Here’s a novel concept for Wii owners: Put your Miis on a fun filled island filled with a plethora of mini-games ranging from table hockey to tennis, and skydiving to golf – and everything in between. Does this sound familiar? Is it Wii Sports? Or maybe Wii Sports Resort? One could easily be misled into guessing either one of those Wii mainstays, but while Namco Bandai’s Go Vacation obviously borrows heavily from those two Nintendo first-party titles, it is far from a quick attempt at cashing in on their popularity.
Go Vacation is all about variety. In fact, I was purposely misleading in my opening paragraph because I only mentioned a handful of gameplay options, all of which are featured in prior Wii Sports games. What I failed to mention is that Go Vacation also offers nearly 50 additional mini-games for gamers to waggle, wave, and weave through, including things like scuba diving, marine bike (jet ski) racing, ATV racing, horseback riding, roller skating, skiing, and even ice fishing. Few of these items play as smooth and fluid as the stuff found in Nintendo’s first-party fare, but the games are enjoyable enough to keep a party of Wii gamers entertained for a very long time.
As an added bonus, the game features support not only for the traditional Wii Remote/Nunchuk (required), but also makes good use of the Wii Balance Board as well as the Wii Wheel and Wii Zapper attachments. It was nice to blow the dust off these long-lost peripherals and actually put them to use after all these years of taking up space, and considering the fact that Go Vacation is brought to us by the same folks behind the Wii Balance Board titles We Ski and We Ski & Snowboard, the developers know a little about something about successfully implementing the various Wii gadgets into gameplay.
Go Vacation’s action revolves around the fictional island of Kawawii – interestingly a clever blending the word “Wii”, with the actual Hawaiian island of “Kawai”, and ends up looking like the Japanese word for “cuteness” which is Kawaii. Kawawii Island hosts four unique environmentally-themed vacation resorts; Marine, City, Mountain, and Snow. Each of these resorts sports roughly a dozen mini-games, all fitting in with the environmental theme – the marine bikes would be found in the Marine resort, skiing in the Snow resort, and so on. Gamers can travel around between unlocked resorts at will, either by one of the many vehicles located on the island or by selecting a specific destination from the menu system.
Go Vacation won’t win any awards for visual presentation, but even on the tragically underpowered Wii the environments are surprisingly detailed. The Marine Resort’s has nice water physics, and the Snow Resort has some of the best powder seen on the Wii to date (Tony Hawk: Shred still holds the console’s snow title). The land-based levels, however, are nowhere near as impressive – with grassy and dirt that that only come in a handful of color shades it looks like the developers didn’t even try to recreate even moderate texture mapping.
The island’s inhabitants look a lot less “Mii-like” and a lot more like EA’s hipster-influenced My Sims characters – sporting spiky haircuts and oversized clothing. Even the player’s own Miis are modified for the game’s aesthetic; with the bodies appearing vertically stretched, with limbs that have been bestowed with actual hands and feet rather than simply terminating in smooth, round balls. The faces, however, remain true to form and a player’s different Miis are easily distinguishable by face among the crowds. Speaking about the crowds, while the inhabitants of Kawawii Island may look like they were stripped from EA’s My Sims franchise, they certainly do not act as such.
Whereas My Sims characters will stop and interact with the player’s character – answering questions, delivering side quests – other than the actual location hosts, the background extras in Go Vacation provide for absolutely no interaction. This leaves things feeling a bit hollow and contrived, and results in a good deal of confusion as there is no help in clarifying objectives or giving directions to the next location. Having these characters interact in one way or another would have added a sense of depth and authenticity, but the way they stumble around haplessly, they look like rats in a maze.
Go Vacation is not one of the more impressive audio packages out there – featuring some of the lowest fidelity sound samples, nondescript background music, and absolutely no voice-overs, it is one of those titles that have gamers resorting to their in-house stereo in an attempt to keep from nodding off.
While Go Vacation’s presentation value is nothing spectacular, the variety of gameplay is simply astounding. With 50-plus mini-games to be enjoyed, there is something to appeal to gamers of all ages – I really like the marine bikes and ATV, while my two boys (7 and 9) found the skydiving and water gun battles particularly enjoyable, and my daughter (11) was all about the roller skating games. Whatever the game, Go Vacation will challenge gamers with some of the better motion control on the market, especially when coupled with the Motion Plus attachment (or with the new Motion Plus built-in controllers).
Go Vacation allows for up to four players in splitscreen mode, but even with two player splitscreen the action appears distant, and with each successive controller/nunchuk combo clocking in at $60 ($80 with Motion Plus) it makes for a very expensive family fun. The game features absolutely no online play, which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. A curse in that the fun is meant to be had with more than one gamer, and not everyone can afford the visual real estate and peripherals required to host more than two players locally, but a blessing in that the Wii’s terrible friend-code system and lack of voice chat feature would make navigating Go Vacation’s huge island of Kawawii an absolute mess.
I have to admit, I expected Go Vacation to be little more than an attempt to make a quick buck off the popularity of Wii Sports and Wii Sports. And while Go Vacation may not have the presentation and polish of the Wii Sports titles, I was pleasantly surprised to find a game that actually surpasses Nintendo’s franchises in terms of scale and variety. If Nintendo and Namco Bandai could ever team up and combine these franchises together, the Wii would surely have its next killer app.
For families looking to have a good time with their Wii’s this winter, I highly recommend taking a trip to Kawawii Island with Go Vacation. It may is not the best sounding or the prettiest game out there but Go Vacation packs in a wealth of fun for every member of the family.