I've said it before and I'll say it again; the Wii is a much better machine than it often gets credit for. The innovative potential and unique user interface make it a relatively different gaming experience. Unfortunately as the life of the machine stretches on and into areas not necessarily all that relative
to traditional gaming, we lose the potential for forward thinking and new ideas for existing genres/premises, etc. After all, Nintendo's only real 'hardcore' game this holiday season for Wii is Animal Crossing, and I'd hardly call that game everyone's cup of action-packed tea.
Thankfully another glimmer of hope arrived on the horizon in the form of Disaster: Day of Crisis
What's unfair about the arrival of Disaster though, is it's representation of where Nintendo - as a company
- is currently at and where their subsequent design and product priorities lay as a result.
It's true Nintendo have pretty much left the hardcore gaming community choking on the dust of their mainstream gaming cash flow, and while I'm happy they've made a success out of the Wii in the wake of the GameCube and N64's less than stellar sales performances, they've done so at a big risk. Despite the fact neither the aforementioned pre-Wii consoles did as commercially well as Nintendo might have liked, there was always a massive community of hardcore Nintendo fanboys (and girls) who still supported them with gusto (I was definitely one of them). Now that the Wii has dished out all that fanbase has likely ever wanted (Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3, The Legend of Zelda), there doesn't really seem like there's much left.
Disaster, however, is a mixed bag of traditional gaming ideas coalesced into a single Wii gaming experience. It's more mature than most Nintendo titles, offers a variety of different gameplay styles and rarely treats the player like a n00b.
It's not necessarily in the same league as most other games we're enjoying these days, but for Wii owners, it's at least something you don't
have to play with your grandparents.
"Raymond Bryce is about to have one hell of a day..." screams the sales pitch on the back of the box. And it's true. As the game's awkwardly compressed
intro CG video shows (I thought this was DVD, no idea why they need so much compression), the game's protagonist really is about to face the challenges of a lifetime. Whether it's avoiding lava on the face of an erupted volcanic mountain, dodging collapsing buildings, rescuing kidnapped potential love interests, fighting terrorists or watching his best friend fall to a liquid hot magma death, Ray's day is about to go from bad to worse, and while this might sound bad for him, it affords us a plethora of interesting challenges.
The game begins with Ray and his rescue buddy, Steve, rescuing tourists from Mt Aguilas, a volcanic mountain in South America that has finally decided to erupt. Steve and Ray are apparently pretty good at their job, but there's no way they could have stopped the massive flaming boulder that slams into the chopper they just offloaded their last rescue on. What's worse is the flaming boulder was just the beginning of a massive outburst from the volcano's mouth. Now they have to get out of harm's way and try and locate the downed chopper to see if there are any survivors.
Things go from bad to worse though as Steve and Ray are separated and it's up to Ray to locate his friend and attempt to redeem the day. This is where we're finally given some control over the game, and it's from here the unique playstyle of Disaster: Day of Crisis reveals itself. This is no ordinary game; in fact you could say it's something of an interactive story or movie that utilises proven (and oft archaic) gameplay styles.
Initially you'll learn that you're essentially given something of an JRPG path of movement (forward), until you reach the next cut-scene trigger. Along the way you'll also learn about jumping, running, sprinting (with typical use of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk motion capabilities), breathing (your lungs will often fill with smoke, so you need to hold the Z-button and breath slowly to clear them) and beating up containers, crates or canistors (done by shaking the Wii Remote). A lot more follows this, but Nintendo clearly didn't want to overload any player with too much input, but rest assured, once all of this is revealed, the game's tone is clearly set when Ray finds Steve, only to lose him in a dramatic fall reminiscant of Stallone in Cliffhanger except instead of falling to a cold, icy death Steve falls into a deadly lava stream below.
A few things stem from the game's intro. One, this is a more mature title from Nintendo with swearing, death and complex themes. Two, it's ridiculously cheesy, but fun nonetheless. And three, Nintendo really need to expand to HD because realising this is a standard of quality for the Wii just makes me sad. It looks like Resident Evil 4 in visual foundation and while I love that game, it also happens to be some three years old, meaning Disaster, while acceptable, just looks old
Things fast forward a year after Steve's death and we learn poor old Ray has retired himself from rescuing people. He's called into a Government agency though, because he's best qualified to help with a terrorist organisation made up of ex-special forces guys who've kidnapped a seismologist and his assistant (who also happens to be Steve's sister). Ray's job is strictly to help analyse the situation but when things go awry, he's left with no choice but to head in gung-ho and fix what the SRT (Special Response Team) couldn't, and he does so with this line from his superior “Are you nuts? You're just one man, what can you do!” (which I thought was gold).
Now it's time
for Time Crisis-inspired gameplay. On top of rescuing people and breathing, Ray is also pretty handy with a gun and you're suddenly whisked into various arcade-esque Time Crisis moments where you take cover, duck out and fire at the enemy using the Wii Remote to aim. It's restrictive, but fairly fun in the grand-scheme of everything else old Ray can do.
This sort of thing expands as the game progresses until you get to a point where you realise not only is this game an interactive story and movie experience, it's also a veritable one-stop collection for various mini-games, arcade experiences and interesting features. You'll have experienced a lot of the interaction before, but not always in this way.
Coming across victims of a massive earthquake that hits, for example, might see you washing their wounds and then bandaging them up. You might need to perform CPR or rescue someone dangling from a ledge. People can be found trapped under debris you'll need to lift and remove, or you might need to relocate someone so they're with their loved ones. Almost all of this is performed through various mini-game like interaction where you might be swinging the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in different ways, or bashing buttons as quickly as you can.
There's also other action beyond the aforementioned shootouts, such as intense driving sequences that see you turning the Wii Remote on its side ala Excite Truck to chase or outrun the bad-guys.
The whole experience is a refreshing approach to Wii interaction (especially because we're so used to the whole party game approach), and veteran players will likely get a real kick out of it.
That said, this is by no means a massive leap for gaming. While it's cool to need to perform various actions for the many events thrown at you, a lot of them just feel a bit too old-school or tacked on for good measure. And as mentioned earlier, Disaster just looks way too old in the visual department, at times almost blindingly so, which is a shame because a bit more inventiveness in a few of the interactivity areas and seriously polished graphics would have gone a long way to making this a must-have.
If you only own a Wii though, and need a gameplay fix that isn't overly bright, cute or childish, Disaster might be your thing. But in the face of so many stunning looking games on the other platforms, it doesn't really hold a candle. It's fun and enjoyable, but frustratingly old in many areas and is a constant reminder Nintendo have pretty much left the core gamer off their radar.