When it comes to WiiWare, I rarely ever pick up a title from its weekly catalog. Aside from the Tales of Monkey Island series, the last title I picked up was Mega Man 9. Retail games for real gamers such as myself (I kid, of course). So it is still kind of a mystery what exactly made me interested in Snowpack Park, a recently released WiiWare title published by Nintendo. The title had no prior announcement, trailer, media or… really, anything. All of a sudden Nintendo put it out there and wala! And while it definitely isn’t AAA material, Snowpack Park packs quite a surprise.
Snowpack Park’s story only serves to set up the gameplay. Oh no, a snow storm! The local penguins have fled the park! Re-gather them! Players must travel to different locations to collect runaway penguins. Once the player arrives, they have a set time limit to gather as many penguins as possible before they must return to the park. Sounds simple, but Snowpack Park gives you a lot of freedom in terms of how to collect penguins. Each penguin has their own mood: Skittish where it will run from you, Cranky where it will continually slap you, Hesitant where it will often ignore you, Cheerful where it will take notice of the player, or Loyal where it will follow your every step. You can raise, or lower, the mood of the penguins quite easily. But being on a timer, players have to make use of the best strategies to collect as many penguins as possible. You can feed them so many fish they love you and follow you right into your trap, or you can chase the terrified penguins into your trap, essentially herding them. The flexibility in your strategy allows players to experiment as they tackle each penguin individually, or an entire group of penguins with a similar mood.
Once you have gathered your penguins they will return to the park, at which point you have to keep them happy to continually stay in the park. If they are too upset, they will leave requiring you to chase after them again. Using the gathered penguins, players will have to solve simple puzzles to advance in the park. These puzzles are limited and often have the solutions shoved right in the player’s face, but the puzzles add extra incentives to gather penguins as often they will require a minimum amount of penguins. When you’re not chasing down penguins or solving puzzles, there are plenty of mini-games spread about. Players will have to balance penguins on glaciers, play a whack-a-mole style game, penguin basketball, and a variety of other mini-games. Some of the mini-games are a bit shallow, but others have enough depth and multiple difficulty levels to keep you returning till you successfully complete them. Taking care of your penguins and playing mini-games with them will score you ‘Friendship Points.’ These points are mainly used for traveling outside of the park. If you don’t have enough friendship points for travel, you’ll have to please your penguins before you can continue your penguin gathering adventure.
One element that really bogs down Snowpack Park is the player’s lack of control over the penguins. This is no Pikmin. The penguins will only follow you if they are basically in love with you. And when your penguin population starts hitting double digits, they can become unwieldy. Essentially, the penguins will only follow you in a line. After a certain point, the penguins get confused and stop following you, sometimes causing you to lose track of them across the park. And when your train of penguins stretches half-way across the overworld, it can be a pain having to walk all the way back to make sure you have gathered them all. This can make even some of the simplest of puzzles become frustrating as you struggle to move your penguins into position.
Snowpack Park is far from longest game you will ever tackle, but gives you a fair amount of gameplay for the 800 point price tag. Collecting the penguins doesn’t take much longer than four hours if you go at a generous pace. But mini-games help extend of the life-span of the title, often offering high scores and and multiple difficulty levels. Snowpack Park even allows players to customize their penguins by collecting head-wear. You’ll find everything from cardboard boxes to UFOs to equip your penguin’s noggin with. Players can further detail and customize their penguins with the ability to weigh, measure, and name each and every penguin.
Honestly, I would usually say “it’s a WiiWare title,” in terms of graphics. But with titles like Jett Rocket on WiiWare, it’s hard to ignore how visually stale Snowpack Park can be. It doesn’t look god awful, but it just isn’t anything special. The game can be played with the player’s Miis, and the world is pretty much designed around that. There isn’t much in terms of art direction either, looking pretty bland aside from the exception of a single non playable character who you converse with. One impressive feat is how far the camera can zoom out. The draw distance is basically the entire park allowing you to easily pinpoint locations and objects across the map, which can be handy for trying to find lost penguins.
Most of the soundtrack in Snowpack Park are fairly relaxing and fit their snow theme, often blending right in with the environment. Although after hanging out with your penguins for multiple hours their cawing, or whatever penguins do, can get a bit annoying.
This may seem out of the blue, like the release of Snowpack Park, but Chibi-Robo fans should definitely checkout Snowpack Park. The developer behind Snowpack Park is Skip, who was behind the Chibi-Robo series. Snowpack Park feels very similar to Chibi-Robo, even using some of the same sound effects from Chibi-Robo. Although, it lacks much of the weird charm and diverse characters the Chibi-Robo series offers.
Outside of Chibi–Robo fans, Snowpack Park is interesting but definitely not a must-have. Kidnapping and taking care of penguins may not be in everyone’s fun book, but it is an interesting title with a good variety of mini-games and puzzles to keep the game fun. If chasing down penguins sounds like a chore to you, then chances are you won’t make it to most of the mini-games to enjoy them. If you do decide to dive in to the cold waters of Snowpack Park, be aware that there are some control issues that may hamper your enjoyment of the game.
- A good bit of depth to a simple concept
- A large amount of variety through mini-games, simple tasks, and puzzles
- Quite a bit of content considering the 800 point price tag
- Penguins are difficult to control, making some simple tasks tedious and difficult
- A rather stale visual style that could have been much more interesting
- CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW (Replace CAWs with penguins sounds)