Say what you will about Hudson's Deca Sports series... it at least keeps trying to get things right. Each release makes at least some small attempt at forging the way forward, whether it's something as simple as a refined gaming experience or a complete reimagining on a totally different platform. We've had two prior releases on the Wii, one on the DS, and there's even been a foray into the world of Kinect. But as different as all of these releases might be, one look at the review scores tells you all you need to know: they're not that good.
Hudson's bright idea this time around was to make use of the MotionPlus accessory, and while we are always happy to blow the dust off our peripherals time and again, we're not entirely convinced that this game needed it – or, to be honest, that it even really uses it. But more on that in a moment.
Deca Sports 3 is a compilation of ten smaller sports games, and as one might expect this late in the series, calling a few of these events "sports" is an act of supreme generosity. They are as follows: lacrosse, racquetball, log cutting, volleyball, springboard diving, fencing, air racing, half pipe, kayak slalom, and giant slalom.
When playing through each of these, it's clear that several were effectively developed as deeper, richer sporting experiences, while others just give you a single motion control to perform over and over until the game ends. Lacrosse, racquetball and volleyball all belong to the former category, as one can actually derive some enjoyment from playing with friends, developing a strategy, and reacting to that of his or her competition. We'll discuss these first as there's more to say about them – and also because their flaws are more apparent.
In these deeper, more involved sports, the controls are necessarily more complicated and almost never intuitive. Buttons necessary for playing the game are scattered around the Wii Remote (and sometimes Nunchuk) in such a way that it's difficult to find them in the heat of the game, and therefore you're more likely to just ignore their functionality and end up playing a stunted version to avoid the frustration of seeking them out. An example of this is the D-pad in volleyball, which will confound you no matter what you try to do. If you hold the Wii Remote with your thumb on this, you're likely to press it during a swing, when you don't want to – and if you move your thumb away from it, good luck finding it again in the split second that you'll need it for selecting the teammate to whom you're hitting the ball.
The + button in lacrosse suffers a similar fate, as it falls directly beneath your thumb if you follow the game's suggestion of how to hold the Wii Remote. You run the very real risk of pausing the game in the middle of each swing, which will definitely affect your enjoyment of the game, and even more so the enjoyment of anyone with whom you happen to be playing. An option to customise your controls is sorely needed here, as the developers obviously didn't give them much thought in the first place.
Unlike the masterful simplicity of Wii Sports, Deca Sports 3 makes learning its controls more difficult than it would be to play these sports in real life. Because of this, you will need to watch a tutorial before you play any game, as there's no way you'll figure out how to control anything without them. Unfortunately, these are both clunky and poorly implemented, meaning you'll have to spend several minutes watching the game demonstrate simple concepts (such as pressing A at a prompt) when what you're really trying to figure out is how to get your avatar to make an attempt at a goal. The ability to view these instructions on-screen rather than watching the CPU perform them for you would have been helpful, as would an on-screen diagram of the controls. Instead, you'll spend half of any given play session watching the game walk you through simple concepts and gloss over complex ones.
The controls for the other sports are much simpler, but this isn't the blessing it might seem as they're simplified so much as to be either dull or unplayable. On the dull side, you have things like log cutting and kayak slalom, which literally involve nothing more than tilting the Wii Remote in one direction and then in the other, again and again. For unplayable, turn to fencing, and then compare it to the sword fighting events in Wii Sports Resort for an example of how swordplay is done right with MotionPlus.
The fact that MotionPlus is used here is pretty confusing, actually, as none of the games require any precision. In fact, all of the motion controls boil down to a simple tilt or flick. Again, compare the sword fighting in Wii Sports Resort – where the on-screen sword tracks your movements – and in Deca Sports 3, where a flick causes your avatar to swing, but not in the direction you specified. It's closer to the context-free sword activation in Twilight Princess than anything, and that game didn't even make an attempt at motion sensing accuracy.
The closest Deca Sports 3 comes to requiring precise movements is in springboard diving, which is simply a short series of Just Dance-style prompts to follow, but even those are uncomplicated enough that MotionPlus shouldn't even enter into it.
Only one game is particularly fun, and that's giant slalom, in which you play as David attempting to outrace Goliath down a snowy slope... oh, wait, sorry, not that kind of Giant. This is actually just a standard skiing event that sees you leaning the Wii Remote and Nunchuk left and right to guide your avatar through sets of flags, but it reads the tilting clearly and is enjoyable enough to want to play several times in succession – not the case for any other event on offer here.
Speaking of the avatars, they are predesigned and cannot be locked to a save file. That is to say that every time you play the game – every time you play an event, in fact – you will have to select your avatar. There's something disappointing about not being able to control a little guy or gal that resembles you or your family members (or Steve Urkel) while you play, and selecting your avatar is even clumsier than most other things about this game. First, you need to select a team from a list of pre-assembled teams, even if your event is one-on-one. Then, from within that team, you can hand-pick however many players are required from their roster. It adds nothing to the experience and is just a tedious slog through irrelevant menus, one more barricade between you and enjoyment.
Visually, the presentation is about what you'd expect from the series by now: emotionless Mii-like automatons that meander dead-eyed through events of increasing tedium. None of the games are particularly colourful or artistically stimulating, and the best thing we can say about the music is that we don't remember any of it.
Deca Sports 3 is just the latest in a series of missteps, and while we'd certainly love to see Hudson eventually get the formula right, maybe it's just time to admit defeat – as any good sportsman would.
Deca Sports 3 is the third helping of a dish nobody ordered in the first place. Several events will just serve as reminders of how much better Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort handled them, and others aren't even worth the time it takes to learn the controls. Greater options for customisation would have helped a bit, as would options for differing control styles, but ultimately Deca Sports 3 is flawed enough at its core that no amount of additional features would help it much. Sorry, sports fans.