For three months, Nintendo has sent a clear message on the Wii: The novelty comes at no charge. The Wii Sports game that enticed grandparents to try virtual bowling came free with the system. When Nintendo rolled out the weather channel, where you could grab and spin a virtual globe to read forecasts around the world, they didn't try to charge for it. And the free web browser ain't perfect, but hey, you didn't pay for it.
But now they've released Wii Play with an actual price tag, and you finally have to ask yourself what you're willing to pay for novelty. In this case, it isn't worth much. Even ignoring the fact that the nine mini-games on this disc are short and mostly unsatisfying, from a design standpoint, they don't even fit together. Some of them tap the community of Mii avatars living on your console, but most don't. Some are soft or cute, others are flashy. "Ice Hockey," the set's best game, is brisk and neon-bright, while "Tanks!" and "Charge" (an obstacle/racing game with cows) evoke old-fashioned toys—except real toys offer more ways to play. And while multiplayer mode gives it more life, it doesn't pack the competitive thrills of Wii Sports, and it won't grace your television nearly as often.
Beyond the game: Wii Play comes packaged with an extra controller (but not a nunchuck), so the extra sawbuck for the game isn't a rip-off. At the same time, the Wii needs yet another disc of mini-games about as much as the XBox needs another science-fiction shoot-'em-up.
Worth playing for: Wii Play is structured as a tutorial for users who are new to the Wii controls, and it is fun to watch newcomers tame their spastic motions or find the right touch for tilting the remote.
Frustration sets in when: You have to play each game to unlock the next one. Whether you want to or not.
Final judgment: The "low-budget, high-fun" strategy that paid off for Nintendo with Brain Age and Wii Sports finally draws a blank.