Wii ports: CSI and Agatha Christie
Lately I've become a couch potato, although not for the reasons you may think. If I told you I've spent my leisure time the last few weeks in front of the TV, sprawled out on the sofa with remote in hand, you'd probably guess that I've been channel surfing the latest shows, but nope. I've been playing adventure games on the Wii.
When the Nintendo Wii was first revealed to be remote-driven with a heavy emphasis on motion-sensing technology, the possibilities for a resurgence of adventures on home consoles seemed promising. After all, not only is the Wii controller ideal for simple point-and-click mechanics in a way that gamepads are not, but the notion of introducing a new level, new form of physical interaction to a largely passive experience seemed like just the kind of innovation that the genre sorely needs to be relevant beyond the diehard adventure community.
It took a while for the first adventures to appear, but finally the early results have started to trickle in. After the intial emergence of Capcom's all-original contributions, Zack & Wiki and Harvey Birdman, now the first ports of existing games have arrived in the form of Ubisoft's CSI: Hard Evidence and The Adventure Company's Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None. And while both prove generally competent conversions of their PC forebears, the two games also demonstrate both the limitations of playing it safe and the dangers of taking risks with an unfamiliar technology.
CSI: Hard Evidence
The fourth adventure starring the CSI crew from Las Vegas, Hard Evidence stays devotedly true to the formula laid down by its predecessors, somewhat to its detriment. The criticisms of the original PC release were based not so much on failings of the game itself as on the stubborn resistance against moving the series forward in any significant way. In that sense, a Wii port of the game could have been the perfect chance to finally freshen up a series quickly going stale. In saying "could have", of course, the logical (and correct) conclusion is that it doesn't.
Perhaps going the safer route is the best decision for this particular game on the Wii, mind you. After all, the CSI series is designed with casual gamers in mind, and Hard Evidence is the series debut on a unique system itself designed to appeal to casual gamers. It's only natural to think that the goal is simply reaching a whole new market of casual gamers from the millions of TV CSI fans, cautiously avoiding the pitfalls of excessive ambition and potentially intimidating motion controls. The voices of the disgruntled PC hardcore are muted here, and the game's unflinching similarity to previous titles irrelevant.
Indeed, if this is your first exposure to the CSI adventures, there is much to like about the game on a fairly superficial level, unencumbered as you'll be without prior expectations. Not only is it a faithful port of its point-and-click counterpart, but with few exceptions, a fairly flawless one. The character models look even blockier than I remember, the lower resolution results in some pixel hunts at times, the voiceovers will stutter occasionally, and the load times are longer than I'd have liked, but in all other respects, there is very little difference of note between original and port other than its platform. No content corners have been cut, the game is still fully voiced (mostly by the cast of the television show), and if not for holding a remote instead of a mouse, you'd barely notice a difference in controls.
Now, having said that – you knew there was a "but" coming, right? – there's no getting around the fact that this is about as uninspired a port as possible. Yes, it's exactly like the PC version in all material ways, but that's not an inherently good thing. I mean, a Wii game with no motion controls at all? What the heck! If nothing else, the central activity of using the many forensic tools is ideally suited to a basic level of hands-on interaction, but Hard Evidence doesn't even go there. Need to dust a surface for fingerprints? Surely that's a tailor-made demand for some remote-sweeping motions to simulate the dusting action. But no. Here you'll hold down a button and watch the duster automate itself. That's just one example, but the bigger point is that there are no examples to counter it, forsaking even the most obvious opportunities to capitalize on the Wii's most distinctive feature.
The end result, then, is a routine point-and-click adventure on Wii – nothing more and nothing less. If you've already played the PC version, there is absolutely no reason to revisit the game. Even the "extras" provided for completing the five cases and meeting the highest performance goals are identical, and they were pretty lame to begin with. Replayability and thoroughness bonuses are common features of video games but never a strength of adventures, so this game faced an uphill battle in that regard. Hard Evidence does make an effort, but it'll take more than a few concept sketches and game trailers to entice anyone to spend any longer than the 8-10 hours it'll take to whip through the first time.
Still, the game largely succeeds at what it tries to do, so if you're up for a lightweight mystery adventure and have a Wii in your household, Hard Evidence may just be the excuse you're looking for to kick the kids off the TV and grab some gaming time yourself. The only question, then, is whether the game itself is good enough to warrant your attention, and for that you can decide for yourselves from our original review.
Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None
Much like the CSI series, the Agatha Christie mystery adaptations are intended as much for non-gamers as the hardcore adventure fan. And for good reason: sales of the Queen of Crime's many novels number in the billions worldwide, which is a little bigger than the adventure community the last time I checked. So the decision by JoWood/The Adventure Company to port one of its Christie titles to the Wii makes sense on the surface. What makes less sense is choosing to begin with what is arguably the weakest of the three games to date, And Then There Were None. And to add insult to murder, the notable failings of the original remain intact in the conversion, while adding some new problems of its own.
