I approached the Deca Sports preview disc Infendo received last week with an open mind and low expectations, if that makes any sense. The comparisons to Wii Sports, fair or unfair, are unavoidable: both titles are a collection of sports mini-games and both feature colorful cartoon players that are more at home on a Saturday morning than on the real-world pitch of other more “serious” sports titles like PES 2008, for example.
But Deca is also its own beast, and goes off into new territory not covered by the five pack of sports covered by Nintendo’s flagship pack-in disruptor. Bump and set in 2v2 beach volleyball; swing away at a shuttlecock in Badminton; or even pedal about a Supercross course wagging the remote to do simple tricks. Hudson packed a lot in there; everything from motion sensing arms swings to nunchuck controls, but it still felt incomplete, even for a demo. They included a lot of stuff in Deca Sports–everything, it seems, but the fun.
For all the hiccups in the demo, the one thing that Deca boasts, for better or worse, is simplicity. To pass the ball to the server in volleyball, you can recreate the motion from a real game by motioning the Wiimote updwards. Same for setting the ball for the spike. Spiking? Just swing down when the ball is enveloped with a red circle. The instructions say the harder you swing, the faster the ball goes (also for games like Badminton), but I was having trouble deciphering whether or not this worked exactly as advertised. Same goes for Badminton, which was so simple that should I have had a Player 2 of equal skill with me at the time, the game could very well have gone on forever. The controls advertise that you can change the direction of the birdie with Wii Bowling twists of your wrist, but the game (not the Wiimote, mind you) didn’t seem to recognize them.
Racing faired slightly worse in that it neither captured nor came close to any of the other racing games I’ve played on the Wii to date. It’s a mini-game in a compilation of sports games, sure, but again the cheapness and cheesy music distracted me. The bike controls artificially, and the Wiimote tilting does little to make up for it. Hitting the edges of the track reminded me of bumper bowling and again felt cheap. Hitting a jump off kilter and heading towards the barrier of the track produces an Endless Ocean-like invisible barrier effect. It was jarring, to say the least.
Lastly, there was figure skating, which I saved for last because nothing says manly fun quite like prancing about an ice rink in tights while firing off a triple salchow. Skating basically boils down a rhythm game in the style of Elite Beat Agents, but you get to control a skater with the nunchuck. Hitting large color circles and motioning with the Wiimote makes the skater perform a trick. It’s all about timing. You follow little yellow marks like breadcrumbs to the next “trick circle” and it all begins again.
Overall I was disappointed with Deca Sports. The foundation was laid by Wii Sports, and with Nintendo moving upstream with more mature titles (no Wii Sports 2, as far as I know), there was ample room for this title to literally copy the formula and add new games on top of it. This could have been Wii Sports 2, but it falls short. Hudson comes off as if it was afraid to copy and innovate, which is as tried and true strategy as any in technology, gaming, whatever, and instead went down its own path. It aimed to be different to avoid comparisons to Wii Sports, and yet also the same with a collection of sports-themed mini-games, and ended up providing neither. There are many more games that the demo doesn’t allow me to access, but after my day or so with the four I could play, I was in no rush to find out how they handled.