The Wii is undoubtedly overrun with more than its fair share of mediocre, casually-branded fluff. But that doesn't mean that the format is only good for toddlers and grandma, as Nintendo themselves consistently demonstrate through innovative releases like Wii Fit, Wii Sports, Mario Kart et al. It seems, in fact, that it is third-party game makers who are most inclined to try and cash-in on the platform's less-hardcore demographic, and this is a shame because when done properly, Wii games can really rock the boat.
Sega stalwart Yuji Naka isn't a man to pander to convention, the Japanese games industry veteran credited with programming the very first Sonic the Hedgehog game, as well as producing seminal titles like Nights into Dreams and Phantasy Star Online. More recently, he founded independent start-up Prope, who with Sega's help have crafted Let's Tap - a brand new twist on the Wii's unusual controls; a casual game, without the negative connotations. Naka-san was recently in London showing his new opus off, confirming at the same time that the game will reach Europe and America in the summer.
Sporting a quite incredible orange tie-socks combo, Naka-san explains to us that he believes Let's Tap is the first game in the world to not use a controller in order to deliver input directly to the game. Rather, players will rest the Wiimote upon a cardboard box in front of them, and then tap the box in order to control the game - the Wiimote is apparently sensitive enough to detect how fast and how hard you're 'tapping', and in this simple manner the game is controlled.
The game boasts five modes, Prope having gone unashamedly mainstream in ensuring that this selection of party style games - for up to four players - offer something for everyone. As such, we're offered Tap Runner, Silent Blocks, Rhythm Tap, Bubble Voyager and Visualizer.
Arcade-like music imbues the whole game with a decidedly 'genki' aura, while the visuals are stylised in an intriguing 80s computer manner, which gives the game the feeling of being something retro, reinvented. Think Tron, in places. The Visualizer mode is particular spectacular - fireworks, fish and more belying the Wii's reputation as a graphical basket case - although I didn't get to play around with this directly.
What I did enjoy dipping my toes into were the Tap Runner and Silent Blocks modes. The latter plays out like a sort of mad steeple-chase, the player drumming away with their fingers to send a little digital man racing horizontally across a scrolling, wire-frame landscape. All very Tron and, surprisingly, very entertaining. Soft drumming sees your avatar commence running, and the faster you drum, the faster your character will move. A harder 'thud' on the box will see the little fellow leap - and timing will be crucial if you're to avoid all a level's obstacles, which can slow you down hugely.
As a slice of multiplayer fun, this mode works a treat, and it was pleasing to see how surprisingly untuitive the tap-based controls were. When I lost, I felt like I'd probably tapped poorly, rather than having been cheated by the mechanics of the game. I also sampled the Silent Blocks game, a more cerebral, slower-paced affair, focussing on Jenga-like towers and the blocks that comprise them. This is a classic puzzle style event, but one made all the more engrossing because of Naka's much vaunted 'tapping'. The aim of the game is to combine metals, using alchemy to create ever-improving qualities that will eventually see you beat your rival. Removing blocks from the tower by combining them brings the metals together in the necessary reaction, while you'll need to 'tap' these out without knocking the whole thing down.
This latter game was a rather more taxing event than Runner, but does a good job of combining the tactile dexterity of the control system with the concentration of a standard puzzle game. Once again, the controls worked surprisingly well, although the less said about my alchemy strategies the better.
Let's Tap could be this year's answer to Boom Blox, or so Sega will be hoping, and while we're concerned that having to use a cardboard box is just a little odd, the fact that this trick actually seems to work could give Prope's opus what it needs to stand out from casual Wii titles still busy aping Wii Sports. We're looking forward to seeing more of Yuji Naka's new creation as the summer rolls our way. Oh, and as an interesting aside, I witnessed one hungover journalist actually beat Naka-san at his own game, much to the amusement of the gathered press. Accessibility assured?