Streamline Studios' HoopWorld has been a long time coming. Originally announced as an Xbox Live Arcade title back in 2005 and looking like an odd Power Stone/sports hybrid, it's finally seen release on WiiWare in slightly scaled-back form as a 3-on-3 arcade basketball game.
There's a hokey backstory to do with primal energy or something, and as a result seven teams of caricatures decide to go play basketball in locales as diverse as the jungle, Olympian courtyards and somewhere that must be inside a volcano judging from the lava. Using an assortment of power-ups and elbows to the face, you and a friend can take on a four-round Tournament, play until you lose in Survival (and upload the result to an online board), or just jump in to Quickplay for a pick-up game, picking up unlockables as you go along.
The AI can be devious on the higher of the four difficulties and feels challenging instead of cheap, which is both unusual and appreciated for this type of game. Also welcome is the visual style; it's all very cartoony and exaggerated, befitting of the genre and looking very nice to boot. Each team is given a theme of sorts, and you've got your hardcore bikers, amazons, and even an emo team named Sylent Tragedy. The audio package is right there with the visual style, bringing bouncy tunes and satisfying swooshes.
For a quick fix of over-the-top sporting action, it's not bad. But that isn't to say that everything is peachy, or that we can wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone. So what went wrong?
The controls. They aren't near what they should be and fall victim to the most annoying tendency for Wii games. For starters, the button layout felt quite unintuitive and confusing to this reviewer. Changing players is done with Z whereas using an item is the A button's job; years of switching players with A is tossed out the window for no apparent reason. It's an issue that you might not run into yourself (depending on your wiring) and thus won't care, but one other thing you might care about is the incessant waggling. Passing, punching and shooting/dunking are all motion-based; passing isn't so bad and shooting turns out to be more satisfying than you might expect, but punching to swipe the ball is exceptionally annoying.
The problem is that it's your only real line of defense (discounting certain power-ups), so whenever your opponent has possession you'll swat and swat away until you (hopefully) knock 'em over. There's no guarantee that you'll even hit anybody or that your knock will have any effect either, and more often than not you'll go careening away from where you intended. If anything is worse than needless waggle, it's impotent needless waggle. These control issues don't make HoopWorld unplayable, but they're significant enough to add a lot of frustration to what is otherwise a pretty fun game.
HoopWorld is not a bad choice for a quick and cheap round of arcade basketball, and those blessed souls willing to overlook the flawed controls might find themselves having a pretty good time. For everyone else, especially the motion control averse, you're probably better off waiting for EA's NBA Jam revival.