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EA Playground


When you combine a decent concept with a pretty average execution, you get a trip to EA Playground.
Electronic Arts is certainly known for their sports games, but you wouldn’t think that we’d see dodgeball, tetherball, and slot car racing from the mega-publisher. Thanks to EA Playground for the Nintendo Wii, that’s indeed what we’re seeing. With seven different games to choose from, as well as a few other minor activities and quests, there’s certainly potential here for a pretty neat game that takes adults back to their youth and takes kids to a virtual playground that would be perfect on a snowy or rainy day. As you’ll see, however, potential can only take a game so far, as EA Playground falls short of what it intends and winds up being just another minigame collection.

Gameplay

To begin with, EA Playground puts players in the roles of kids as they wander around a vast playground with multiple areas. The open-world area is a nice one, but getting around is quickly problematic since the game is controlled only with the Wiimote and movement is accomplished via the D-Pad only. That makes for lots of imprecise movement, lots of overrunning of target characters and destinations, and makes one of the side quests downright bothersome later on. Why it is that EA decided to abandon the Nunchuk is debatable. Perhaps it was assumed that not all players would have Nunchuks. Perhaps EA just thought (incorrectly) that D-Pad control was fine. Only EA knows for sure, but this method of control will quickly draw some negative impressions from first-time players.

As you wander, there are certain kids that have comic bubbles over their heads. These kids are your challengers in the playground games that are available: Tetherball, Dodgeball, Kicks, Slot Car Racing, Paper Racers, Wall Ball, and Dart Shootout. Some of these games are fairly self-explanatory, such as Dodgeball, Tetherball, and Slot Car Racing. Paper Racers has players controlling paper airplanes as they dodge obstacles and collect items while flying on a set course. Kicks is a cross between soccer and volleyball in that teams get a certain number of passes (or “hits”) before they must shoot the ball at the opposing goal. The Dart Shootout plays like a scrolling firing range. The first time that you play against a kid, you play a standard game and the object is just to win. The experience doesn’t end there, though; each kid has a variety of “dares”, which are objective-based challenges, for you to play through.

The first time that you beat a kid, you win a Golden Sticker. As you collect these stickers, more areas of the playground become open to you to explore and you’ll come across more skilled opponents. Fulfilling dares wins you marbles, which are the currency on this playground and can be used to buy extra stickers from the Sticker King, who is the reigning master of EA Playground. These extra stickers, when purchased, enable special moves for each game and become crucial as the game progresses. You’ll also find marbles waiting to be collected if you explore every nook and cranny of each area, as well as taking on some sub-quests and mini-challenges, including free-throw shooting, basketball dribbling, and bug hunting.

While collecting stickers is an interesting premise, EA Playground lives and dies by the games that it presents. Unfortunately, there isn’t an outstanding game here. Slot Car Racing and Paper Racers are the two best games here, but there’s not a lot of depth to any of the games—even with the special moves provided by purchasing stickers from the Sticker King. The computer-controlled opponents rarely put up reasonable resistance, and it’s quite easy to blow through this game’s single-player mode in a day or two. Each game has three skill levels (three different kids to play against), and then it’s off to face the Sticker King. Tack on the inconsistent Wiimote controls, and EA Playground sheds its potential and becomes a mediocre experience, at best.

If you tire of playing against other kids on the playground, there is option for multiplayer action. Certain events allow up to four players at once, and there’s a good chance that you’ll find a better challenge out of other human players. There isn’t any online play, so you’ll need to find local friends or family to play with. The main game is only a single-player affair, though, so don’t look for any co-op while working through the various areas of EA Playground.

Graphics

EA sure paints a nice picture of its playground. Using character models that seem comparable to MySims, the kids are cute and pretty lively. Each character has his (or her) own move set for when he or she wins. As for the playground itself, there’s a fair amount of beautiful green grass out there, along with playground standards, like swings, bushes, and buildings. Aside from the color and the animation, then frame rate is generally consistent; be forewarned, however, that there are a few spots of slowdown in the game. These instances don’t ruin the overall experience, but with the Wii now in its second year of availability, you’d like to think that developers are getting better handles on what the console can and can’t do in terms of a visual workload.

Sound

EA Playground has no licensed music to speak of and has no voice work. What we’re left with is some generic themes and lots of reading when it comes to the single-player game. What few voices there are sound like they were lifted from The Sims, but they thankfully don’t rattle on too long. In a game like this, it’s rather surprising that EA couldn’t get some kids to read some of the dialog; after all, getting challenged by a kid has more weight when you hear the kid taunting you, rather than hearing a few Sims blurbs and doing some reading. The music is unobtrusive, but certainly won’t stick in your mind, either. This game would have been a great candidate to stream some music from an SD card, similar to Excite Truck, but we’ve only seen that option in the one game so far.

The Final Verdict

Let’s get the bad news out of the way early: EA Playground is not deep enough or solid enough to warrant a purchase at full price. Controlling your on-screen character is too clumsy with the D-Pad, there aren’t many standouts in the minigames offered here, and the single-player mode can be conquered in a few hours. The game may make a decent rental, especially for younger players or families during periods of inclement weather. Most players should be able to obtain what enjoyment the game has to offer within a single rental period. EA Playground isn’t really a complete flop, but it doesn’t execute well enough to warrant a place in most gamers’ libraries.

Having said that, EA looks to have some ideas to build on if they decide to release another game of this ilk. The sticker collecting idea isn’t a bad one, and there are other games that EA might look into adding. How about kickball, for example? Volleyball? If they can add some content and challenge and work a bit on the controls, there’s a definite place for a playground game in the marketplace. It does relate to the younger set and can encourage family play.