On the surface, Wii Degree looks like a total cash-in for brain training and multiplayer minigames. It's an understandable blend though, as they're two of Nintendo's most profitable concepts these days - why not mix them into one title and sell a frillion copies of it? Even though the premise is an obvious grab for lots more casual-player cash, the game remains a fun, frantic and family-friendly piece of software.
Challenges come in five flavors, each with three minigames apiece to test your knowledge and reaction time with identification, memorization, computation, visualization and analysis puzzles. You can try the minigames solo, increasing your overall grade and brain size (the heavier the better) or grab some friends and hit up the multiplayer. Improving your performance and letter grade is fun enough for a while, especially just to see what title the blobby Dr. Lobe hands out (we seem to have the brain patterns of marketing gurus, meteorologists, speculators, operators and fortune tellers), but the three multiplayer modes are where the action will inevitably stem from (be it a race to see who can complete a batch of minigames first or a board-game-style round-robin match).
When you're matching pictures, adding up blocks to reach a specific sum, identifying animals or analyzing 3D objects by yourself, it's mildly amusing. But throw in another player or two and the academic minigames become much faster and intense, thanks to the reactions of everyone else around you. Wii Degree supports any Mii you have on the system, so players tend to get more wound up when it's their own personal avatar getting trounced instead of some faceless game character.
Further egging you on is the "Remote Coach Approach," a gimmick that has the game talking to you through the Wii Remote. It'll chirp things like "Goob job" or "Analyze is next!" or, on the other end, "You were left in the dust!" The feature tends to make the Wii seem like an overpriced Speak 'n' Spell ("You're doing great!"), but there's no doubt that it makes the game seem more personable and charming - just what Nintendo needs to maintain its unquestioned stranglehold.
The presentation and minigames may hit the right notes for the most part, but there are a few negative aspects that tend to drag it all down. One, there aren't very many activities total. After one weekend with Wii Degree, you could easily have every test memorized, able to stomp any newcomer with zero difficulty (plus you'll be playing the same damn games over and over). They do come in various difficulties and have random elements to a certain extent, but if you've matched one ugly kid's face to the next kid's ugly face a hundred times, you've done it enough. No need to keep trying.
The chunky on-screen buttons make navigation super easy, but in the fast-paced world of minigames, quick movement is necessary. We had our fair share of wrong answers and incorrect selections based on the remote not keeping up with our reactionary moves. No, we don't think apples lay eggs, but that bird sure does... too bad our target icon decided differently.
The DS game, released about this same time last year, allowed eight players to hop in and give the brainy minigames a go. With Wii Degree, you're forced to cram into two teams of four, passing the remote around when the game calls for it. On one hand that's a nice team-building effort, but on the other we can easily imagine playing this online with eight people all going at once. To somewhat combat this, it's possible to Wii-message your student record to other pals who own the game and compete against their ghost data. At least that's some kind of internet play, right?
It's not the most hectic collection of minigames around and it certainly won't make you feel any smarter, but Degree's speedy pace and "I've almost got it!" nature are exciting enough for any Wii owner. The extensive Mii and Wii Friend Code support make it a bit more community-driven than past offerings as well, so that's a welcome bonus too. It's fun and easy to jump into, with a learning curve that's easily overcome in a half hour. Casual gamers who dug Wii Sports and Brain Age will love it - everyone else might wonder what all the commotion is about and go back to waiting for Super Smash Bros. Brawl.