Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The First Look at the New Wii U

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is an annual trade show where game companies roll out new hardware and software. The biggest news so far is that a new Wii is on the way in 2012. It's finally hi-def, and has a crazy new wireless controller with a screen. Check out the official launch trailer:

And here's a closer look at that touchscreen controller:

And here it is functioning as a supplemental control screen for the new Zelda game:
I'm not at E3, but the word is that game journalists are scoffing at the new system. Maybe it's good or maybe not, but try to remember that these are the many of the same people who scoffed at the Wii. I read some article complaining that Nintendo was trying to jam an iPad into the Wii experience, as though the stupidity of that idea was self-evident.

Look, dedicated gamers hate the Wii. Except for a few titles, I'm not a huge fan of it myself. But it's not made for me or for people who go to E3.  It's made for everyone else.  It's a perfect family machine. It will not appeal to the teens or to the adult hipsters who cover games for a living, and it's not meant to. So, if you read a lot of negative comment on the Wii U in the upcoming months, take it with a grain of salt.

Frankly, I'm intrigued. Nintendo has been trying to work some handheld-to-console support into some games for years. As far back as 2004, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures connected a GameBoy Advance to a GameCube via cable, with the GBA functioning as a supplemental controller and screen.

Nintendo is going to sell this as a chance to buy a new Wii and get a portable iPad-style experience in the bargain. The controller can function independently of the Wii U, which means people get two game platforms for the price of one.

I showed this video to my resident ten-year-old and got four exclamation of That is sooo cool! and a concluding That looks awesome! All of the opinions you'll read about the Wii U are irrelevant in the face of that kind of reaction. Nintendo knows how to sell their product to kids and families. Guys who write about games are not their intended market.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

REVIEW: Mythbusters: Hit The Target

 Designer: n/a
Publisher: Zimzala Games
Players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Time: 10-20 minutes
Price: $25

Mythbusters is mandatory viewing at Casa McD, so when I saw Zimzala showing a Mythbusters board game, I knew I'd have to give it a try. Hopes were not high: media tie-in games are notoriously craptacular, and media tie-in trivia games usually occupy some spot below craptacular which we'll just call Bratz Twister

So it's a pleasant surprise that Mythbusters: Hit the Target works just fine as a light, fun family game. There's a bit of trivia, a dexterity element, and a touch of science, and it all comes together just fine.

The object is to answer trivia questions and hit a series of targets with a miniature rubber crash test dummy ("Buster" from the show) flung from a tiny catapult.

There's no game board, but the targets and answer dials are made of thick, sturdy cardboard. The answer dials are circular pieces with a plastic arrow that can be pointed to one of five different answers: Confirmed, Busted, A, B, or C. Targets are round pieces with a target on one side and a picture of Buster on the other. 

The Buster-pult is made of fairly sturdy plastic with a rubber band to provide tension. It's placed on a cardboard base which allows the catapult to be shifted left or right in order to alter the angle.

I can imagine the rubber bands losing their flexibility and breaking, so it's good that some spares are included. Unfortunately, it's not a standard rubber band size, so after the replacements are gone you may be out of luck. Buster himself is made of soft, flexible rubber. The game also includes a box of cards with questions and answers.

Two to four players or teams take turns pulling a trivia card. Questions are a mixture of show-specific and general science questions with two different formats. There are multiple choice questions with three possible answers (A, B, or C) and direct statements with a "Confirmed" (true) or "Busted" (false) answer. 

For instance, "You can use sharkskin as sandpaper" would require a reply of "Confirmed" or "Busted". (Yes, sharkskin can be used as sandpaper.) One example of a multiple choice question is "If you get sprayed by a skunk, you can get rid of the smell by using: A. Beer. B. A mixture of soap, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda. or C. Tomato Juice. (The answer is B.) There are some simple, general science questions, but most require some familiarity with the show.

Each player or team secretly chooses an answer using their dial, then places the dial face down. When everyone has chosen, they reveal their dials.

If you got the answer wrong, nothing happens. If you got it right, you roll a die and perform the action indicated by the roll. These actions break down into three categories: target placement, catapult adjustment, and launching. 

If your die shows the target icon, you can place one of your targets anywhere on the playing surface, or move a target which you have already placed. Targets are placed with the picture of Buster facing down. 

If your die has an "aim" result, you may change the aim of the catapult by 10, 20, or 30 degrees. The catapult begins in a central position, but as the targets begin to fill the table and spread out, players may want to shift the angle in order to reach a specific target.

The final option is LAUNCH. If you decide to launch, you place the little rubber Buster on the catapult, draw it back, and let him fly. Any target he hits gets turned over and counts as a point for that target's team. For example, if you're trying to reach your blue target and hit a green target instead, then tough luck: the green team flips the target and scores the point. Three points wins the game. 

I'm not a fan of dexterity games, but Mythbusters: Hit the Target provides a good mix of knowledge and dexterity. Finding the right amount of force is a matter of trial and error, so players should each have an opportunity to try a few trial flings before the game begins. (Maybe agree upon a fixed number of test-flights, perhaps 5, so everyone can warm up.) 

There's a mild tactical element involved in placing your targets. Do you spread them out or run them in a fixed line? Group them together or place them near the targets of someone who's a lousy shot? Since Buster can fly pretty far, the game demands either a long table or even some floor space in order to play.

Some questions may seem absurdly easy for adults. One example is "Which scientist came up the basic laws of motion: A. Pasteur, B. Newton, C. Galileo." Obviously, any adult will know that it's Newton, but this is a family game meant for both young and old. The mixture of easy and hard answers, and the inclusion of simple binary choices like "confirmed" or "busted," increases the odds that younger gamers will get a chance at the Buster-pult, which is really what they want to do anyway. 

Along the way, a bit of knowledge is conveyed, so there's certainly an educational element to the game. The blend of trivia and dexterity is just right for mixed groups of young and old. This is an easy recommendation for fans of the show.

UPDATE: The publishers let me know that they will send replacement rubber bands upon request.