It’s tempting to go easy on FlingSmash because it’s really just a pack-in with the Wii Remote Plus controller, a new controller that crams the new Motion Plus attachment’s 3D positioning functionality into the form factor of the original Wiimote (I know Nintendo wants me to say “Wii remote,” but I refuse to compromise linguistic amusement for the sake of corporate branding). At many retailers, it’s the same price you’d pay for the Wii Remote Plus without the game. So cripes, you’re getting a game for free, why complain? Don’t even read this review, just get the Wii Motion Plus if you really want to play the handful of games that support it and use the FlingSmash box to whack squirrels or something.
But just supposing you are interested in whether FlingSmash is worth playing on its own, here’s your answer: it’s not. In fact, FlingSmash mostly serves as an argument against the Motion Plus controller; I can’t think of another example of pack-in software that makes the player so bitterly resent the hardware it’s supposed to promote.
FlingSmash plays like Araknoid set in the auto-scrolling levels of Super Mario World. Pip—the hidden savior of Coconut Island, an adorable little yellow ball, and possibly Nintendo’s most neotonic avatar yet—is your hero, and you use the Wii Remote Plus to whack him into bricks, pipes, power-ups, jewels, and other such Japanese game-designer droppings en route to end-of-level boss fights that demand you thwack Pip into some specific weak spot on the boss, or avoid some specific area of the screen while thwacking Pip etc.
As gameplay, it’s pretty inoffensive, even fun. Or rather, it would be if the Wii Remote Plus controls worked. But they don’t—not at all. There’s a 3D image of your controller position at the bottom of the screen, perhaps to convince you that the game really is paying attention. But as Nintendo knows well from years of Wii Sports development, precision tracking is not nearly as important as the feeling of control, and that’s where FlingSmash fails miserably. Even after hours of gameplay, I never felt like the ball was going in the direction I hit it; even worse, the Wii Motion Plus would not infrequently glitch up and send me in the exact opposite direction of my swing. If I’d never played another Wii Motion Plus game, this title would convince me that the attachment didn’t work at all, which is really not what your pack-in should do.
Along with the technical problems, the game also makes design decisions that badly compromise the player’s sense of agency.
Along with the technical problems, the game also makes design decisions that badly compromise the player’s sense of agency. The game refuses to acknowledge the velocity of your swing, perhaps in the hopes of discouraging accidentally whacking your couch partner in the face, but the result is that it’s impossible to control the strength of your hit, and equally impossible for the game to know when you’re hitting and when you’re just moving your hand. So there’s no golf-like putting precision, and no Breakout-style easy-to-see feedback between your position and the angle of your ball—just a pathetic spectacle of flailing and the occasional lucky bounce.
Shigeru Miyamoto once said that in developing Super Mario Bros., he used the beginning of World 1-1 to test his ambition of making it fun just to make Mario walk and jump, and ever since then Nintendo has understood the importance of satisfying control and feedback as the foundation of game design. Which makes it all the more embarrassing that a Nintendo-published title like FlingSmash should get the feeling of the controls so terribly wrong. No matter how good anything else about the game is, the basic unit of interaction never feels right, and that makes the whole experience unpleasant.
If you could set aside the bad controls, the rest of the game is actually decent; in fact, it might be more fun to watch than play. The character design is charming, particularly the Rez-inspired bosses. And though the game is pretty short (three-to-five hours of play, not counting a completely unfair final boss where the inability to control the force of your bounce makes winning almost impossible), the designers did a good job of coming up with new parameters for each level so it never feels too repetitive.
But if a game isn’t fun to control, then it isn’t fun to play, and if a game isn’t fun to play, then it might as well be tax software. Even the simplest game can become enjoyably addictive thanks to consistent relationships between effort and reward. But FlingSmash’s inept controls meant that every minute of play was a minute I was wanting to do something, anything else; it’s a bad sign when I keep getting distracted from a video game by the urge to tidy my desk.
Having played the wonderful Wii Sports Resort, I know the Motion Plus attachment can work really well, and I’m still optimistic to use it in the upcoming Zelda game, whenever that comes out. I might even get myself a Wii Remote Plus to play it, if I decide I don’t want to deal with the bulkier form factor of a Wiimote with a Motion Plus attachment snapped on (though for sports games, I actually prefer the extra heft). But I’m not going to buy it with FlingSmash: I already have enough squirrel-whackers on hand.