Jenga World Tour Hands-On
We're frustrated by fish and distracted by dinosaurs as we check out a near-finished version of this somewhat unusual take on Jenga.
If you're a big fan of the block-building, tower-toppling game that is Jenga, you might know that, like Coke, it's now available in a number of different flavors. Throw 'n Go Jenga, Jenga Xtreme, and Jenga Truth or Dare are just a few examples of Hasbro's attempts to make Jenga more interesting. However, like cherry, vanilla, and lime, they really add very little to the original formula, and in some cases actually detract from it. Messing with Jenga feels uncomfortably like messing with Tetris, but that hasn't deterred Atari and UK-based Atomic Planet Entertainment from coming up with plenty of "enhancements" for their Wii version of the game, titled Jenga World Tour. We recently had an opportunity to spend some time with a work-in-progress version of Jenga World Tour and, frankly, we're not convinced that the finished game will be nearly as much fun as 54 wooden bricks.
Regardless of whether or not you're familiar with Jenga, you'll need to check out World Tour's brief tutorial mode to get a handle on the game's controls. They're straightforward for the most part: The A button is used to grab blocks, the B button is used to tap blocks, the C button is used to hold nearby blocks in place, and the analog stick and Z button are used for camera controls. The Wii Remote controls your in-game hand, and it needs to be moved quite delicately once you've taken hold of a block. Gameplay modes in Jenga World Tour include quick play, arcade, free Jenga, and world tour, the last of which is where we chose to spend our time on this occasion.
Though it has no bearing on the gameplay whatsoever, the character roster from which you'll choose your avatar is worthy of a mention simply because of how varied the options are. We chose to play as a goldfish, but could just as easily have opted for a snowman, an astronaut, a parrot, a girl in a bikini, or a tyrannosaurus rex with glasses and a blonde Mohawk. The first game on the world tour takes place inside a fancy apartment somewhere in the US and uses conventional wooden Jenga blocks. Enjoy them while you can, because from here on things go downhill and, at least based on our experiences with the work-in-progress version, into a near-unplayable freefall.
The second stop on the Jenga world tour is China, where vines growing on some of the blocks prevent them from being moved and add stability to certain areas of the tower. Next up is Nepal, where you'll be playing with slippery blocks of ice that occasionally freeze together. Neither of the aforementioned environments messes with the Jenga formula too much, and though they don't really add anything worthwhile, they look like works of genius compared to what's still to come.
Even if Jenga had existed in the Cretaceous period, it seems unlikely that anyone would've been playing. Any paleontologist with an ounce of common sense will tell you that dinosaurs and Jenga don't mix, but Atari and Atomic Planet either never received the memo or chose to ignore it when designing the world tour's fourth locale: a prehistoric Zambian jungle. The footsteps of passing dinosaurs are so heavy that they cause the whole Jenga tower to shake and even to jump into the air on occasion. In testing, we found that towers generally fell over in two minutes or less, even if no player made a move. Assuming that a game in this locale ever lasts long enough, there are purportedly pterosaurs that will bug you and need to be shaken off with the Wii Remote as you play, but to date we haven't actually seen one.
If you make it through the jungle level, your next stop will be medieval England. Here, atop the white cliffs of Dover, you'll play a game of Jenga using a tower that's under constant bombardment from four catapults. The catapults don't detract from the game nearly as much as the previous level's dinosaurs, but they don't add to the experience in a meaningful way, either. The best thing we can say about them, in fact, is that when our artificial-intelligence opponent--who generally completed each move in under five seconds--was struggling to place a block atop the tower after taking it from the bottom, it was the catapults that finally put our opponent out of his misery by knocking the tower down over 10 minutes into his turn.
Next up is the requisite underwater level, where you'll play against a shark and have to put up with shoals of clown fish swimming across the screen and obscuring your vision at regular intervals. It's not so bad, really, and the way that the tower of Jenga blocks behaves underwater is quite convincing. Playing underwater feels a lot like playing in slow-motion at times, and we unwittingly used this to our advantage during our game. After placing a block on top of the tower, the whole structure started to sway, and we knew right away that it was ultimately going to fall. However, it took so long for the first block to hit the ocean floor that the collapse was deemed to have taken place during our opponent's turn, and so we were awarded the win.
We're not sure how many different levels there are on the Jenga world tour, but it was the Hawaii circa 1765 level that finally got the better of us on this occasion. The level in question is played atop an erupting volcano using bricks that appear to be fashioned from lava. Everything on the screen is yellow, red, or a shade of orange somewhere in-between, and the lower levels of the tower are often obscured by eruptions from the liquid playing surface. The other unique feature of this particular level is that the Jenga bricks you're playing with are very hot, so you can hold onto them only for a short time before you drop them. Nevertheless, this doesn't really speed the game up very much because as soon as you drop a brick, you can return it to your hand--cooled somehow--simply by pressing the A button.
Where Jenga World Tour would've taken us next if we'd let it is anybody's guess. Minigames unlocked during the world tour tasked us with taking out tall ships with catapults and with pointing the Wii Remote at the screen to shoot down UFOs, so the moon or some other astral body probably isn't a bad bet. Check back for a full review of Jenga World Tour closer to the game's early December release.