The sad reality is, if you’re releasing a sports compilation on Wii you’re already at a disadvantage thanks to the very piece of software that made the system such a rampant success in the first place, Nintendo’s own Wii Sports. Not only that, but when sport kings EA leap so enthusiastically to support their primary genre on the system, the market narrows yet more. Wisely, the team at Icon Games have tried to remove themselves from direct competition by mainly focusing on sports less commonly found on Wii. Do they bowl a strike, or is Arcade Sports a gutter ball?
Arcade Sports’ games consist of pool, snooker, air hockey and, going against both Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, bowling; essentially, the sort of games you could find in a pool hall, or an arcade if you could get your eyes away from the House of the Dead machine for two seconds. Every sport is playable in quick exhibition matches with a variety of rules, both against AI opponents and human players, but also in tournament and season modes that can stretch out for hours, nicely mixing up the sports you play to ensure variety. Before all that, there’s also a practice mode that allows you to meddle with options to get used to the games on offer. There’s a lot to get out of Arcade Sports if you enjoy it.
It all begins, naturally, with a character selection, though they’re not quite the sort of folk you would expect to find potting reds after throwing a week’s wages into a fruit machine. The more normal end of the scale bears psychotic nerds, a creepy security guard and a man that resembles Clint Eastwood; aliens, special agents and samurai warriors are more extreme options. Whatever your selection, there is no effect on the rest of the game, which remains firmly rooted in normality. All your equipment, from bowling balls to snooker cues to the tables you play on, are also all selectable from a plentiful range, again offering no gameplay functionality outside of being unlockable incentives to tempt people to play on.
Snooker and pool make up the meat of Arcade Sports, with all manner of different US and UK rules, and as you’d expect they control in the same way. You can zoom in and out with the + and - buttons and move the camera about with the D-pad, also switching to an overhead view and back by tapping the 1 button. A helpful HUD tells you which colour/pattern ball you are to pot once it has been decided. As you twist the camera, you also adjust your shooting angle with the D-pad. Pointing at the ball with the Wii Remote thereafter controls a small targeting dot that you can position anywhere on the ball to hit it exactly where, and how, you want to. While aimed at the ball you can press A to adjust your cue’s elevation with up and down on the D-pad, tapping A again to confirm your angle. After your preparation is complete, your shot is placed by holding down B, moving the Remote backwards to adjust the amount of force required - displayed in an on-screen meter that changes as you move - and release the trigger when you’re ready to let fly.
Advanced controls offer no such power meter, with players instead having to pull back, judging for themselves if they’ve done enough to exert the power required, before pushing forwards, not pressing a button, to strike. My preference was for the default option, as the Wii Remote does not always guarantee the desired result when pushing forwards. The backwards motion alone can be sporadic, too, but generally is fine when combined with the aid of the on-screen power meter. It is advised that you play as you would in real life, standing, for the smoothest game.
Bowling is the riskiest of the games in that it has two fine, well-loved Nintendo-developed versions to go up against, whereas the others only need worry about Wii Play mini-games on the first party front. Surprisingly, though, it does not compare too badly; while not as appealing in its presentation as the Nintendo versions, Arcade Sports’ bowling works similarly to the bowling in the original Wii Sports. As with Nintendo’s effort, the D-pad is used to select your starting position and aiming angle, a bowling motion used to set your ball on a collision course with the pins. The speed of your throw, of course, affects the velocity and power with which the ball sails down the alley.
The final game is air hockey. You and an opponent take up opposite ends of the table and attempt to smack the puck into the other’s goal with the aid of the mallet (not as in the tool...) controlled by your hand - or, in this case, the pointer. The pointer control is smooth, but unfortunately it is way too easy for your cursor to slip off the paddle and to the edge of the screen during frantic exchanges, leaving your only line of defence motionless and your goal like a sitting waterfowl. The problem usually occurs when the mallet bashes against the side of the table; the in-game equipment, naturally, stops, but the cursor has to keep on going, meaning that the reticule you’re using to control your instrument become separated and you have to quickly point back before the game can continue. An alternate - though less cost-effective - control method could have involved Wii MotionPlus, using the improved motion sensing to move the paddle, removing the need for the pointer, or perhaps the table itself could have been zoomed in more so that the edges of the table matched the edges of the screen. As it is, the controls feel good in slower moments but far too floaty and unreliable when the action gets swifter and accuracy is paramount. There is a pleasing amount of force feedback through the rumble in air hockey, though, with the motor barely, only just noticeably, whirring with each hit.
A problem that crosses over multiple games, though mainly concerns snooker and pool, is that of artificial intelligence that lives up to its name. It does not feel humanlike, and even on lower difficulty settings it can get tricky, getting to a point in a match where it could easily win…only to pull back and play in a completely incompetent fashion to give players a chance to recover. If these behaviours were mixed together more readily it would not feel odd, but the switches between the computer’s levels of ability are jarring. Those after a special challenge should put Arcade Sports’ difficulty all the way to the top, where one wrong move will practically be the end of your game every time. I was decimated in two rounds on one particular game of pool - I only got two shots in before I was swept away.
Arcade Sports’ presentation is not the best yet passable, with music that, though repetitive, fits in well with the setting, and visuals that do the job. The arenas outside of the tables/alleys themselves look quite interesting, but you only ever see them when the camera is swooping around at the start of each match, or if you zoom right out. Something that I feel is worth noting is the crowd noise. The sound quality is, again, not the greatest, but there is a nice mixture of sounds such as clapping, cheering, coughing and mobile phones chirping, and they are used sparingly so as not to become irritating.
Niggles with the AI and some of the controls keep the games from being what they should be. There are plenty of rules to change and a fair amount of variety over the course of its four games, however, particularly with snooker/pool.
The menus are bland, but the in-game visuals do what is necessary. It is unfortunate that more of the arenas are not seen.
You won’t really remember the music, even though there are only a few tracks. The crowd noises are done well, varied enough to avert frustration.
If you like the games on offer, you’ll get a lot out of Arcade Sports. With offline multiplayer, tournaments and a season mode, there’s plenty to be done.
Arcade Sports has a decent mixture of games in its package, but unfortunately a few issues hold back what is otherwise a good collection. The awkward AI is one of those things, while the other is not entirely its fault: limitations with the standard Wii Remote mean that some of the controls are less fluid than is desirable. It is a lengthy title, though, so there’s going to be plenty to keep you busy, especially if you’re after a snooker/pool game that isn’t going to break the bank.
I'm surprised this was so delayed! The version I tried in the Preview you'll find on the Game Page is from September 2009 Seemed like a perfect bit of fun for children...The price tag is likely due to the licensed name.