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EA Playground


Developed by EA Canada, this NDS title is aimed at a younger generation of players and coexists with its Wii counterpart. Molded around the theme of a childís playground, EA Playground transports the player to a fictional school and itís surrounding area for recess. Additionally, the player can travel to a couple nearby parks for more fun and games. The game is surprisingly light on presentation considering the source. EA games are typically filled with stylish, animated menus and flashy movies. This is not the case with EA Playground, but it doesnít necessarily detract from the game. It focuses on the core element of the titles, recess style games between kids.

Gameplay

This NDS title is really a collection of mini-games, all of which are molded around playground games like basketball, soccer, hopscotch, dodgeball, racing RC cars, trampoline bouncing, bug collecting, skateboarding, and shooting spitballs. The games are spread out over a few screens and can be easily stumbled upon with some minor exploration. Essentially, the player walks up to a kid with a star over their head and challenges them to a quick game. Certain kids wonít talk to you until you have beaten their weaker counterpart elsewhere in the landscape. Once a game is won, marbles come into play.

Marbles are the currency of the rambunctious youth populating the parks and playgrounds within the game. As the player successfully completes the various mini-games, marbles are awarded in sets of 10. Marbles can also be found hidden in bushes and offered when kicking around errant balls. I found the use of marbles to be a quaint throwback to the days of my youth. Wait a secondÖNo, I collected NES games. I seriously doubt the majority of todayís children have even played a game of marbles. I can understand how the developer wanted to interject a moment of their own childhood into the game, but kids today collect trading cards of their favorite animated TV show. They certainly donít value little balls of glass anymore.

Marbles can be spent on colorful stickers. Kids who hang around the entryways to each area, obviously attempting to rack up sales in black-market dealings with the public, sell these stickers. I only say black-market because the stickers offer unfair performance boosts within the mini-games and the kid in the blue ball-cap selling his wares looks far too shady. An older version of that character design would be offering candy to children to get inside his van. With the sticker boosts in place, you have the opportunity to win even more marbles and the vicious cycle of playground tomfoolery continues.

While certain mini-games are more fun to play than others, the developer did an excellent job of implementing touch screen usage into specific games. For instance, skateboarding uses a connect-the-dots pattern to define a trick when on the half-pipe. As the skater is in the air, the player has to quickly connect numbers in one continuous line and the trick will be performed. Dodgeball and spitballs use the stylus to target opponents on the opposite NDS screen. Hopscotch, very similar to the old school, lighted game called Simon, requires the player to tap the correct colors on the screen in order and to the beat of music. Other mini-games rely on the NDS control pad to win those marbles. RC cars is completely pad based and works well due to its Mario-Kart like nature.

If you have one or more friends with a copy of the game, up to 4 players can hook up for multiplayer matches. Dodgeball is the most fun with several players, but RC Cars and Basketball are fun as well. Unfortunately, EA didnít offer the download play option. It really doesnít make a lick of sense to exclude that mode, as this type of game is perfect for transmitting quick mini-game matches.

Graphics

Visually, this title is colorful and clean cut, but lacks a depth to the landscape. The bright color scheme highlights the various environmental objects and itís easy to wander around the area. There are no real boundaries in place, so itís up to the player to discover the invisible walls for themselves. Hit detection is on the money in every mini-game and the character animations are adequate for this type of release. The game loads up very quickly and there are no graphical flaws in the physics model to speak of.

Audio

This title could really have used voiceovers to give the kids a little more character. The recorded lines are limited to brief shouts and donít offer any real definition. The sound effects are typical of what you would find on a local playground and mini-games, like Hopscotch, do an excellent job of incorporating rhythm into the game. The music is light, bouncy, and worth well with the playground theme.

Overall

Despite my misgivings about the gameís premise, EA Playground is certainly fun to play and itís a well-polished release. Unfortunately, completing the mini-games is a bit too easy, even without the performance boost stickers, and limits the replay value. Additionally, the limited multiplayer options arenít doing the game any favors. Itís definitely worth a rainy day rental, especially if you have younger children in your household.