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If you are the parent of a tween, chances are you will have heard of Club Penguin, which is Disney's online child's community. For a monthly fee children can interact safely, play games, look after pet puffles and complete missions in penguin guise. This game sees the action go to the Wii and can be played as a stand alone game but also gives kids the opportunity to earn coins and stamps which can be linked to their online account. It's not the best Kids' Wii game ever, but if you do have a club penguin fan in the house (and given the amount of puffles and other assorted merchandise in the school playground at the moment I'm guessing there are a fair few about), it's a good game to own, especially as you can pick it up for £15 or less.
The game sees players in familiar Club Penguin territory as they waddle around Penguin island in Story mode to conquer various zones and unlock more mini-games than the 4 you get at the start. The usual map and landmarks are there and the wii-mote is used like a mouse to direct your penguin so that you can talk to very American looking referees and enter competitions. If your child is not familiar with the online game it doesn't really matter, it's fairly straightforward though I can't help wonder if the developers wouldn't have been better off making the 12 mini-games accessible from the start, it's not terribly easy to use the controls to move the penguins about and although you only have to place third in the competitions to get a chance to unlock more games, it's all a bit unnecessarily complicated. Though the game says from age 3, in all honesty you need to be at least 6 or 7 in my opinion to manage to navigate the game confidently, and probably able to read. I've found that I have to help my two kids age 5 and 7 a fair bit in order for them to progress, which does mean I've played the game rather more extensively than I would like. Some of the mini-games are very forgiving but others are really quite hard, even for an adult.
A few of the mini-games will be familiar from club penguin, such as the sledge racing and feeding puffles, but there is plenty of new material too. The graphics are very faithful to the original - this is the wii so they aren't amazing, but load times are satisfactory and, in the main, the controls are quite simple, though the use of the arrow keys with the wii controls in horizontal and then vertical is a bit random to my mind and several of the games were pretty unfathomable at first, even to me. I'm still not sure I've fully grasped the logic behind the "Goal" game in all honesty in which victory seems to elude me, the virtual contestants are pretty feisty really and certainly don't let you win too easily. There's something rather humiliating by being soundly beaten by a little red penguin on "easy" setting. You can play the game in three levels of difficulty and also give yourself an "advantage" if victory is eluding you, which is a nice touch for a child's game. Anyone who has played a console game with a five year old will know that losing every game is not really something they really take well - it's good that you can make the game harder for older players, which increases the game's range in my opinion. The game is at its best when you play multiplayer, though you will need to take it in turns to try and conquer the various zones, only playing together in free play or tournament mode.
The most fun is to be had from the Penguin dance game where you have to wave the controller around like the penguin on screen. Rolling a snowball around to try and make the largest one is amusing, as is penguin sack racing, and bean balancing. I am secretly proud of my hi-score in the puffle paddle challenge - a basic game where you have to use a bat to keep your puffle up in the air that reminds me of the retro game Pong. There's not much variety to the mini-games in all honesty, but if you are a child there is, I'm told a great deal of satisfaction to be garnered from being able to use the coins you earn in the game to buy items of clothing and other things that you can't buy elsewhere and which will link to your online account. Coins can also be uploaded to your online Penguin world - we had a few issues configuring the wii to do this but now are able to transfer coins and stamps earned successfully.
This is a kids' game, and it's Club Penguin, so it's no huge surprise that the music is annoying and of the horribly memorable variety, but what doesn't appeal to adults particularly seems to a non-issue to children, if my little penguins are anything to go by. This game was a bit of a slow burner at the start due to the fact that games have to be unlocked before they can be replayed in quick play or tournament mode but now that they have made some progress in it (albeit with my help) it's a firm favourite - maybe not with the longevity and playability of Mario Kart, but definitely one that they enjoy playing. Club Penguin as a brand is such a winner with kids that this game can't fail really, although I am sure that it will have limited shelf life as they grow out of club penguin, it's had several months play and is often got out when friends visit so I can't complain really. Overall this is a good game that stays true to the original and is sure to be loved by any Club Penguin fans and I'm glad we bought it.
Currently available for £13.99 from Amazon
List of the 12 mini games with my brief descriptions as not on the box, in the instructions or on the product description (there are also mini mini games at the end of each zone conquest) :
Java Jump - race around a track as a penguin in a sack
Bean Balance - carry piles of sacks without dropping them
Fast Freeze - like "what's the time mr wolf" only with penguins
Snowball Battle - throw balls at other penguins
Sled And Slide - like the sled game in the original
Dance Off! - dance by waving the remote around
Puffle Paddle - puffle pong
Feed A Puffle! - basic shooting game, feed the puffles
Rollin' Riot - make a big snowball
Goal! - icehockey game, I can tell you no more as I can't do it
Jackhammer! - get your penguin to drill around a line
Sumo Smash! - penguins dressed up in tyres on a floating iceburg have to bash into each other