Ever heard of the Family series? It’s a game series by Namco, which mainly consists of multiplayer sports games. Many of you may not even know about the series’ existence, but the games have been around since the Famicom era, believe it or not. It’s just that, while many of these games have been brought over in English, the localized titles have dropped any hint of belonging to a collective — like the Power Pad games for NES, which were part of the sub-series, Family Trainer.
(While we’re at it, Fishing Resort is also an entry in the series called –you guessed it — Family Fishing.)
Where does Go Vacation fit in the series? It doesn’t in name. That said, it’s made by the same team that developed We Ski (JPN: Family Ski) and Wii Ski and Snowboard (JPN: Family Ski World), so it certainly is the natural evolution of both those titles. You can read more about its development here.
As a game declaring itself a “Resort Tour simulation,” the premise is simple: You’ve arrived at Kawawii Island Resort. The island offers tons of activities to participate in across four Resorts — Marine, City, Snow and Mountain. Your agenda: Have fun.
But first, you need a profile and an avatar. There are 8 profile slots available, each of which record game progress separately. For the avatar, you have the choice between your Miis and preset models. There are 8 age/body types to choose from: Child, Youth, Adult and Senior, with two genders for each. It’s also possible to adjust the body’s height and girth to a degree. For each type, there are 32 preset (slightly) super-deformed models to choose from. If you choose Miis, you essentially put one of your Mii heads on the in-game body models. You can finish the profile setup by entering a name; the game unexpectedly offers options for Hiragana and Katakana also.
But what if you want to change the looks, name, etc. in the future? No worries: The nice thing about the profiles is that you can completely redo your character anytime without losing any progress.
I initially took this game for just one of many mini-game compilations on Wii (albeit with a lot more variety), so I was naturally confused for a moment when the game started with my avatar at a beach with a brief tutorial. It told me how to move around, how to ride a marine bike, and then to head to a marked area on the map at the right corner of the screen. All over the area were numerous random NPCs hanging about, and I was free to go anywhere, anytime, anyhow. That’s when I caught on: This was a sandbox game!
The “primary” mode of play in Go Vacation involves traveling around and exploring the four Resort areas and participating in various activities. Each Resort offers intricately designed open fields to explore. Since each area is very vast, there are a few methods of transport unique to specific Resorts, called “Gears”. Marine bikes and ATV in Marine Resort; inline skates and skateboard in City Resort; skis, snowboard, snow tube and snowmobile in Snow Resort; and horse and off-road car (plus kayak for specific areas) in Mountain Resort. You can also dismount and walk, but the walking speed is so slow that I usually just used the Gears to get around.
Alternatively, there are several “Points” on the map that you can instantly warp to if you’re in a hurry, and you can also choose which Gear you want to spawn with every time you warp.
(If any of you are wondering: Yes, you can run into NPCs with Gears. Your Gear stops on collision, and hilariously, their reaction range from “looking annoyed for a second” to “acting like a pedestrian bumped into them” and get back to doing whatever they’re doing. There’s no violence involved here; it’s an E-rated game, after all.)
I should also mention the general Gear controls, since they’re a bit peculiar. Aside from walking, you don’t use the Analog for movement; depending on whether the Gear is motorized or self-driven, acceleration is done by either holding B or giving the Wiimote a shake, respectively. To turn, you tilt both the Wiimote and Nunchuck in that direction. Jumping is done by holding B and flicking the Wiimote upwards.
I thought the Wiimote shakes would feel like a chore when I first read the controls, but a few hours into the game, I got used to them. It also helps that they make logical sense: Pressing and holding B corresponds to stepping on the throttle, and each shake corresponds to each small action (a ground kick while on skateboard, a tap on the horse’s sides, etc.). Turning is also smooth, if a bit fine and sensitive.
Certain Gears allow you to pull off tricks while you’re airborne from jumping or riding off a ramp/ledge. There are several tricks available, differing only a bit with each gear; pulling off as many varieties as you can in one jump gives you high combo scores. Every single trick you can do with a Gear can be looked up at the Information Center of each Resort. While tricks don’t serve any practical purpose beyond playing around when you’re wandering around on the map, there are a good number of activities that focus only on pulling off tricks. Speaking of which…
The 50 activities advertised on the cover are actually unlocked by traveling to each activity’s location and participating in them. Once you’re tried a bout of an activity — whether you succeeded or not — you get a Stamp. From then on, that activity is made accessible from the main menu. You initially have access to only Marine Resort, and collecting these Stamps unlocks other Resorts to visit. Namco wasn’t kidding when they said “50 activities” either; I’ve tried every activity the game has to offer, and I found no duplicates. There are even a few activities not included in the list like Bungee Jumping. The best example would be the shooting gallery activities; while all of them use the point-and-shoot controls, each variation takes on the concept differently. In addition to the traditional Shooting Gallery (which requires reaction speed and precision), there’s also Clay Shooting (which tests your concentration rather than precision) and Quick Draw (which focuses on split-second reflex while ignoring precision altogether).
As for the activity list, it’s a large mixture of pretty much everything, split into appropriate Resorts. There are traditional sports — both outdoor and indoor — like Tennis, Beach Volleyball, Table Hockey etc.; and then some “pure fun” games one could expect in a party game, like Mole Panic (Whack-a-mole) and Power Hitter (punching machine). There are some particularly creative mini-games, too: Pie Throwing Fest is one such instance where you dodge pies in Matrix-style bullet time.
Like Fishing Resort, this game also has an internal achievement system. They come in the form of Silver Keys and Gold Keys. Silver Keys are granted upon clearing certain conditions in each activity (which usually involves clearing all stages). Gold Keys are fewer in number and harder to unlock because they have multiple sub-achievements to complete; these are mostly related to the sandbox portion of the game. One challenge, for instance, requires you to run along the rail tracks around the Mountain Resort. You might not be able to figure out what to do for some challenges though. In those cases, keep an eye out for random blue balloons on the ground across the map; they contain hints on how to find and complete some challenges.
What can you use those keys for? Once you’ve collected 20 Stamps, you’ll get a mansion area of your own, where you can build up to 4 Mansions that you can customize to your fancy. Silver Keys can unlock furniture sets, while Gold Keys are for new mansion designs. That’s how intricate Go Vacation can get, sometimes.
Food for thought:
1. Each Resort holds 7 treasure chests for you to seek out, which contain unique costumes for your avatar. Some NPCs tend to give you indirect hints about their locations, but there’s another method to help you find them…
2. Likewise, there are also 7 Photo Spots for you to take pictures at. Unlike Treasure Chests, they differ by the time of day you visit the area in (which is one of the options you unlock while collecting Stamps).
3. If you have more than one profile, you can add those avatars as AI-controlled “friends” to join you in sandbox mode. Alternatively, they’ll randomly appear across the map as NPCs you can ask to join you. They don’t participate in activities though, and are there mainly for aesthetics.
4. You can also bring along a dog with you! Dogs have profile slots of their own, and can be chosen from 9 breeds with 5 color variations each. Like avatars, you can redo them anytime. The difference from AI friends is that dogs bark when they’re close to “special” spots. These spots are in the vicinity of either a Treasure Chest or a location where you can pull off an achievement.