EA need to respond to the likes of Ubisoft and their move into the casual gaming market. As each of these gaming behemoths realises the world of gaming has turned, largely on the coin of the Nintendo Wii, they make efforts to claim their slice of the pie. This may sound a little clinical, but in hand we have a game of which we have reasonably positive expectations: EA Playground. The Wii version of the game turned out to be a pretty good collection of kiddie sports games, nothing as refined or direct as Wii Sports, but certainly enough entertainment to keep us busy over Christmas.
As with any of these new franchises from EA, Boogie also springs to mind, one platform is not enough. The Wii version is soon ported to the PS2, and then downgraded to the DS and even the GBA. Today we have the DS version of Playground to look at.
The game is similar in structure to its older sibling; you navigate the singleplayer game be exploring a series of play areas, ranging from playgrounds to stadiums. Within these spaces you can collect marbles to earn you upgrades, and challenge the other youngsters to a variety of mini-ish games. Each of these are of the simple press button variety and largely rely on the timing rather than gaming skills of the player. You are pitted either against the clock or the not inconsiderable artificial intelligence.
The games have been designed to appeal to a wide audience and as such have their difficultly set towards the lower end of the spectrum. Whilst this is ideal for younger players, those of us with a few more years (and skills) under our belts may find they go on a bit. EA would have been better served by an increasing difficulty over time. As the game stands you often end up playing for a really long time before you die. This is a bit of a problem as you often tire of a particular game before it comes even close to beating you.
A nice touch however, is the feature that enables you to customise and upgrade the different games, again like Playground on the Wii. As you complete games and collect marbles you amass enough wonga to buy stickers from the 'Sticker King'. These are then nicely plopped into your sticker book (Brain Training-style) and provide additional moves and levels for your chosen game. For example you can unlock the dragonflies for the bug hunt game, or power-up your car in the remote control car game.
Each of the games has been well designed and thought out to make best use of the DS' dual screens and stylus controls. EA show they have a real understanding of what makes a good game for the platform and manage to avoid falling into the gimmicky trap of overusing the microphone or touch screen - which so many early games on the DS fell into.
Again, as with the Wii game, the playground meta-game isn't all it could be. Not only is it a bit fiddly to navigate, but they have been a little stingy on their population of certain areas. You can often waste not a few minutes going round in circles trying to figure out where that last game is hiding, not helped by the all but useless map.
The multiplayer experience is not quite up to par with the Wii game, but certainly holds its own. We had plenty of fun challenging friends and family to throw downs on most of the games available. Unfortunately, to do so we had to dash out and get another copy of the game for each player. This is almost unheard of these days with most DS games offering a single cart multiplayer option.
Overall then, this is a game that certainly joins the dots, but ultimately has the feel of a 'design by committee' delivery. Although it does have its moments, it rarely shines as much as it could. Although this is no doubt the first in a series of releases from EA, it is fair to say they could have made a bigger splash with its first outing on the DS.