction of the Wii three years ago, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of attempts at replacing a traditional real-life activity with its digital equivalent. Skiing, boxing, board games, surgery—you name it, and it’s probably been approximated at some point on Nintendo’s hardware. Some of the time these ideas are critically accepted, but more often than not, in spite of how the market responds to them, they ultimately wind up being labeled as impractical and presumptuous. So as EA and Hasbro stock store shelves with Family Game Night 2, what’s a happy-go-lucky (yet savvy enough to read our stuff here at Digital Chumps) holiday shopper to think?
Family Game Night 2 features five famous Hasbro/Milton Bradley board games, each reconfigured to better fit the new videogame format. Each game also includes a “remixed” version, which shakes things up even more. While on the surface it might appear to be just another throwaway family game cash-in, in fact, in many ways, this is how family games ought to be done.
The first thing that separates Family Game Night 2 from its brethren is its shockingly polished presentation. Everything’s colorful and happy, of course, but beyond the basics, the game’s interface simply oozes personality. After you select your Mii, you’ll encounter your guide, Mr. Potato Head, accompanied by lively menus that bounce to and fro as you navigate them. Tutorials for each of the games are animated and easy to understand. It’s very well done.
Anyone who’s into music will immediately notice the extraordinary soundtrack, which consists primarily of live recordings—everything from jazz to classical and rock. The songs are divided up by category: game show-style music, Las Vegas, New York, Tokyo, superhero themes, classic 70’s cop action music, the Wild West, pirates… seriously, it’s fantastic. It’s remarkable that more people haven’t made mention of this aspect of the experience. You can even choose songs to include on a personal playlist during the games; to say that I came away impressed would be an understatement.
Of course, presentation’s only one leg of the package. As for the actual games included, here’s the dirt:
Chances are you haven’t spent time with this twist on the classic two-player game, but it’s actually a lot of fun. Here’s the gist of how it works: two to four players take turns trying to connect four colors, as usual, but now, the board is two-sided—and matches can take place on either side. Each player also gets two—and only two—valuable blocker chips, which can be used to block matches on either side of the board. It’s simple, but it’s also fun. In case you hate it, the original version of Connect 4 is actually included as well.
The remixed version of the game, called Connect 4x4 Remix: Super Squares, is actually point-based with a time limit. It features special spaces which carry unique powers:
Score Squares: Simply awards you the number of points shown.
Bonus: Place your chip here, and you get another turn.
Teleport: Swap another chip for yours.
Fireworks: Floods the board with your color chips.
Hover: Your chip hovers for one round in the space.
Detonate: Any chip placed here explodes, destroying chips adjacent to it.
The remixed version is entertaining, but there is one odd caveat: there’s no penalty for running up the clock. That means that if you want to be a sneaky little punk, you can actually just sit and waste time while you’re in the lead to make it harder on the others. Still, it’s nothing a little real-life physical persuasion can’t correct.
Surely you know of this game, where you remove offending items (for instance, butterfly, cheese, cell phone) from a sick man’s body to cure his various affiliated ailments (respectively, butterflies on the stomach, cheesy feet, texting thumb). The Wii version features an added twist: while removing something from the body, the camera zooms into a bodily cavity, where you must then grab the object (with A+B) and guide it through a series of outlines by moving and twisting the Wii remote until it’s been safely extracted. This actually works quite well and is a great way of adapting the gameplay to a videogame.
In remix mode, you’ve also got to pay attention to five other survival factors, presented in the form of integrated mini-games. For instance, you may need to shake the Wii remote to dispense oxygen, or in other cases, you might find yourself tilting the remote to administer an anesthetic. There’s also a pulse-timing game, a cleansing swab game, and a disinfection challenge where you have to point at and zap germs. It’s a fun twist on the “original”, though in this case, even the original is quite different—not that that’s a bad thing.
Jenga is the most obvious Wii translation, and in some form, it’s actually already been experienced on the console (published by EA, too!) in the form of a Boom Blox variation. It’s surprising, then, that it doesn’t work better than it does here. Removing blocks from the stack is rather frustrating; it doesn’t seem nearly as forgiving (or accurate) as it ought to be. The physics also don’t work as well as they did in Boom Blox.
