Happy Feet (Wii)

Happy Feet
Nintendo Wii (2006)

After a while, all those computer animated kid-oriented films start to run together. While I’m sure my kids (ages two and five) could tell you all about last year’s hit film Happy Feet, all I can tell you is that it stars computer-animated penguins, at least one of which likes to dance. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but honestly I already feel like I know more about the plot than I want to.

Happy Feet for the Nintendo Wii combines three basic game engines and links them together with cutesy animated cutscenes. The first level is a DDR-style game that involves waving the Wiimote around instead of stomping with one’s feet. The second level has players sliding on their little penguin stomachs while racing through ice tunnels and avoiding snow drifts and icicles. The game’s third engine is an underwater swimming adventure on rails. The DDR-esque level involves holding the Wiimote like a wand and flicking it in one of four directions (up/down/left/right). The other two levels involve holding the Wiimote sideways, tilting it from side to side to steer.

First, the good news. Happy Feet is great for young kids. My five-year-old son was able to beat all the levels the first time through, so the learning curve is minimal. Plus, you know, kids love singing and dancing penguins. So that’s a plus.

And now for the bad.

(Get comfortable.)

For starters, if you are over the age of ten you will be bored with this game in about ten minutes. The DDR idea is gimmicky with controls that don’t always register. The underwater swimming scenes offer few challenges, and the belly-sledding game is like Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam watered down for pre-schoolers. (In fact, after playing Happy Feet for fifteen minutes, my son begged me to put Tony Hawk back in.) The levels seem unrelated other than the fact that there’s a penguin in all of them, and after running through the three types a couple of times everything became pretty repetititve. I had hoped that at least the two-player modes would be more fun, but even those are pretty lame. In the underwater scenes, there’s no way to go faster than your opponent, and in the downhill sledding you both control the same penguin, with one person steering while the other jumps and does tricks. Zzz.

It’s pretty obvious that the controls for Happy Feet were developed with conventional gamepad controllers in mind and retrofitted to the Wii. Personally I didn’t find any added enjoyment or gain in control in tilting the controller vs. a conventional d-pad. Bottom line, Happy Feet feels like a $9.99 game with a $49.99 price tag. It barely passes for a “last-gen” game, and certainly doesn’t meet the expectations for the current generation.

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