Konami is well known in the gaming world and is a much larger game company than the typical WiiWare studio. With their resources, a simple budget title should be something they could throw together in a weekend. Unfortunately, Sandy Beach (developed by Frozen Codebase and published by Konami) looks and feels exactly like a game that was thrown together in a weekend - and that's not a good thing.
As you can see from the price tag as well as the screen shots, Sandy Beach is a cheap game. We point this out not to excuse its shortcomings. Rather, we simply think that understanding this will help explain some of Frozen Codebase's design choices. For instance, your playing field is composed entirely of a solid plane of sand. Your building blocks, sand, are a different shade of the same colour. Sandy Beach is not going to win any awards for best art direction, but this must have been easy to whip up from a design perspective and in that way it almost makes sense.
That said, the first thing you should know about Sandy Beach is that it is actually two games in one. For such a modest price it sounds like a pretty good deal on paper and this should be a strong selling point for many people. The problem is, neither of the featured game modes are worthy of your attention.
The first is a "sandbox" game. Before you get all animated, we don’t mean like Grand Theft Auto of course! We mean it’s literally a sandbox game. You have your little segment of a beach in which to scoop up sand, dump it into piles, and then shape it into the form of a castle. That’s game number one in a nutshell (or crab shell -- ahem). There is no conflict of any kind in this mode; the only objective is to play around and build a pretty sand castle. Those of you with a creative streak will enjoy this, at least for a little while. There is a multiplayer co-op mode that parents will no doubt approve of when it comes to indulging in a spot of non-violent fun with their children. But just as was the case with My Aquarium, many Wii gamers will be left scratching their heads wondering whether or not you can actually go as far as to call this a "game."
The second play mode is where most gamers will spend the majority of their time. Dubbed "Crab Battle" mode, it certainly is an appealing concept. After developing your sandcastle building skills in the first mode, you can put them to good use here as you build, defend, and repair your castle amidst wave after wave of attack by nefarious sword wielding crabs. In terms of scope it’s a lot like the classic arcade title Rampart, and that is most definitely a positive thing in our book.
There’s no story or exposition in Crab Battle, but then again some concepts need no explanation. When you see an army of crabs marching toward your sandcastle, hell-bent on tearing it down with their claws and little swords, what else would you do in a situation like that? That’s right, you would point your Wii remote at the nearest crab and slap him. Slap him like that friend of yours who hasn’t downloaded a single Wiiware game yet. And then slap all of his buddies too.
While you are slapping crabs with the on screen hand indicator, the cannons you have mounted on your castle walls will fire upon the crabs and kill them. Cannon placement is the most critical part of castle design in Crab Battle; placing a cannon on the front lines is easiest, but it also can result in its easy destruction by the crabs. A better design is to place your cannons deeper inside the castle atop high towers to give them wide firing arcs, then place circles of shorter fortifications around your castle in an outer wall. The better you get at this, the less damage you will take and the more waves of attack you will survive.
Slapping crabs to stun them will only get you so far. Good castle design and cannon placement is more important because when the crabs attack, everything is automated. You can only stun crabs by slapping them. It’s up to your castle to win the battle, and kill all of the crabs.
In all strategy games there is some cost to limit how many actions you may take. In Crab Battle, that cost is time. You have only a limited amount of it in between each wave of attack. And in that time you must repair damage, place more cannons (there will be more crabs in increasing numbers each wave), and if there is time build even more walls. You’ll need all of it to survive, but you’ll have to make choices and make them quick.
What makes this tough is not the game itself. Rather it is the controls that will often leave you frustrated as you race to repair broken sections of your wall only to have to fight with the Wii remote to point at the exact spot you are missing. Your frustration will mount as you misplace your sand pile and must go scoop up some more to make another attempt. With each bucket full of sand, you may dump three sand piles. This is not a very large amount, and scooping up additional buckets of sand can become tedious as you attempt to build your castle out and up only three blocks at a time with the clock still ticking.
An additional minus (or plus, depending on how you look at it) is that in Crab Battle there is no reward for decorating your castle. In the first game mode, at least you are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment when you build a pretty castle. But in Crab Battle, there is no creative design element; your castle will always consist of hastily dropped piles of sand sprinkled with the occasional cannon. Your only tools will be the bucket (for more sand) and inexplicably, a hammer to remove blocks that you have mistakenly placed. While it’s true that it can be difficult to place blocks where you want them, why you would waste additional time tearing down your own blocks is beyond us, but there it is.
There is no multiplayer in Crab Battle. So while it is a neat concept, it will only last you until you grow bored with the single player. And because much of the game plays on autopilot, that likely will not take very long.
Having two game modes is good because there is a little something for everyone here. The first game type rewards right-brained creative types while the second game is designed for more analytical left-brainiacs. Unfortunately, both types of people will most likely feel somewhat unsatisfied by each; they are both very simple, lacking in repeat play value, and suffer from unforgivably clumsy controls. Sandy Beach looks and plays like a hastily thrown together game that could have greatly benefited from longer development time. Of course, this would have resulted in a higher price tag for the customer. If you remember that you get what you pay for, you may very well extract some limited enjoyment from Sandy Beach, but our advice is to avoid this bargain-basement release and save your Wii Points for something more worthwhile.