I've been thinking a lot about the Wii U this week. It's partly because Nintendo confirmed that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be the final first-party release on the console. But it's also because 1-2-Switch, the party game that's launching alongside its latest hardware, reminded me quite a bit of an existing Wii U game. I'm hoping you've already guessed which one.
Nintendo has made a big fuss of how 1-2-Switch shifts the focus away from the TV screen, encouraging players to stare into one another's eyes as they, for example, squeeze the virtual teats of an invisible cow in order to "milk it". It's silly and weirdly suggestive and, by all accounts, pretty funny. But it's hardly the first game to encourage players to avert their gaze from the TV.
Spin the Bottle: Bumpie's Party, from Copenhagen-based indie KnapNok Games, is one such game, and it opens with the boldest of gambits, immediately demanding you turn off the TV. Sure, the Wii U's GamePad is still in use, but often its main function is as a surrogate instruction manual or scoreboard. And when it does feature in any of Bumpie's Party's co-operative mini-games, it's usually facing away from the person holding it. The important stuff is all happening in the real world.
Players take turns to spin an onscreen bottle, which determines their partner for the next activity. They're all very simple, and several are variants on familiar parlor games, but there's usually a physical twist of some kind.
One mini-game, for example, is basically charades: One player holds the GamePad facing away from them, and must successfully identify the animal displayed on the screen through their partner's mimicry. Another is a rudimentary game of Pong where two players need to keep a rally going by moving the analog sticks with their toes.
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Then there are the bonus challenges. In the first instance, you might only be able to use your hands to imitate an elephant; in the latter case, you'll have to maneuver the paddle with your chin instead of your feet.
In other words, it's a series of simple activities made difficult by arbitrary rules and the wild card element that is Other People. That might sound silly and contrived, but that's the beauty of it—it's the shared embarrassment and awkwardness that makes it so irresistible. It's harder not to laugh when two of you are trying to squeeze buttons either side of an upright Wiimote with your noses, or colliding with furniture as you spin around madly to power an imaginary drill.
And then there's the added shame of the surreptitious snaps the GamePad's been taking of your stupid, grinning face when you were pretending to be a crocodile or attempting to touch the screen with your forehead.
I'd never forgive myself if I didn't mention KnapNok's other Wii U game—though the wonderful Affordable Space Adventures is the kind of co-operative game that's as likely to provoke arguments as laughter, and so it doesn't quite qualify as the instant dose of sunshine this column promises.
Bumpie's Party, on the other hand, certainly does. In fact, it's exactly the kind of pick-me-up of which the Wii U could have used more. It's to KnapNok's huge credit that when other developers were turned off by its strange little quirks, this tiny Danish studio greeted them with open arms. If this team can find similar love in its heart for Switch, we're all in for a treat.