Looking back, Nintendo Wii ended up with a huge library of games to its name, including some much-loved classics (and quite a few duds, if we’re honest). But who would have thought a third-party multiplayer title about carnival mini-games would have proved to be one of the system’s biggest sellers? For all its faults, Carnival Funfair Games did just that in 2007, even with a middling reception from critics. Now, over a decade later, 2K hopes to recreate that success once more with Carnival Games on Nintendo Switch. Does it succeed? Let's find out.
Much like its predecessors, Carnival Games keeps things nice and simple by offering up 20 different mini-games based on classic fairground attractions. There are plenty of old favourites from the first incarnation, including the basketball-flinging fun of Swish to the water-shooting mayhem of Clowning Around, but there are quite a few new ones, too. Light Speed, for instance, tasks you with piloting a drone down a tunnel, flying through rings to score points and using a force-field to send your opponents spinning out of control. Supernova is also another cute new addition, which requires you to zoom around a small arena collecting inflatable planets to outscore your opponents.
The original game had five different areas to visit, but this new version has grouped everything into four themed carnival corners - Jungle Lake, Saturn Station, Vulture Gulch and Nuts & Bolts. Rather than playing for prizes with your Mii avatar, Carnival Games now has its own characters to choose from (which all look like something straight out of a 3D animation from the '90s) and instead of playing for items, you simply earn tickets which in turn enable you to unlock more games among its total of 20.
Some are locked behind relatively simple requirements, but others are gated behind ridiculously high ticket levels. Want to unlock Swish? Better cough up 200 tickets. Hoping to spin you toy six-shooter in High Noon? Best start saving to meet that 1,000 ticket price tag. There’s a really bizarre disparity between these unlock tiers, but if you grab a couple of friends and start trying to outdo each other’s score, it doesn’t take too long to finally start earning enough to meet these bigger ticket hauls.
Every one of its 20 games can be enjoyed solo against some pretty ruthless AI, or you can play with up to three other players locally for some fun couch-play action. There’s no support for online play, but that’s no shock considering this is a title that’s all about gathering around your Switch or TV and jostling for a win in the same room as your opponents. As you might expect, Carnival Games is at its most fun when you’re playing with your friends and family, with its decent mix of game types offering a lot more variety and choice than the recent Sports Party from Ubisoft.
This being a revival of a Wii ‘classic’, motion controls are of course supported, although you’ll need to win and beat each respective mini-game individually in order to unlock this feature. And while playing with an analog stick and a single button is fun in its own right, it’s never going to compare to waving your Joy-Con to throw a hoop on a bottle or hit a home-run in a jungle-themed arena. And while Super Mario Party remains the go-to couch-play title on Switch, Carnival Games is still an entertaining alternative to the likes of 1-2 Switch and The Jackbox Party Pack.
Presentation-wise, Carnival Games certainly looks better than its predecessors, but that’s hardly a surprise considering this new iteration is running on a much more powerful piece of hardware. Its visuals are never going to win any design awards for innovation, and everything from the character models to mini-game assets look like they're taken from a previous generation, but this isn’t a game you’re buying for its aesthetic value; it’s a silly collection of family-friendly games and it hits that remit dead on. There’s no drop in performance between handheld or docked mode, so no need to worry about being cheated out of a win thanks to a chugging console.
Oddly, the animated menus of the Wii original have been dropped in favour of a more static experience, so now each of its 20 games are split into those aforementioned four sections, with each one resigned to a still image and an animated preview of each respective mini-game. Again, it does the job, but there was something charmingly quaint about selecting your next carnival time-killer from within a rendered funfair setting that’s been lost in this Switch incarnation.
If you’re looking for a game to get the whole family gathered around the TV - or your Nintendo Switch in tabletop mode - during the school holidays or at a party, Carnival Games offers plenty of silly mini-games to get everyone swinging their Joy-Con. It’s nothing remarkable, but the new games do offer a little more variety than the previous versions, so if you’re looking for a quick pick-up-and-play alternative to Super Mario Party, this colourful collection could be the virtual funfair trip for you.