A massive snowstorm has struck Snowpack Park, blocking off roads, causing damage and isolating the poor, poor penguins from each other. Only one person can bring them back: you! Or your Mum! Or Dr. Zoidberg, any Mii stored on your Wii. But, still, you get the idea.
Snowpack Park is a game of collection and unit management. It's essentially a real-time strategy game without much application of strategy: real-time strategic relaxation, perhaps? It's Pikmin without the gardening or risk of death; a quiet, peaceful diversion without any serious dangers or things to worry about. This is not, in itself, a bad thing, and Snowpack Park is indeed a pleasant enough place to spend your time, but as our favourite adventurer Link so wisely put it, "it sure is boring around here."
Your main goal is to gather up the stray penguins, bring them back to camp and keep them happy enough to want to stay there. This is accomplished in a variety of ways, whether it's feeding them their favourite treats, petting them or impersonating them. Along the way you can also collect accessories that will allow you to, among other things, bling out your favourite penguins, and you're also able to capture photographs of you and your sharp-dressed waddling pals at designated scenic areas (flash photography is not allowed in Snowpack Park proper, apparently), fish, play mini games and... go to sleep.
We'll start with the positive aspects of this game, because there are many. The presentation, for example, is great: while the graphics might not look like much, they are crisp and effective in-game, and the objects and penguins manage to clearly and distinctly stand out. The music, likewise, isn't anything you'll find yourself humming the next day, but it's appropriate and atmospheric. The menus are intuitive and rarely rely on text, making them child friendly (more on that in a moment), and the controls are tight and responsive.
It's difficult to play this game without coming away with a feeling of calmness and peace, and that's certainly a positive thing for those who don't need to end every gaming session covered in sweat, but the experience doesn't really go any deeper than that, unfortunately. Collecting the penguins becomes more complicated as the game goes on but not by much, and it's difficult to get excited about unlocking a new area to explore when you pretty much already know it won't be any different from the last.
A large part of the problem here has to do with the graphics. Yes, we listed them as a positive above, and we stand by that, but the unfortunate side effect of draping your game in soothing, beautiful snow is that all of the areas look the same. It's very easy to walk in circles without realising it, because there's no change in background to indicate progress. Similarly, the massive white snowdrifts make it difficult to see where the paths through them are located, as the paths themselves are also white. Fortunately the camera is adjustable, which helps a great deal, but it gets frustrating having to swing it around just to determine whether or not you have already walked into a dead end.
Also, monotony sets in more quickly than it should, even in a repetitive-by-design game such as this. Snowpack Park makes a big deal about the various ways you can interact with the penguins to make them happy (which in turn will get them to hang around and not wander off again), but once you realise that you can rely entirely upon any one of these methods rather than having to mix them up, you'll just feed or stroke each of the penguins into a blissful state, and the rest of your tricks will go quickly to waste.
A game like this seems best suited to children – young ones especially – who are willing to invest time in a game that's just cute for cuteness's sake, but Snowpack Park opens with an extremely clumsy and poorly-conceived (not to mention unskippable) tutorial, which is text heavy and can easily take between ten and twenty minutes to complete. By relying so heavily on walls of text to convey the goals of the game, Snowpack Park seems to want to isolate itself from the audience that might appreciate it most. Even if your child is a strong enough reader to understand what is being said on the screen, the length of the needlessly-complex tutorial is bound to test their patience. Heck, it even tested ours.
Why a game so simple that it can be explained in about a sentence and a half needs to eat up so much time over-explaining simple (and optional) concepts is beyond us. And why it doesn't bother to tell us things that would actually be helpful – such as the fact that the camera can be adjusted, and how to do it – is even more confusing.
Beyond that, there is not much to say. The mini-games are optional and not particularly exciting, and any environmental puzzles you encounter tend to solve themselves once you've collected enough penguins or unlocked an area. There's an Animal Crossing-like spirit of collection when it comes to finding items hidden in ice, snow mounds or water, but that's more of a treat for people who are already enjoying the game than anything likely to win somebody over.
Your Mii cannot die, and if it falls into deep water or otherwise removes itself from play, it will end up safely in bed at the base camp at the beginning of the game, which often proves quite useful though we're not sure it was intended to be. Snowpack Park offers low-stress fun for a certain type of gamer who is receptive to that, but not much to anybody else.
All in all this is a pleasant game, but by no means a great one. It has good intentions, a great attitude and offers a fun and safe environment for very young gamers, but the most memorable thing about the time you spend in Snowpack Park is the enormous amount of squandered potential.
Snowpack Park is one of those rare games about which there's a lot of good to say, and yet is difficult to fully recommend. Undoubtedly children will get the most out of this one, but some unfortunate design choices may get in the way of their complete enjoyment. Aimless and slowly paced – yet also soothing and very pretty – this might be the perfect diversion while spending an actual snowy day trapped indoors. But if you were to find something else to do, you wouldn't really be missing much.