Twenty bucks doesn't buy much these days. Two tickets to a new movie. Maybe a dinner at TGI Friday's. But what about cheap games? Sure, you can go over to Web sites such as Cheapassgamer.com to find great deals on some stuff that came out earlier this year, but what about all the games that regularly go for $20?
That's how I wound up becoming a videogame bull. Huh? Out of the Chute, branded by Professional Bull Riders, is currently playing on my Wii. Why? Well, when I saw the $20 title on a store shelf, curiosity got the better of me. I mean, how do you make a game like this even remotely fun? Just flip the box over. It reads: "Climb on the back of....blah, blah, blah...yippe ki-yay"--wait a sec--"...Or become 2000 pounds of fury and try to buck off the best riders in the world..." I get to play as a surly side of beef? SOLD!
Madden. Tony Hawk. Shaun White. Whatever. You ever hear of Chicken on a Chain? (Hint: Not a sadistic KFC snack.) Me neither. Heck, my only exposure to this stuff was the Jeff Foxworthy litmus test to see if I am a redneck--and I am not. So after a quick Google search during a holiday season full of truly awesome games, I can report with confidence that nobody--and I mean no-body--is reviewing Out of the Chute. Until now.
PBR Out of the Chute (Wii): 40%
Eight seconds. That's how long it took me to realize that this game is a squandered opportunity. Out of the Chute had drinking/party game potential written all over it. Imagine playing as the bull, galloping around the living room with flailing arms, trying to throw invisible knuckleheads off your back while buddies try keeping rhythm with a Wiimote to hang on. Kodak moments aplenty.
Instead, you're limply tilting a remote to turn and occasionally mashing a button to pull power moves. Yawn--is this ride over yet? I'm sure for fans, being able to play as any of more than 24 different real live bulls and buckaroos in a career mode sounds sweet. But blazing through the ten-city tour in 8-second intervals (and then sitting through load screens that last twice as long) isn't my definition of "fun."
I'm not hating on this game because I don't have a finer appreciation of the sport. My disappointment stems from the fact that this game screams to be taken advantage of with the Wii's uniquely cool controllers. Instead, you get a sad-sack experience that looks and plays exactly like what it is: BS shovelware.
The Buck Stops Here
I'm not gonna look you in the eye (or stare really hard into the screen) and say that I thought this game would be any good. But it's cheap and it's on the Wii. Matt Peckham recently pondered how the Wii is becoming a dumping ground for deep discount games. But for every Animal Crossing: City Folk that eases across my screen, I'm seeing a lot of games that cater to very specific crowds: little kids, casual puzzle gamers, and...well...rednecks. Many journalists and most gamers sneer at the thought of playing these deer-huntin' games. But companies keep making 'em, which means that somebody must be bagging some bucks (antlered or not), right? I think the problem is that nobody is making a really good blue-collar game. Let's try looking at a couple more titles on store shelves.
Paintballers are given some degree of love with the release of Championship Paintball 2009. Unless they closely follow the exploits of Team Dynasty and outfits of that ilk, most first-person shooter fans are likely to get annoyed by the controls for this game--or to get bored. That said, the Wii version is the best of a tedious bunch.
Coming in the next couple of weeks are two games that I managed to pick up on my redneck radar. I'm sad to report that Deer Drive, which launches next week, is not about road-killing your way to a freezerful of venison. Nor does it put a 12-point buck behind the wheel of an armored off-road vehicle, though that would certainly make the hunt more of a two-way street, so to speak. (It's actually a kind of multiplayer, Duck Hunt-inspired, arcade skeet shoot with your Wiimote). And I seriously doubt that any of the events contested in Calvin Tucker's Redneck Jamboree--you read that right--will appear in the 2012 Olympic games. Y'know, classy stuff like lawnmower racing and the toilet seat throw.
There is some light at the end of the scope for the PC deer-bagging crowd. The Hunter employs a fairly impressive looking 3D engine. In fact, when I first saw a couple of screen shots (like the beauty included here), I did a double take. Was this a full-blown first-person shooter? Avalanche Studios, the guys behind the outdoor action game Just Cause, seems to have abandoned hardcore gamers for a more casual crowd that will stick around and admire the scenery. The game is still in a beta state, but trust me on this: Go to the site and sign up to see what happening here--a social-networking/hunting MMO. Not only is the site promising to roll out new scenarios over time, but the game will also have links to social networks like FaceBook. So make sure your avatar is wearing orange or something.
Someone needs to stand up for Joe the Gamer (when he's not a plumber). People may have lowered expectations for sub-$20 titles, but c'mon! I can't imagine that even varmint hunters (yes, Virginia, there was a Varmint Hunter game) would enjoy playing some of the garbage that passes as software.
If the indie gaming community can pull together hoards of awesome free games on the Web--and regularly sell cheap, fun stuff for less than $10 a pop on consoles (for some worthwhile examples, check out Nintendo's WiiWare Channel, Sony's PSN Store, and Xbox's Community Games)--why can't people who like lawnmower racing get high-quality titles as well? Do you think they just don't know any better?
The way I see it, someone needs to make the Madden of bull-riding games or the Tony Hawk of toilet seat tossing--or whatever. I can wait.
NOTE: Without getting too corny or maudlin, this column's dedicated to my pop--whose oddball sense of humor always reminded me that even in the tough times, you gotta laugh. Because the other options are too damn depressing. Especially now, you need to take a minute and have yourself a happy holiday.
Casual Friday columnist and PC World senior writer Darren Gladstone geeks out over gadgets, games, and odd uses for humdrum tech. In other words, he's a nerd--and he's okay with that. Need even more nerdity? Follow gizmogladstone on twitter for more time wasters.