When the initial versions of The Godfather shipped out last spring, there was almost universal praise for Electronic Arts' expensive (and critical to the corporate bottom line) movie-based title. It was one of those rarest of licensed feats – true to the spirit of the film, packed with expansive and thoroughly enjoyable gameplay, and satisfying to both fans of the original movie and people who don't know Marlon Brando from Marlon Wayans.
More than a year since its original incarnation, the Nintendo Wii is now the proud host of the latest edition of the mafioso treatment, titled The Godfather: Blackhand Edition. Luckily, this is not a scaled-down port or disinterested afterthought. Just because it's on the Wii, though, doesn't mean that it's somehow tamer. All the cursing, blood, and violence that permeated the originals remain in full effect. However, there's a reason for that rough edge – underneath the covers is a game with a superb storyline, depth of action, and a Wii-based “gimmick” that actually works.
Blackhand is the best Godfather experience on any console
It would be far too easy, of course, to simply label it as yet another GTA clone. Sure, it's got all of those ingredients – a go-anywhere open world full of people walking around minding their own business, the ability to walk up to any car and empty its inhabitants, and a series of main and side missions that have you working your way up from the depths of nowhere to the top of the crime world. However, it also has what none of those others truly do – the characters, story, and mythology of the Godfather films. There's something truly powerful about getting asked to perform favors for Marlon Brando's Don Vito Corleone, or getting promoted by Robert Duvall's Tom Hagen. These people simply mean something, unlike so many other crime sandboxes that introduce characters like so much hard candy. It's a terrific mix of games and movies, and something we frankly see very little of these days.
The defining difference between the Blackhand Edition and all of the others is, naturally, the controller. The Wii's unique Wiimote-Nunchuk combination opens up a significantly different way to play the game – everything from fighting, shooting, driving, and otherwise getting around is handled via the quirky Nintendo dual controllers. The fighting mechanic will have you punching and head-butting your enemies as if they were standing right in front of you in your living room. It takes a little bit of time to get the controls down – and sometimes (especially with the executions) it doesn't quite feel as if they respond perfectly – but there is a ton of variety in the ways you can pummel your rivals. The shooting is nifty, as your Wiimote pointer becomes your aiming device. Trust me, it's a lot better than the standard controller, as a big part of the fun is disabling enemies by taking out their kneecaps or shoulders – you get bonuses for these gruesome yet oh-so-effective means.
If you haven't played any earlier iterations, the story rundown is pretty simple: create a character (using the Tiger Woods-style Gameface interface), quickly relive a defining and violent moment from your childhood, then get thrown into a living, breathing 40's-era New York City. You find yourself under the wing of Corleone henchman Luca Brasi, whose job it is to teach you the ways of the Old Country so that you can serve the Family; ultimately, your goal is to work your way up from the bottom of the crime rung to become the Boss of the City.
As you might expect, not all goes well when you start your crime career. Luca doesn't get a whole lot of time to school you in the tricks of the trade, as he is murdered when trying to infiltrate a rival family. This, naturally, doesn't go over very well with your boss – and so begins your lifelong quest to rid New York City of all things that go against The Godfather. Naturally, you don't begin your career by doing any particularly outrageous tasks, but everyone has to start somewhere. You'll shake down shopowners for protection money and bust up some small-time gambling and shipping rackets, all in the name of the Corleones.
Another rather nifty feature – and distinctly non-GTA – is the upgrade system, which allows you to significantly alter your character's skills in all sorts of ways. There are a bunch of different categories to select, such as fighting, shooting, negotiation, and bribing, to name a few. Within these buckets are individual options to really flesh out your soldier. You can completely mold your man to play the style you want – if you're heavy on the gunplay, load up on shooting points; on the other hand, if you'd rather speak more with your fists, allocate the attributes there.
About the only area that feels like a letdown is the eye candy – or lack thereof. Between the ordinary city visuals, the pop-up of buildings while you tool around town, and some of the downright ugly people that you run into, you'd be hard-pressed to think that you were playing a machine that would be considered “next generation”.
Ultimately, though, The Godfather Blackhand Edition is a superb effort. The epic storyline will occupy your time for many a day, while the unique control setup will offer a nifty way to experience a traditional title. With an exception for the sublime Xbox 360 version, Blackhand is the best Godfather experience on any console (if only due to the terrific shooting via the Wiimote). Go ahead, immerse yourself into the world of one of the best movies ever made – just be sure and never disappoint The Family.
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