Done Playing: Domino Rally (Wii)

Up until the moment I started playing Domino Rally I had convinced myself that it would be a sequel to No One Can Stop Mr. Domino. That game had you rapidly and strategically dropping dominoes behind the unstoppable Mister in order to trigger all of the stage’s bizarre surprises in one flawless go. It was a demanding bastard of a game and I really loved it. Domino Rally packs the same kind of peculiar surprises and expects a similar speedy precision but thanks to the ever-unreliable Wii Remote it turns out only mildly fun and mostly a bastard to play.

Leaning heavily on Katamari Damacy, Domino Rally’s stages are backed by catchy J-Pop style tracks and open with low-rent cutscenes of bizarre characters in mundane peril. Minon is the “everyday superhero” that they call on in their time of need, be it retrieving a lost balloon, sinking a critical putt, helping an overburdened father answer a contest-winning phone call, or getting elephants to fall in love. The scenes are short and barely animated but they have just enough style to be charming which is the only thing to soften the blow after you take indirect control.

Minon is always moving but instead of dropping dominoes behind him as in Mr. Domino you lay out a swath of holographic Minon Blocks to keep him moving forward. You can go straight or curve to the left or right and… that’s really all the control you have. With an incomprehensible map and a too-close, overhead view of the world you’ll fumble out a path of holo-minoes to bridge rows of stationary objects that speed up Minon and refill his Minonaide energy. This is anything but automatic, though, as you’ll have to shake the Wii Remote in time with Minon’s quickening steps and then steady your hand to set the next piece before he runs out of room to move. If that happens you’ll play a little balancing game until you can get things moving again but will also lose all your momentum. Along with the Minonaide and speed that steadily deplete as you play there’s also a timer forcing you to play as flawlessly as possible.

This would all make for a fine ‘perfect run’ challenge if the game had reliable controls but the Wii Remote can’t deliver. Going from wild, rhythmic shaking to one of three precise on-screen positions isn’t easy or fun and as Minon speeds up the process only gets more annoying. By the end of each stage my right arm was sore and I was ready to quit but — damn! — those cutscenes are cheeky! The stages escalate in complexity and you’ll retry many of them as you divine the correct sequence of events but there are only eight in total. There’s a token Versus mode and loads of astonishing “memory poems” to find but I’d feel pretty let down if I’d paid more than $10 for what was three hours of playtime.

Outside of my hopes for a Mr. Domino sequel I think what’s most disappointing about Domino Rally is that it never feels like you’re playing with dominoes. Minon could just as easily be bounding across little magical clouds or, hell, he could simply be running on the ground. For a game that puns the word ‘domino’ so excessively there are precious few actual dominoes to be found and that just doesn’t feel right to me. Domino Rally is only entertaining during the parts where you aren’t playing it and by my last check no one has posted all that stuff to YouTube. You’ll have to suffer some punishment to see it yourself and if that’s a dealbreaker for you then skip this outright. If it’s not I’d still recommend hunting for the lowest price you can find.

From the Archives