by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Helix & r & Rated Everyone; Wii & r & 3 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & elix gets my vote as the most forward-thinking Wii game of the summer. Helix is a Wii Ware game, meaning that it's only available via download. While the music industry frets, videogame companies have simply started pumping games down the I-line, getting the jump on software pirates with old classics and doing some experimenting with ideas such as Helix. Like most of the best videogames of the past 12 months, Helix artfully exploits the similarities between videogames and music making. The basic operating principle of videogames is "push the right button at the right time," which also happens to be the basic operating principle of the piano. Coordinate that button pushing with breath control or body movement and you've got the makings of either an oboe or Dance Dance Revolution.
Like DDR, Helix treats choreography as button pushing, transforming two Wii Remotes into upper-body motion-sensors. But Helix's arm swinging and hand waving is substantially more sophisticated than the rudimentary motion-sensitivity of titles such as Wii Sports and even the decent virtual swordplay of Dragon Quest Swords. Helix displays the arm-movements of an onscreen mannequin standing in front of a background resembling a screensaver circa Windows 95. This mannequin grooves-out a gesture a few dance-track beats before I'm required to duplicate it. Assisting me in my timing is a bar that scrolls along the screen indicating when I must begin and end my movement. A nice bright dot in the middle of the bar designates the gesture's apex. Instead of simply pressing a button at the right time, I must start, stop and pace my motions in sync with Helix's rhythms.
Complicating this simple Simon Says scenario, the Helix dummy usually starts its next gesture while I'm enacting the previous one. As a result, I'm always looking ahead while performing a beat or two behind -- sort of like driving a car or conducting an orchestra. At first there's an easygoing symmetry -- punch left, punch right, arms up then arms down. But as Helix enters its higher levels of difficulty, the combinations become fast and confusing -- punch left, draw a giant "S" in the air, slowly circle my arms like I'm stirring a cauldron, right arm up, then both arms straight out to the side. Helping coordinate this windmill of gestures, the Wii Remotes vibrate to the beat, adding one more sensation to this simple, engaging game.
THE GOOD: Helix cost me $10. The last time I paid that little for a new videogame, I did it quarter-by-quarter in an arcade. With Helix, the purchase was only slightly more complex, requiring "Wii Points" purchased online. Conveniently for Nintendo, Wii Points are only available in values beginning at $20. What to do with the remainder? Well, Donkey Kong costs $5. And there's Harvest Moon for $8...
THE BAD: NRG club music has its place -- mainly in the bargain bins back in the day when people actually bought CDs. More variety in Helix's music genres would have been nice, especially considering that some of Helix's dance-moves resemble funky John Travolta gestures. Couldn't they have sprung for some discount disco?
THE BOTTOM LINE: A strikingly simple rhythm game with the most sophisticated use of the Wii Remote's motion sensitivity so far.