For the Birds 

Wing Island might make you cry fowl.

A video game about birds flying biplanes makes as much sense as a game about fish captaining submarines, but there are far bigger gripes to be found in Wing Island for the Wii.

"In a world ruled by birds," explains the manual's grim version of the future, Sparrow Wing Jr. runs an airplane-for-hire business. Though some of his flock are still having trouble grasping the English language ("Does this be the handyman store?" asks a fat pigeon), they can perform barrel rolls and death-defying loops with ease. That may sound exciting, but your missions consist of popping balloons, taking photos of rare trees, and airlifting crates of orange juice to the townsfolk.

The Wii remote does make Wing Island unique. A twist of the wrist will send you into a nosedive, and a quick thrust can boost your speed. The controls are so touchy, however, that the wrong motion can screw up everything. In an air race against time, an errant flick will cause your plane to come to a full stop or make a complete 180-degree turn, often forcing you to repeat the task at hand. And when that task is delivering lumber to a parakeet, it's not something you'll likely enjoy doing over and over.

These simplistic mini-games are mildly fun, though surprisingly unforgiving. Simply putting out a forest fire in one mission, for example, isn't enough. Near-perfect performance is required, along with speedy execution. You'll also have to fly in the correct formation with your comrades, or you'll crash and burn. Fail to do all this, and you won't earn any money to buy the required planes, parts, and upgrades. So, is spending hours honing your crop-dusting skills a wise investment of time? It's your call, Goose.

As speed goes, Wing Island is like watching Top Gun in slow motion. Your biplane slows down to a physics-defying crawl most of the time, and at the rate it takes to reach maximum velocity, you should break the sound barrier in, oh, about 30 years. Since this is a race-against-time game, the no-need-for-speed design will have you pulling your feathers out.

Multiplayer mode means more balloon-popping games, not a Red Baronesque dogfight to the death. While there's a place for nonviolent and cutesy mini-games in the world, they'd better pack more excitement than a substandard birthday-party contest. And yet, for all its animated whimsy, your plane does explode in a fiery ball of death if you crash in the middle of a match. But hey . . . couldn't your bird-pilot have simply bailed out and flown away before impact?

The game's "Buzz Around" mode is just that: buzzing around an island and gawking at things. You won't even get points for strafing cows and taking your plane kamikaze-style into farmers at top speeds of 12 mph.

With its chirping characters and anti-Grand Theft Auto attitude, Wing Island is for the kiddie set. The lighthearted mood and cartoonish levels will entertain them, but after completing a 50th straight balloon-popping mission, you might catch your kids flipping the bird.


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