The massive success of the Nintendo Wii's flagship sports titles, Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, has set a lofty standard for others to follow. Water Sports is a decent game, but associating itself with these two modern classics - by its similar name and branding - draws attention to its limitations as a fun and attractive but essentially depthless sporting sim.
Water Sports offers four sports: wakeboarding, windsurfing, kite-surfing and jetski racing. Wii Sports had five, but they were nicely varied - and the quality of gameplay was such that it could have offered just the bowling and people would have snapped it up. Compared with Wii Sports Resort's 12 events, offering four sports looks a bit shallow, especially when they aren't terribly different from one another.
The four events are all based around the same essential controls: direction is controlled using a horizontal Wiimote (or the Balance Board) and tricks are performed using the directional arrows. There are some minor variations, such as 'pumping' on the windsurfing and accelerating on the jetski, but it's largely the same.
They're all pretty fun, however. We like the jetski section best, even though it's never a good sign when you find yourself holding down the accelerator all the way round. You can get up an astounding speed, and the jumps are nicely pitched: pretty hard to hit right, and satisfying when you do. You may be frustrated by opponents coming out of nowhere to pip you at the post, however - it's never clear how close they are.
Wakeboarding is one area where Water Sports goes into direct competition with Wii Sports Resort, whose version is admittedly frustrating at times but rewards repeated play. This version has a flatter learning curve. Instead of forcing you to time and land complex tricks yourself, the game does this for you, setting you back on your feet even when a 'face-plant' looks certain. Perhaps that's for the best, considering the number of wipe-outs we experienced bashing into the bizarre rails arranged at various points along the course for skateboarding-esque manoeuvres.
An excellent innovation is the wakeboarding multiplayer mode. Instead of just taking it in turns (like in Wii Sports Resort), one of you drives the boat and the other pulls the tricks. It's not perfectly executed - a split-screen option would give the driver more of a fighting chance to avoid the obstacles - but tremendously fun nonetheless. It makes you wonder why Sports Resort didn't think of something similar, when player two's Mii is even pictured driving the boat in that game.
The other area where this game has an advantage over Sports Resort is in its use of the Balance Board - an option that allows you to take the exercise aspect of Wii gaming to the next level. And we really mean that. We quickly chose to revert to Wiimote only, since two Water Sports events on the board was more tiring than five or six levels of skateboarding on Wii Fit Plus, a seemingly similar setup. You'll need - or rapidly acquire - iron thighs if you play this game regularly.
The graphics are decent, nicely evoking (along with the pleasant music) a tranquil holiday setting, and the water effects are, as you'd hope, visually stunning. But a problem that afflicts the game as a whole is a lack of progression. For each sport you're offered six locations around the world, but there's no indication of which is the easiest or the order in which they should be attempted; and there are no bonus reward features, with everything unlocked at the start. Regular gamers may find that having everything at once reduces their motivation to develop their skills.
The recommended retail price is £24.99, but you should be able to get it for around £17.99.