Nintendo's move of packing in Wii Sports with every new Wii sold in the US proved to be a genius move. Though it was little more than a simple collection of tech demos, Wii Sports can perhaps claim some of the credit for the system's immediate mainstream appeal because it provided built-in proof of the kind of fun, accessible gameplay the Wii was capable of. Less than three months after launch, Nintendo follows up with Wii Play, a similar collection of minigames that lacks that athletic theme as an anchor. Those looking for more of what they got out of Wii Sports will undoubtedly be disappointed because the quality and lasting value of the games aren't as high. There are a few keepers in there, but for the most part the novelty wears off quickly.
Possibly the best feature in Wii Play is the game's prominent and pervasive use of Miis, the simple, caricatured avatars native to the Wii. When you first boot up the game, you're asked to choose a Mii to play as, and from that point on you'll see a variety of Miis--those that reside in your console's Mii Plaza and Mii Parade, along with more-generic Miis produced by the game--everywhere. Considering the paucity of games that employ the Miis, it's a welcome bonus in Wii Play.
There's not much structure to Wii Play beyond the individual games. At first you'll have access to only one of the nine games, and you'll have to play it and then each of the following games you unlock before you'll gain access to all of them. You start off with Shooting Range, which is basically Duck Hunt with fewer ducks, and in it you use the Wii Remote as though it were a light gun. The game consists of several rounds, during which you'll pop balloons, shoot clay targets, juggle tin cans in the air, and, in the final round, prevent marauding waves of UFOs from abducting Miis. The controls are good enough, but the game is not particularly dynamic. The passing references to light-gun classics like Duck Hunt and Hogan's Alley are a nice touch, though they kind of make you wish one of those games had been ported directly.
After that you'll gain access to Find Mii, which is similar in concept to Where's Waldo, though on a smaller scale and with faster pacing. With the clock ticking, you'll be challenged to pick out matching sets of Miis from a small crowd, identify Miis that are out of sync with the others, and find a Mii that you had identified as a "favorite" several rounds earlier. It's not particularly challenging, and it takes its sweet time in turning up the difficulty by having the Miis run or swim around the screen and limiting how much of the screen you can see at once. The biggest problem, though, is the limited number of Miis that are ever onscreen at once.
Considering how much physical fun the tennis portion of Wii Sports was, you might be expecting more than you'll be getting out of Table Tennis in Wii Play, which doesn't require you to serve or even try to score points. Your only objective here is to rally with the other player for as long as you possibly can, which requires you to just keep up with the ball by moving the paddle side to side.
Pose Mii is likely the most abstract minigame in Wii Play, and it also happens to be one of the least fun. As bubbles containing silhouettes of your Mii in one of three different poses fall down the screen, you'll use the Wii Remote to move your Mii around the screen. Your goal is to pop the bubbles before they reach the bottom of the screen. You press the A and B buttons to cycle through the different poses and twist the Wii Remote to line up your Mii with the positions of the silhouettes. There's a little strategy here because you'll see specially marked bubbles that, when popped, will cause all the other bubbles onscreen to freeze in place. Things get tough as the bubbles start falling faster and at crazier angles, and the game mixes up the types of silhouettes it throws at you more quickly, but it's also repetitive and not particularly fun.
Laser hockey requires almost no explanation, because it's just air hockey with a glowing neon motif where you use the Wii Remote to control the paddle, twisting it to hit the puck at different angles. Still, this is one of the better games in the package, due largely to its strength as a two-player game and its conceptual simplicity. The visual style of Laser Hockey is also simple, but the clean, sharp look makes it easier to focus on the action. Billiards is also pretty self-explanatory and fun. It has you aiming your shot with the D pad, then aiming at a specific spot on the cue ball before pulling the Wii Remote back and then pushing it toward the screen, like you would a pool cue. Though it takes some time to get control over the power of your shots, the controls feel pretty good, and it's slick how you can control the spin of the cue ball. The problem with Billiards is its lack of gameplay options--you can play a game with eight balls where you have to sink them in numbered order, and that's it.
Fishing has you going after what appear to be construction paper cutouts of fish in a pond the size of a kiddy pool. It's a neat idea, but it's hard to get a good sense of depth, and it can appear that your lure is in the water when it's really far above it. The game's arts-and-crafts visual style is really the best thing it's got going for it. Charge is another game with a cute visual style but not much in the way of gameplay. In a world where everything appears to have been hand-knit, your Mii will ride a cow down a winding path, knocking down scarecrows and hopping over vaulting gates. You control the cow by holding the Wii Remote sideways--you steer the cow by turning the remote from side to side, move faster by tilting the remote forward, move slower by tilting it back, and jump by quickly lifting the remote up into the air. This kind of control scheme was novel when the Wii first came out, but by now enough real, full-featured games have used it for Charge to not really matter. Lastly there's Tanks!, the one game in Wii Play that you can play with the Nunchuk. It's quite reminiscent of Combat for the Atari 2600 and has you piloting a tank around a field apparently constructed out of wooden building blocks, dropping mines and firing shells at CPU-controlled tanks. The Nunchuk definitely makes it easier to move and shoot at the same time, but even without it, Tanks! is decent, simple fun.
It's not all bad, but Wii Play doesn't hold up as a stand-alone retail game. Nintendo seems to be aware of that, because the only way you can get Wii Play in North America as of this writing is as a pack-in with a Wii Remote. The continued scarcity of the Wii Remote, and the fact that the Wii Play package is retailing for only $10 more than a remote by itself, makes the game's shortcomings easier to overlook. Regardless of price, Wii Play probably isn't going to hold your attention for long.