Review: Tomena Sanner (WiiWare)

We don't know why...he's the greatest dancer...that we've ever seen!

Tomena Sanner is the kind of WiiWare title that gamers expect to come from Japan. You control the destiny of a faceless salaryman named Mr. Susumu (Japanese for "forward" or "continue") using only a single button press to help him navigate obstacles as he runs through various environments. The result is a groovy game of "seeing what happens next" that's sure to put a smile on your face.

Pressing the button has a variety of effects: normally it results in a jump (presses can be chained until he's able to leap over obstacles like Easter Island heads or reach special items off the top of the screen), but waiting to press the button until he's close to an obstacle will see him dishing out martial arts moves, leapfrogging, dancing, flying around trees, and so forth. That's assuming the timing was "Good" or "Great!" - press too early or too late and you'll get a "Miss" along with time lost and points docked from your score, though sometimes the results of a miss can be amusing or take you to an otherwise impossible to reach area.

Time is an important factor: whilst it may appear that Mr. Susumu is running aimlessly through cityscapes, the moon or hell, he's actually trying to reach a little platform with a banner over it reading "GOAL" before his time runs out. Running out of time ends the game and there's only a minute in which to reach the goal, so you need to keep the mistakes to a minimum.

Thankfully there are items which can help. In addition to getting boosts of a few seconds as reward for "Great" button-press timing there are also special items in the form of coloured balloons. These have various effects including increasing or decreasing the speed of Mr. Susumu, adding a couple of bonus seconds to the clock or randomly making him big or small. Size changes allow him to run through obstacles unscathed for a limited time that can save precious seconds. In addition to balloons, there are coins to collect and random pose-striking "secrets" to find, all of which add bonus points to your score.

Reaching the goal is one of the game highlights. Alighting on a small stage surrounded by characters who were attempting to thwart his progress earlier, Susumu-san does a solo dance to an old-school instrumental hip-hop track. This is a mini-game where pressing the button in time to an on-screen indicator keeps him breakdancing and pop-and-locking. If you can manage to keep time until the end of his routine - which is different for every stage - you'll get big bonus points.

Motion capture was used to great effect for Mr. Susumu and other characters - most of whom also lack faces - though it's a shame that most of the dance moves are performed at the end goal and in order to keep the dancing going you need to focus on watching the tempo bar more than the dancing itself. The visuals are flat but colourful with a design sensibility lifted from an airline safety card, complete with textureless 3D characters against 2D backgrounds that look like paper cut-outs. The settings vary from suburbia to urban centres, medieval Japan, prehistory, the American Old West/Egypt (or maybe there were pharaohs in the Old West?), the Moon and, of course, Hell.

The audio is lively with the main soundtrack in each level consisting of "techno-samba" and the aforementioned old-school beats for the mini-game at the goal. More variety in the music would have been appreciated, but what's provided is good and nicely underlines the action.

Triggering the actions is the main attraction and there are hundreds of them, so seeing them all will require multiple replays of each stage and lots of random button pressing to find secret poses. Stages are grouped into three levels of three stages each -- though there doesn't appear to be any rationale behind the division, and you only get to play a later stage after completing the previous one. After beating stage nine you'll unlock Endless Mode (play through all stages consecutively - if you can!) and Turbo Mode, which is a sped-up version of the game. Beating all the stages in Turbo Mode will unlock an "endless" version of Turbo - nice to have when you're looking for that extra bit of challenge.

After a stage is complete you get to record your initials and if you've broken a record you'll be prompted to upload it immediately to the worldwide rankings. In addition to leader boards for each of the stages in Normal, Turbo and both Endless modes, you can also see how you stack up against other players in terms of coins collected/secrets found and the number of "Great"s earned. It's a nice way for players who cannot crack the top 30 high scores to get some recognition by focusing on other parts of the game.

If you have friends over who want to have a go you can play the game with up to four players via splitscreen. Players appear in each other's screen quadrants as ghosts and there are special items to collect which can be used to mess up other players, adding to the competition. It's a nice addition that could have been left out without diminishing the rest of the game, so cheers to Konami for including it.

Conclusion

Tomena Sanner is a simple concept treated with the kind of zany humour and attention to detail that exemplifies WiiWare at its best. For 500 Points you're getting a nice bit of fun in the form of a game you can pick up for five minutes and enjoy; isn't that the essence of video games?