School Recess Shows Up on Wii

Instead of bonding over classic board games, more and more families are firing up the Wii. Game developers have been scrambling to meet this new demand for party games. Electronic Arts turned to the schoolyard as inspiration for its new EA Playground, a game that brings seven recess-type games to your Wii.

Kids play by entering a school yard and selecting a cute-looking cartoon kid to represent them. The activities range from traditional games like dodgeball, wall ball and tetherball, to more innovative games like "Kicks," which combines volleyball and soccer. To round out the mix, kids will also fly paper airplanes through an obstacle course, race slot cars and shoot suction darts in a paintball-type target-shooting game.

What makes this compilation better than some of the other Wii party games is that up to four players can play together in a tournament format. Kids can select the number of rounds (up to 20), and then pick the order of the games, and the software keeps score.

Using the Wii remote to play dodgeball works because all you have to do is move close to a ball to pick it up, and then make a throwing motion to hit an opponent with that ball. Dodging is as simple as flicking the remote right and left.

Likewise, slot car racing is intuitive, because you drive by pushing the A button and twisting the Wii remote to turn. This is an easy race game around a track during which you pick up power-ups and boosts. You can zap others, drop tacks to slow down your opponents, and even toss a firecracker at others to slow them down.

Our kids-testers loved the innovative Kicks game. It's a four-person competition played on a volleyball court but with a tennis-height net. You kick the ball as in soccer but set up the ball to your partner as in volleyball. However, when you spike it over the net, your goal is not to smash it to the ground; rather, it is to kick it into a goal.

If a group of friends wishes to simply jump into the games and they don't want to play a whole tournament, there's a Free Play mode.

Younger children will particularly like the single-player mode because, in addition to playing the seven games, you also get to explore an expanding playground to collect marbles and stickers, take on dares and play fun minigames. Plus, the game eases you into the challenges by having you compete with kids who aren't quite so good before you can take on the expert kids.

This compilation of party games will appeal most to active kids who love the competition of games played in a playground setting. And it is the most fun when explored with up to three friends. Because of the variety of games it offers, EA Playground is one of those rare games that kids of different ages can enjoy together.

RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)
Best for ages 5-up
From Electronic Arts, $40, Nintendo Wii.

Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for the Gannett News Service and USA, and is also the editor of Computing With Kids Ezine.