In terms of content, And Then There Were None is a carbon copy of its PC predecessor. There was no visible skimping that I could discern, leaving all cutscenes, voiceovers, and gameplay unchanged, right down to the multiple endings. Strictly on the basis of porting from one platform to another, then, very little has been lost in translation apart from the inferior graphics on a bigger screen. The point-and-click controls also function simply and intuitively, effectively switching the mouse for remote with the game none the worse for wear.
Where the game does noticeably stumble, however, is its attempt to integrate some motion controls throughout. For the most part, these are limited to infrequent activities, from turning wheels to scooping powders to pumping levers. Which is good, because the motion response is atrocious, and certainly not helped by the fact that the game leaves you to stumble your way through them with no direction. Early in the game, an info screen appears that tells you certain controls will be required but not explained. Umm… well, gee, thanks for the warning. Admittedly, seeing a big splash screen with new control instructions would be a bit of an immersion killer, but no more so than seeing your cursor suddenly disappear and having to fend for yourself. This would have been forgivable, maybe even commendable, had the controls behaved naturally, but the opposite is true. Repeatedly I simulated reasonable-seeming motions for the task at hand, but only once in a while did any on-screen action result, and even then completely out of sync with my motions. Rarely did I ever distinguish a proper cause-and-effect sequence, with random gesticulations eventually winning the day.
Much worse than these sporadic activities is the one that runs all throughout the game, which is the act of opening doors. All door handles need to be turned by twisting the remote right or left, and here again the response is just plain inadequate. Never mind that there's no point in it, as you aren't shown a close-up of the handle, and see no in-game response to your actions besides the standard scene shift to the next room, making it nothing more than tedious busywork. No, the real issue is that sometimes it'll work, sometimes it won't. Wait, make that "too often" it won't. Better yet, "FAR too often" it won't. Contributing greatly to the problem is that And Then There Were None has more repetitive door-opening than any other game I can think of (unless maybe the other two Agatha Christie games). If you think this is a minor quibble blown out of proportion, think again. Taking place in a mansion as it does, the game forces you to constantly check and re-check the same rooms over and over, and by the third or fourth murder, you might be having homicidal thoughts yourself the next time the uncomfortable remote twist doesn't open a door for you. I can live with the Wii's motion controls being used as nothing more than a gimmick, but if you're going to introduce them, at least do them properly. Otherwise, see Hard Evidence for a port that doesn't trip over its own remote.
The other disappointment is that none of the game's existing weaknesses have been improved. It's a port, I know, not a remake, but the effort put into bungling the motion controls would have been far better spent enhancing the core game at least in small but useful ways. How about a zip-to map to cut down on the dreary trudging all over the island looking for arbitrary triggers, or some actual feedback to the many-part inventory combinations instead of blindly guessing your way through the forty-plus objects in your possession? If not that, maybe the ball pattern on the snooker table could change occasionally to reflect the apparently ongoing number of games being played on it. Still no? Well, at least outright errors should have been fixed, like certain hotspots being completely non-existent unless you have the correct inventory item in hand. I have played this game already, and I STILL needed to resort to a walkthrough because it didn't occur to me (again!) to try items on unhighlighted background scenery. I was… not amused. Apart from the latter issue, no single element is a big omission, but why even basic improvements to an already-underwhelming game weren't implemented ranks right up there with "whodunit" as one of the game's bigger mysteries. Keep what works, improve what doesn't. Seems a simple enough formula, but not one this game follows.
Between the identical content and missteps in the Wii-specific actions, there is no reason for anyone who's played the original to look twice at this Wii iteration. If you haven't played either version, the bigger question once again is whether or not the game itself might appeal to you, and for that I refer you to our review of the game. Unlike with CSI: Hard Evidence, however, where the choice of versions is mostly a matter of preference or utility, here I wholeheartedly recommend the older PC version for anyone considering one or the other. Unless you're really intent on squeezing some point-and-click adventuring goodness out of your console, there's simply no benefit to spending more for a lesser experience.
At the end of the day, in CSI: Hard Evidence and Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None, the first PC-to-Wii conversions clearly leave something to be desired, if not for exactly the same reasons. Perhaps it's not surprising that the port pioneers reflect their inexperience, but it's here that other developers and publishers need to learn from the mistakes of those who went before them. This industry is notoriously bandwagon-driven, and it would be a shame to see other companies jump off immediately if these two falter, or alternatively, jump on blindly by simply cloning the early models for a (relatively) cheap market grab.
Love it, hate it, or straddle the middle ground of ambivalence about it, the Wii is a unique system, and any future ports should start with that perspective and build from there. Yes, it can do point-and-click, but if that's all it's doing, it's not doing much. Hard Evidence may be the better game for its caution, but kudos to And Then There Were None for at least trying to offer more. It's unfortunate that the attempt was so poorly implemented, compounded by the failure to ensure the core game itself was up to the challenge. The right mix is still out there, though, and here's hoping that the question isn't if we'll see it in a future effort, but when.