Go Vacation Review
Posted by Mark Reece
Be prepared for economy class... if you're lucky
Since the launch of the Wii and the success of its pack-in title Wii Sports, it seems that there isn't a major publisher or developer that hasn't had their finger in the mini-game collection pie. Most of these copycats have either been inoffensively average or outright terrible. In fact, when it comes to other games featuring a myriad of sports, only Nintendo's own Wii Sports Resort springs to mind as being of any significant worth; refining existing sports, adding new ones and introducing substantially more accurate controls in what is inarguably the definitive multi-sports package. And yet, despite the blatant futility in trying to beat Nintendo at its own game, the imitators keep flooding in. Go Vacation is the latest, and it's safe to say that Nintendo shouldn't lose any sleep over its existence.
From the offset, all of Namco Bandai's efforts seem to have gone on making sure that Go Vacation outdoes Wii Sports Resort wherever possible, but its successes are few and far between. Like Resort, the game takes place on an island resort, only this one is split up into four distinct areas — marine, city, mountain and snow — and each one contains a variety of different sports and activities. Credit where credit's due, "variety" is an apt description of Go Vacation's selection of minigames, as there are around 50 available. And it's not merely contemporary sports that are covered either; sports such as tennis, volleyball and baseball are accompanied by more extreme offerings like skydiving, snowboarding and bungee jumping, as well as various races on horses, snowmobiles, jet-skis, ATVs and suchlike.
But Go Vacation's problems lie not in quantity, but rather in quality. While the copious amount of sports on offer should be applauded, the vast majority of them fail to offer any entertainment as each and every one stumbles in a key area. This is more often than not by way of a poorly conceived or unintuitive control scheme, with the rest of the activities just not being a very good idea in the first place. Even the races, which games like Mario Kart Wii already laid down the framework for, are ruined by controls that simply aren't responsive enough, and when your game can't even get the simple act of tilting the Wii Remote side to side right, well... you know you've got problems.
Should you be able to muster the patience or masochism to endure Go Vacation's minigames, the game still makes it as difficult and tedious as possible to unlock and play them all. You can't merely access every activity from the outset, rather you need to explore each area of the resort and search for the next available activity. Only when you've played a sport once can you access it in Free Play. This is certainly a novel way of injecting some longevity into Go Vacation for the lone player, but making your way around the resorts is so plodding and monotonous when on foot that you'll likely tire of doing so very quickly. Vehicles and other equipment are available to make travelling over longer distances more bearable, but issues arise here as well, once again courtesy of those unintuitive controls. The vehicles all handle just as poorly here as they do in the races, while the manual equipment — skis, snowboards, rollerblades and so on — all involve overly active measures in controlling them. For example, using cross country skis to traverse the snow resort seems like a good idea on paper. But that involves the action of pushing yourself along with both arms, which is fine for a few minutes at a time — not so much when it'll take you twenty minutes or so to get to your next activity. The fact that most of the vehicles require the Nunchuk to be plugged in while most of the minigames make you unplug it is also an issue, as the constant Nunchuk in-and-out is a pain. Alternatively, you could use the Wii Balance Board, but don't expect that to serve you any better; even MotionPlus does nothing to improve the infuriatingly imprecise and unresponsive controls.
Sparsely littered around each area you'll find opportunities to take photos, find treasures or have any Mii characters on your console join you in the activities as AI-controlled teammates and opponents but, aside from that, unlocking stuff in Go Vacation is a tedious slog. At least a lot of attention has been lavished upon each area in regards to their aesthetics as all four resorts are impressive in size, distinctly designed and populated by other holiday makers embarking on various activities. However, even this illusion is ruined by the fact that hardly any of the NPC's in each area will actually talk to you. Even if you hop onto an ATV and plough into someone at full speed, they'll have very little to say for themselves when they get back on their feet. In fact, it's fair to say that one of Namco's biggest achievements in Go Vacation is how it's constructed worlds that are both bustling and lifeless at the same time. It's like you've been transported into the end of a horror movie: you're there, but no one can see you.
Playing Go Vacation with more than one player makes matters even worse. The game allowing up to four players to make their way around the resorts on the hunt for new sports is a great idea in theory, but the aforementioned pretty visuals mean that comes at a price. Even with only two players present, the frame rate gets unbearably choppy, especially when both players are riding on vehicles. Go Vacation's sound design fares no better. Its opening gambit is a jaunty song — all about going on vacation, funnily enough — that plays when you boot up the game, and it will more than likely awaken a strong desire to gouge out your own eardrums, while the rest of the game features musical pieces that are irritating and forgettable in equal measure.
The brilliant popularity of the Wii can likely be attributed to Wii Sports and its sequel, so it's understandable that other companies would want to try and ape that success. Unfortunately, Namco Bandai have focussed all their efforts on making Go Vacation bigger, with little to no regard for how polished and finely tuned Nintendo's titles are. Go Vacation's main problem is that its controls are, nine times out of ten, too unresponsive to make it any fun. If you own a Wii, then you likely already own Wii Sports Resort, and you almost certainly already own Wii Sports, and there's little in Go Vacation that makes it worth playing over those two games.