The Wii finally has its first free-roaming, Grand Theft Auto-style car-crime game, and it's... The Godfather. Again. It's been a full year since the multiplatform mob drama first arrived in game form, and the appearance of The Godfather: Blackhand Edition on Wii means it's officially hit every single platform except the DS and mobile phones (although we're willing to bet The Godfather: Touch Madness and The Godfather: Horrible Mobile Edition are already in the works, somehow).
Still, given that it's been a year, publisher EA knows full well it can't get away with just putting out the exact same game with updated graphics. In fact, Blackhand Edition updates nearly everything except the graphics, aggressively retooling the overall experience and adding a bunch of new content while mostly leaving the visuals alone.
The story and basic gameplay remain the same, though - you're still a young hood from Brooklyn, recruited into the Corleone crime family and set on a path that parallels the events of the film. You'll still run and drive around 1940s New York, battling rival mobsters, taking over businesses (most of which are fronts for illegal rackets, which you'll also have to muscle in on) and carrying out every key offscreen event from the movie. Like, say, sneaking a severed horse's head between a Hollywood producer's sheets, or taking down all of the Corleone family's biggest rivals in one climactic murder montage.
It's a strange way to adapt a film, and die-hard fans might not approve of characters like Sonny and Michael being relegated to supporting roles. But the production's backed up by a compelling script and top-notch voice cast, so it works surprisingly well.
As for what's new, The Don's Edition takes all the stuff that was added to the Xbox 360 version - bodyguards you can hire, business owners who ask for violent favors, drug labs to blow up, new cars, etc. - and then throws a bunch more on top of that. There are a handful of new story missions, as well as a new side story that sees you battling Chicago's infamous Purple Gang and pulling off some of the game's most interesting hits in the process.
Obviously, though, the big selling point here is the controls. Blackhand Edition has all kinds of cool uses for the Wii remote/Nunchuk configuration, from racking the Nunchuk to reload to twisting the remote to open doors. Landing punches is as simple as swinging your hands around, and certain other motions - like strangulation - feel uncannily like the real thing.
There are, however, three problems with this. One, the game tends to translate your motions into actions right as you finish them, rather than as you're in mid-swing, so fistfights feel weirdly laggy. Two, you'll need to be really careful during fights- an unintended flick of the wrist during a shakedown could mean the difference between a shopkeeper who's paying you protection, and a shopkeeper you've just punched to death. And three, there's a pretty wide repertoire of moves, so it takes a while to learn them all. They're a lot of fun once you've gotten the hang of them, but it'll take some time to figure out how to do everything on the fly.
Blackhand Edition also features a bunch of new indoor environments to skulk around in, which is always a plus. Not only are there now more diverse floor plans for the dozens of businesses and rackets you'll need to raid, but the four Family Compounds - the heavily defended fortresses you'll need to bomb in order to wipe each rival mob off the map - have all been redesigned with unique layouts to keep you on your toes. They're also now filled with breakable stuff, ranging from throwable bottles to electrical transformers that can fry anyone you throw into them.
A lot of subtler gameplay elements have been redesigned as well. The RPG-style system for leveling up your custom goon now offers more tangible benefits, with the skill upgrades now divided into "Enforcer" and "Operator" subsets. Operator skills will boost your powers of persuasion and enable you to do underhanded stuff like planting car bombs, while the Enforcer path is more direct - stronger attacks, better aim, etc. Spend enough points on one path or the other, and you'll earn the right to do completely new things, like pistol-whipping people to make a point.
The Godfather: Blackhand Edition might look like yet another cynical, last-gen retread ported over to the Wii, but don't be fooled. A lot of work went into adapting the game to the console, with the designers going so far as to re-animate the main character to better reflect the motions the testers were using to control him. And while the formula's got its flaws, it turns out motion controls complement The Godfather 's free-wheeling violence and intimidation almost perfectly, making the game world more immersive than before. If you're looking for something in the Wii's sparse library that really puts its controls to good use, this is worth checking out.