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The I Spy series of children's books successfully made the transition to video games a long time ago, spawning a series of warmly received titles on the PC. However the formula, which revolves around the reader solving riddles and finding hidden objects, has never really broken into the world of console gaming. The most recently attempt saw the 2007 release of I Spy: Fun House for the Nintendo DS, which would wind up being a rather short and unremarkable game. Yet that failure hasn't kept publisher Scholastic from testing the home console market again, this time with Ultimate I Spy on the Nintendo Wii. Have they learned from their past mistakes?
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At first glance, the game definitely stays true to its roots. Like previous PC titles in the series, Ultimate I Spy is a game built around the concept of finding hidden words or objects within a larger picture. Players choose a level (some of which include a clock tower, a science lab, outer space, and an aquarium) and are then presented with a riddle that describes which objects need to be located. Successfully completing a riddle in one level will unlock additional challenges in that location, and eventually more areas in which gamers can ply their object-finding talents. It may sound easy, but it can get frustratingly tricky at times, especially for younger gamers. Some of the objects will be easy to find, but others are well hidden and still others can be deceptively hiding in plain sight. Repeat these tasks enough times, however, and victory will ultimately be yours.
This time around, however, I Spy brings some new tricks to the table. On the Wii, the game isn't just about finding objects. At times, the found objects will require players to interact with them via a wide variety of different minigames that seem like they're fresh out of WarioWare: Smooth Moves. This is the real hook of the game, as it adds tremendous depth to the package and raises it above its Windows counterparts. Among the minigames featured are juggling, flying paper airplanes, racing origami boats, manipulating a microscope, popping balloons, playing the maracas and even trying to keep a fly from becoming a victim of a Venus Fly Trap. In addition, there are occasional scavenger hunts, and multiplayer versions of several different minigames can be unlocked as well. For a game that many would, upon first sight, write off simply as a shovelware title, Ultimate I Spy has surprising depth -- not to mention a few fun secrets that can be discovered in some of the different levels.
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Ultimate I Spy also stands out from many other Wii kids games because it features excellent controls. The game utilizes a combination of the Wii remote and the Nunchuck controller attachment. The standard searching levels, players move the Wiimote around to point at the various objects, much like how the mouse is used in the PC editions of the series. The 1-button opens up the pause menu and allows players to access game instructions, while the 2-button is used to go back or exit. The B-button, when pressed, brings up the riddle for review. Also, the control stick on the Nunchuck can be used to zoom in and out as well as to move around and explore different areas of a level.
Motion controls come into play during the minigames, as well as in many other ways. Some examples include turning a crank at the very beginning of the game, picking up pieces needed to solve a jigsaw puzzle, or manipulating clock hands to change day into night in one level. Whether it is racing fish, playing paddleball, tilting it to move a ball through a maze, or using the remote like a pencil for an interstellar game of connect-the-dots, there were never any issues with the motion recognition, unlike many other third-party Wii games on the market these days. It really was quite surprising to see how smoothly the Wiimote controls worked, and the developers really deserve kudos for the time and effort they obviously spend polishing this aspect of the game.
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Graphics and Sound
Games like Ultimate I Spy really don't have to have uber-flashy graphics, as long as they are crisp, clean, pleasant to look at, and clear enough for gamers to be able to find all of the hidden objects. Fortunately, this game gets the job done, and while it certainly won't wow anyone with cutting-edge visuals, it also doesn't unnecessarily hinder the gameplay. Likewise, the music and sound effects take the minimalist approach. The game has dozens of different sound bites that play after an object is found or during a minigame, and there are some solid, mostly classical-style tunes that play during the levels, but nothing here stands out as special. So in these two departments, Ultimate I Spy is awarded merely an average grade for its solid but unspectacular performance.
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While this title certainly is much deeper and longer than the average I Spy game, I am still left with doubts that it is truly worth its $29.99 suggested retail price tag. Granted, there are more than three dozen riddles to solve, plus all of the thoroughly enjoyable side games and other content, but in the end it still feels like the majority of gamers will get all the playtime they need with it in just a day or two. Plus this family-friendly title might actually be too difficult for some youngsters in certain parts, so that definitely warrants consideration. This is an entertaining product and I applaud the developers both for taking chances with the established formula of the series and for nailing the motion controls. Nonetheless, odds are that Ultimate I Spy for the Nintendo Wii is one game that most folks probably would be better off renting than buying outright.