Here’s how it works. Highlight a block by pointing to it; the camera zooms in automatically to provide a better view of the action. Next, press A to tap the block and check whether it’s loose. If you want to remove it, you can then hold A and drag the Wii remote to pull it out. The force you’re applying is determined by how far out you drag the remote—and it’s graphically displayed via a line tethered to the block. From there, you just place the block at the top as usual. The camera is controlled with either the D-Pad or by holding B.
In remix mode, it’s considerably more challenging. You’re first made to draw a card each turn telling you what you’ll have to do: remove a block of a certain color, skip a turn, move multiple blocks, do the same thing as the previous player, and so on. There’s also a bomb card that forces you to find the bomb block before it explodes, as well as a hammer card that requires you to tap vibrating blocks back to where they belong.
It isn’t terrible, but it’s just disappointing that it doesn’t work better than it does. Perhaps partially to blame is the Wii-mote’s (lack of) precision sans Wii MotionPlus—it’s hard to say. The bottom line, regardless, is that this is unlikely to be a game you will play on a regular basis, especially in context with the rest of the package.
This one’s a bit more obscure, but it’s one of the best games here. In it, you roll a die, draw a card, and then locate a picture (by pointing to it with the Wii remote) which either matches the picture shown on the card or the conditions/category provided verbally. Red cards also require you to bid on the number of items meeting certain criteria that you project you’ll be able to find. It’s a lot of fun and quite challenging indeed. The presentation is also impressive.
In remix mode, new cards are added which require you to find pictures based on sounds, silhouettes, categories, and so on. It’s a clever permutation that’s actually more fun than the original in some ways.
In spite of the frustrations afflicting Jenga’s gameplay, Bop It! is far and away the weakest of the five included games. It’s essentially a quick-thinking gestures game where you have to follow the instructions as quickly as possible—by twisting, pulling, or swatting the Wii remote, or by simply pressing the A button. The remix mode adds additional gestures (nothing worth getting into here). This might sound entertaining from a simplicity standpoint, but the problem is that the gestures aren’t very accurately interpreted. Sometimes you can get by if you perform the wrong gesture or simply shake the Wii remote, and that almost defeats the purpose of the game entirely. Even when it’s working correctly, however, Bop It! is still the most short-lived mini-game-esque inclusion amongst the five selections. You’ll play it once and probably forget it thereafter.
Family Game Show
“What’s this?” You ask. “I thought you said there were only five games included.” Well, you’d be correct, but this is something different entirely. Family Game Show is a grab bag of various segments of each of the five games split up into 32 different mini-games. These mini-games are bridged by a game show shell which sees participants navigating a track in accordance with their level of success during each mini-game. You’ll take turns spinning the wheel to pick a theme (one of the five main games), and from there, a random mini-game will ensue based on that game.
This is actually quite a bit of fun, though it takes some learning to get used to each of the mini-games. Some of the mini-games fall flat or don’t work as well as others, but on the whole, it’s a pretty solid package—and it’s surprisingly varied. About the only disturbing aspect of the game show is Mr. Potato Head’s puzzling predisposition to making “Whoo-whoo!” train noises when a game begins… but perhaps that’s more of a personal weakness of mine. You have your choice of three game lengths.
The supplemental content is commendable as well. As you play, you’ll fulfill achievement-like objectives, which will land you a range of accessories to customize your Mr. Potato Head (male and female). Locked items display an explanation of how to earn them, which is nice. You’ll also score trophies which are displayed on a shelf in the background. If you get tired of the presentation, you can switch your theme to one of the other three locations: New York, Las Vegas, or Tokyo, all of which feature different backdrops and music. And, as previously mentioned, you can choose songs you enjoy to include on a personal playlist that takes effect during gameplay.
In terms of other options, each game features an option menu for both the original and remix versions, and in any of them, you can select the intelligence level of any CPU players (if you want, it’s actually possible to play alone… though that obviously isn’t the game’s forte). High scores are also stored in the records and can lead to unlockable rewards.
In summation, while the games aren’t all great, Pictureka and Connect 4x4 specifically are very well done, and Operation is entertaining (though less replayable). Jenga, on the other hand, feels too rigid and unforgiving to be any kind of party staple, and Bop It! just seems partially busted. The Family Game Show component would have been even better if it didn’t incorporate mini-games derived from the two less-functional games, but it’s still good fun. And more than anything, the presentation is just plain impressive—totally unbecoming of your average casual family-oriented Wii game.