Review: Wii Sports Club: Baseball + Boxing (Wii U eShop)

Swing and a miss

Wii Sports Club has had a rather odd history to date. Released in increments that have been surprisingly spread out, it's attempted to recapture the magic of the Wii bundle title while throwing in Miiverse, MotionPlus controls and GamePad features. Online play has also been a vital inclusion, yet the piecemeal distribution and pricing experimentation with day and full passes hasn't helped the download offerings to gain momentum, and now Nintendo is going ahead and releasing a physical retail edition anyway.

Question marks over marketing and distribution aside, the first three sports offered were mixed in terms of how well they transitioned to Wii U, and we think it says much about Nintendo's confidence that it's bundled the final parts together with Wii Sports Club: Baseball + Boxing — one is a rather decent effort, and the other is a disappointing throwaway freebie.

Let's start with the sport that works nicely here, Baseball. Always an entertaining option on Wii, it also incorporated a pitching action that endangered TV sets and shoulder blades, as it tempted you to fling the remote forward in pursuit of more deadly fastballs. Pitching and some fielding is now moved to the GamePad, as you use the motion sensor and screen to pick a spot before using a simple button press to choose from alternative balls — power is determined by your timing on a power gauge. When the batter hits an 'air ball', meanwhile, you have to follow an arrow on screen to tilt the Pad up, locate the ball and line it up for a catch. It's all exactly the same as what was briefly shown at the Wii U's big reveal during E3 2011, but works nicely; it's one of the best examples yet of the GamePad serving as a window into the game world, giving a fun sense of sort-of augmented reality in its execution.

Batting remains the same, though is a little more accurate with the MotionPlus Remote; it was a bit of a stand-out on the standard Wii Remote, regardless. There are no button presses, you simply swing, and it's far harder now to trick the system into registering a lazy flick of the wrist — you don't need a full swing, as such, but a little effort does help with timing. It's sheer simplicity, which was part of the original's success.

Matches work as well as always, and our online games seemed fairly reliable on our admittedly quick connection. It's three innings regardless of local or online play, and it's certainly a fun experience taking on an opponent in the same room — hiding the pitching screen from the batter and psyching out a rival as they attempt a catch is a treat. In the online stakes you can exchange pre-prepared messages, and some minor delays waiting for the opponent to pitch seemed to be the game pre-processing to minimise lag, which was perfectly acceptable. With CPU opponents also on hand in your quest to improve your grade, all bases are truly covered for matches.

There are three training modes, too, which simply add minor twists to the core gameplay — Home Run Hero is a time trial to whack as many out of the park as possible, Smash Hitter challenges you to aim your shots at coloured areas, and Pitch for Prizes tasks you with hitting moving boxes as you pitch. All are functional but unremarkable.

Baseball is an example of a remaster that works well, with natural uses for the GamePad and MotionPlus, also delivering a fun local multiplayer experience. Boxing, on the other hand, remains the weakest of these events, and we've been left disappointed after testing out the potential of its improved controls. Notorious as "that crazy waggle game" on Wii, in which two gladiators would frantically flick their wrists and look rather silly, this is now a fiddly, awkward experience.

There are two control options, first of all, the best being two MotionPlus Remotes — one in each hand. We headed straight for the Training modes to test them out: Pro Puncher, in which you aim punches as quickly as possible, Speed Bag in which you follow instructions to hit passing targets, and Duck and Dodge, where you avoid tennis balls and knock out targets. They all work reasonably as exercises, though it can be a challenge to convert your motions into accurate punches, our lack of accuracy being brutally exposed in these exercises. Adjusting the height of punches is the biggest issue, while registering hooks and uppercuts can be tricky if the Remotes keep registering jabs while positioning the controllers — this could be a minor problem in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, too, though that was a largely fluent, impressive experience once mastered. Boxing, on the other hand, still seems to register gestures too readily rather than tracking the hands, leading to false shots and an instinct to simple flick the wrist to jab; playing properly will probably result in crushing defeats online.

Fighting others online is functional and seemed reasonably lag free, for us, though with the stilted controls and awkward manoeuvres even a bit of lag doesn't influence proceedings a great deal. We didn't feel like we were engaged in a skilful bout of elite sporting combat, but rather like a slightly frustrated gamer wondering why our goofy Mii threw a hook when the gesture was clearly an uppercut; it's a failure in immersion. When playing Boxing it feels like the free afterthought that, ultimately, it seems to be in reality.

We said there were two control schemes, the second of which is a one-handed mode in which you just use one Wii RemotePlus controller. It's basically the same but with your boxer only throwing one set of punches — Nunchuks aren't supported due to their limited motion detection capabilities — and it feels rather silly. While practical for those without lots of compatible Remotes — we used it for some local splitscreen play — it's simply not enjoyable.

Of course, both of these sports come within the same app as those that came before, so your wins and losses contribute to your regional Club's online standing, while you can customise messages through Miiverse; it all works well, so if you've enjoyed these features up to now they're integrated into the latest entries. A note on presentation, too — both titles have had basic upgrades to HD, though Baseball has had a cleaner update than Boxing, the latter of which has some rough aspects. Both are entirely functional and pleasing enough to look at, however.

Conclusion

When considering whether to buy this final offering on Wii Sports Club, as a download, our advice is simple — it's worth considering for Baseball alone. Rather like Bowling and Golf it's a smartly implemented upgrade, and joins the latter in giving the GamePad an impressive, indispensable role. Boxing, on the other hand, is thoroughly mediocre, with MotionPlus merely replacing one flawed control scheme with another; it's passable at best.

As both of these downloads come for the price of one, we recommend Baseball as worthy of consideration, which is a far stronger pitch than we can give to Boxing.

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