Critter Round-Up has been branded by many people as an animal-themed version of the classic arcade game Qix. While that description isn't too far off the mark, there's more to it than simply boxing in area on the screen, but unfortunately it's not enough to keep this quirky WiiWare title from feeling very bland and way overpriced.
The main game in Critter Round-Up is the Adventure Mode, in which you take control of a character who has the unique ability to build fences at an unusually high rate of speed; your job is to use these fences to separate the various types of animals into groups of the same kind. The only problem with this is that these farmyard inhabitants tend to be uncooperative. To make matters worse, you can't allow them to touch your character or you'll lose one of your lives (they must be man-eating animals, we assume), of which you have a limited number to complete each level. Once you've separated all of the different animals in the main area, you'll be given a score and a grade on your overall standard of performance, ranging from Bronze to Platinum. You can even go back and play through levels again at any time in order to earn higher scores and better grades, although we can't imagine that you'll want to.
The control in Critter Round-Up can be very sluggish at times and it's often frustratingly difficult to connect pieces of fence together when you get in a tight spot. The animals also become more uncooperative and erratic in their movements in later levels, but thankfully the game will toss you a present every now and again to help out. These range from speed boots, which allow you to move around a lot faster, to bait, which you can use to distract some of the more aggressive animals long enough for you to fence them in. The ability to jump over fences will allow you a chance to get away from some of these aggressive animals, but you'll generally have to rely on your fence-building abilities if you're to have any hope of completing the levels.
There are several other types of games to choose from as well. You can bring in up to three other players to help you out during the Adventure Mode in what's called the Cooperative Mode. You'll still have just one set of lives per level, so no matter who loses a life, it comes off of that single tally. The only downside to this mode is that it tends to make an already easy game that much easier.
You can also choose to play the Critter Games, which are basically mini-games thrown in to mix things up a bit. Snowball Soccer allows up to four players to take part in a soccer contest in which each player tries to kick the snowballs into the other player's goal. It's very simplistic and the sluggish control saps what little enjoyment there is out of the experience. Chicken Catch lets you go up against up to three other players in a chicken chasing contest with different coloured chickens awarding various numbers of points; the first player to reach the set score wins. Fence Trap plays a lot like the Light Cycle level of Tron: your characters will automatically be putting up fence and you have to try to box in your opponents so they'll run themselves into a fence wall and the last player left standing wins. Predator Rampage is probably the weakest mini-game of the group and basically pits up to four players in a contest to see who can avoid all of the animals running around in the small pen for the longest amount of time. If you're touched by an animal, you're automatically eliminated, with the last player left winning the game. These mini-games, while a nice change of pace from the main game, feel like more of a tacked-on afterthought and don't add much to the overall experience.
The visuals in Critter Round-Up are quite colourful, but the cel-shaded look tends to make everything feel flat and there's not a lot of depth to the playing field in most areas. The animals are the highlight of the game and most of them move around quite realistically. It's just a shame that the same can't be said about the main characters as they tend to resemble Lego men by the manner in which they waddle around. At least they're good for a laugh when you see a close-up of them during the short cut scenes in between each area of the Adventure Mode. There's good variety between the different areas in the game, but these backdrops tend to get less detailed as you progress, which doesn't give you an awful lot to look forward to. The visuals certainly could have been better, but they manage to get the job done.
There are some very realistic sound effects in this game, which is a good thing considering the lacklustre musical score. The music tracks are not that bad, they're just extremely short and have to be repeated over and over again during each level. In fact, the tunes are so infuriating that you'll find yourself hurrying through the levels just so you can stop listening to the current song. Thankfully, there is an option to turn down the background music and leave the sound effects cranked up. Unless you want to send yourself insane, this is really the best option, especially for the later levels that tend to take a lot longer to complete.
There will be some gamers who will enjoy the offbeat gaming experience that Critter Round-Up has to offer, but not many. The simple fact of the matter is that this game is just too sluggish and doesn't offer up enough gameplay variety to keep most people's interest for more than a few minutes. The mini-games and multiplayer features add a little value to the package, but certainly not enough to warrant 1000 Wii Points. Konami is one of the more respected video game publishers in the gaming world, but they've got quite a stinker on their hands with this WiiWare release. Download it at your own risk.