Picture a playground you enjoyed going to when you were a kid. Maybe it was at your school, a local park, or even in a friend's spacious backyard. It featured a jungle gym, or some big ol' structure with slides attached, or some such variation. You ran around on the gravel, wood chips, grass, or dirt, and bounced balls off of hard surfaces, both horizontal and vertical. It was a big place where you could just as easily play sports as hunt bugs, and the possibilities for fun were as limitless as your imagination. Now, put that image aside because we're going to talk about EA Playground, which is the antithesis of that happy memory. Instead, it's a dull, uninspired collection of simplistic minigames played on a tiny screen, and it would be hard to recommend even on a rainy day.
The single-player mode starts you off on the steps of your schoolhouse, with you presumably freshly released from academic endeavors to pursue more playful activities. The brightly colored playground before you is populated by three types of characters. One is The Sticker King, an all-powerful playground monarch who vends power-up stickers that add bonuses to each game type. The second type is the competitors, children who will challenge you in their favorite game and reward you with a golden sticker and marbles for beating their challenges. The third type is the extras, who frolic on swings and seesaws without acknowledging your existence. There are three more of these playground areas that you can unlock as you progress, each with a different theme but the same cast of characters. If you beat all the kids and all their dares, you'll earn the right to challenge The Sticker King in an effort to depose him and seize control of the playground stickerocracy.
Your competitors come in the classic Neapolitan difficulty flavors: easy, medium, and hard. You'll be earning marbles hand over fist throughout the easy and medium levels, while the hard opponents will be a bit more stingy. These Playground princes often seem incrongruously difficult, given the accessible nature of the game, but toppling them and facing down the even tougher Sticker King won't take you more than a few hours. The games themselves are all very simple, and don't get much more complex as the difficulty ramps up. Let's do a quick rundown:
Kicks: Run around on the bottom screen while collecting soccer balls and shooting them past the goalie, who runs back and forth in a set pattern. Buying a power-up sticker will enable you to camp outside the goalie box, intercept your opponents' shots, and drive them home with ease. Yippee.
Dodgeball: Run around on the bottom screen while using an aiming box at the top of the screen to chuck balls at your not-very-skilled opponents. Balls bounce off the walls like in a game of billiards, so just line up the 8-year-old in the corner pocket and you're good to go.
RC Racers: A top-down track racer in classic arcade style, this game is one of the more skill-based challenges in here. Feisty opponents and potent power-ups make for slightly longer-lasting entertainment value than most of the other games.
Skate & Sketch: Watch your wee avatar zip back and forth in a halfpipe as you frantically connect the dots to perform tricks while he's airborne. It's connect-the-dots on a timer, and it's actually one of the more fun games in here. Telling.
Spitballs: Shoot spitballs into a crowd of children and watch them freak right out. It's a sobering portrayal of the mob mentality, and a dull one at that.
Hopscotch: Ever play Simon? It was this big plastic disc with four differently colored quadrants that would light up and play a unique sound. You'd have to duplicate increasingly complex patterns, or face the strident wrath of the failure buzzer. Hopscotch is Simon set to a beat, and it works just fine. Unless you're in a place where you can't play the music, at which point it works not so fine.
Hoops: Run around on the bottom screen while grabbing basketballs and tossing them at the net. A small accuracy meter determines whether your shot will go in or not, and score-multiplying circles make you feel as if it's an unlicensed NBA Jam: Tournament Edition without the shoving, or the fun.
Trampoline: Bounce super high as you maneuver to pop balloons, avoid birds, and beat your opponent. The most fun thing about this game is that bouncing off your opponent's head is tantamount to bouncing on the trampoline, with the added bonus of keeping your opponent from getting points. Kiddie head trauma was never so appealing.
Bug Hunt: Run around on the top of the screen (gettin' crazy here!) and run into (catch) butterflies while avoiding bees. You control your running exploits with the stylus on the screen below. Welcome to Hand Cramp City. Population: You.
As you can gather from those descriptions, EA Playground isn't a very deep game at all. It is 100 percent kid-friendly, and it better hope that kids like it because it sure won't be making many friends outside that demographic. As a minigame collection for young'uns, it's solid. The colorful visuals and easy-to-grasp games will certainly appeal to elementary school Nintendo DS players, which is good because an elementary school is probably the only place where the two or more games required to play multiplayer will be found. Anyone who doesn't hear a recess bell regularly during the course of the week will want to steer clear.