In my last article, I asked the question: ‘Should Nintendo make casual games again?’ One of the points that I touched on was that Nintendo basically unlocked Pandora’s box with the success of Wii Sports by opening the door for developers to flood the Wii with low-quality ‘casual’ titles. But, what if I told you there’s one of these games that had some actual effort put into it? So much effort that it almost shouldn’t exist? A game that’s basically just as good, if not better than Nintendo’s offerings, but was created by a third-party company. This isn’t a concept or a canceled project; it’s a game you can play right now if you own a Wii or Wii U. This game is Go Vacation.
Wii Sports Resort was released back in 2009 as the sequel to the 2006 smash-hit Wii Sports. Nintendo took the formula back to the drawing board and added more activities, while also revamping the controls with the (at the time) new motion-control technology. It was a great sequel, but it had a ‘feature’ that was more of a tease than an actual core part of the game.
A few of the activities in the game allowed you to take a small tour of the game’s fictional location Wuhu Island, the main one being the Island Flyover activity. This one in particular actually did let players explore the island from the air, albeit with an annoying five-minute time limit that could never be removed. I always thought it would be cool to be able to roam around the island at my leisure, a sentiment that I’ve seen many other Wii Sports Resort fans express. Well, someone at Bandai Namco thought so too, and they decided to make a whole game with that premise.
That’s where Go Vacation comes in. Developed by Bandai Namco (a company which the majority of you should know) and released back in late 2011, it arrived in the ‘twilight years’ of the system. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about their favorite Wii games, but I’ve never really seen this game brought up. That’s interesting, considering that VGChartz has its sales listed at a surprising 1.54 million. That’s not 100% accurate, but if the game really did break a million, it sure doesn’t have a very vocal fan community. Well, now it’s time to sing its praises.
‘Fifty activities, four resorts, one island.’ Go Vacation is filled to the brim with content.
So, how is Go Vacation the ‘unofficial sequel’ to Wii Sports Resort? Well, it takes the same concept of traveling to a fictional island resort filled with a variety of activities to try out, but it multiplies the whole idea by 1000. Instead of just visiting a tropical resort, you get to visit that as well as three others: a mountain, city and snow resort. They’re all located on the same island, house 50 different activities spread between them (which make use of every single Wii peripheral ever made), and you can travel to-and-from them with ease. Did I mention that this game is actually open-world? Oh yeah, that’s a pretty big deal.
There were not a lot of open-world titles on the Wii due to its hardware capabilities being so limited compared to that of the PS3 and 360, but Bandai Namco was somehow convinced to take this whole minigame collection idea and push it to the limit by spreading out all the different activities in a surprisingly detailed world. Each of the four resorts have different themes and include different activities to match these themes: the Marine Resort has a tropical theme (a-la Wii Sports Resort), the Mountain Resort has a western theme, the Snow Resort has a wintery theme, and the City Resort has a metro theme. So, for instance, one of the activities in the Marine Resort is deep sea diving, while one of the activities in the Snow Resort is dog sledding. With over 50 minigames/activities to play on top of them all being hosted in an open-world, Go Vacation absolutely decimated Wii Sports Resort in quantity. But, what about quality?
As I mentioned in my last article, a lot of third-party companies tried to follow Nintendo with creating casual titles. However, the vast majority of these games were dumpster fires. It really seems like they were all created by D-teams over the course of a few weekends with a budget of $3. Go Vacation, on the other hand, is arguably just as polished if not more so than Nintendo’s own offerings. Now, I have to admit that the 50 activities are a bit of a mixed bag. There are a few duds, which makes you wonder if Nintendo probably only chose 12 activities for Wii Sports Resort in order to keep things focused. But, there’s still that open-world in Go Vacation. Bandai Namco didn’t just create it for the sake of doing so, the devs actually took time out to properly model and detail the world to make it feel alive. Kawawii Island (yes, that’s a pun name), the fictional location of the game, actually does feel like a real place, and I sure would love to visit if I get access to the four different resorts. On top of the minigames, there are even a few light RPG elements in the form of hidden collectibles and fetch quests. You can customize your character to quite an extent and even design a vacation villa in the style of Animal Crossing. That’s really thinking outside of the box for what is essentially ‘just another minigame collection.’
There’s almost too much to do in this game. But half the fun is finding your favorite activities in each of the resorts.
To top it off, the presentation of the game shows it was released late in the Wii’s lifecycle. I remember when I saw the first trailer from E3 2011; I was absolutely shocked when it was revealed to be a Wii game. The semi-realistic/stylized visual flair, texture quality, and lighting/particle effects were quite impressive considering the Wii’s limitations. There’s even a four-player split-screen mode; sure the framerate is laughably bad in this mode, but it shows just how determined the devs were to push the Wii to its limits.
But, still, the question is: why? Why all this effort? Even the soundtrack is amazing. Why did the dev team work so hard?! In all honesty, I’m not sure. Maybe Bandai Namco was just determined to show that someone other than Nintendo could make a decent minigame collection. Or maybe they just wanted to really fill in the void of open-world games on the system. Whatever the case may be, the development team went above-and-beyond, and I absolutely applaud them for it. They really didn’t have too: the Wii was on its way out, casual gamers were moving away from the system, and yet they still released this. It even had a marketing campaign—I actually saw an ad on TV for this!
My brother and I put dozens upon dozens of hours into this game. Ironically, we picked it up while on vacation with the rest of our family in Florida, and that’s exactly what’s happening again right now as I type this. It’s been six years since then—where does the time go? In any case, I thought now would be a good time to finally share my thoughts on the game in a formal manner. A lot of folks are on vacation right now, and depending on where in the world you are, you just might be stuck in the house because it’s snowing outside. This is definitely a title worth checking out that is more than ready to suck an unhealthy amount of hours out of you because it’s just so ludicrously fun. Thanks, Bandai Namco. You guys really didn’t have to do this. This game probably shouldn’t even exist. But it does, and I’m really happy that it does.