Julianne and I got VIP access to the Wii late on Thursday. I don't know what kind of back-room deals went down to get us on that list, and I don't want to know. The Nintendo booth is the hottest real estate at the show, and - as Joe mentioned - the wait to get hands-on time with the Wii is typically over an hour. Not worth our time, in other words. So when word came down that we'd been granted access to The Short Line, I literally jumped at the chance.
All in the Presentation
The Presentation itself was one of the better I'd seen. Phase One of what I've taken to calling "The Expwiirience" involved a large turntable stage, around which was a mostly-circular catwalk area. We were on the catwalk. Wii was on the turntable.
For five minutes or so we got to watch a few guys playing three different games on the Wii, while a lady with a microphone and a sexy voice described what we were seeing. They had Tennis, Wii Music and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption on display and all three looked like loads of fun. At least the guys playing looked like they were having fun, but I'm assuming they were paid to do that.
Wii Music was the most interesting-looking of the trio, but unfortunately I didn't get any hands-on time with it. We were hustled out of the demo area after about 30 minutes to make way for a private party starring the voice of Mario (I got his autograph) and a gaggle of Gamestop store managers. I'm still torn over whether our party (at Privilege, one of LA's hottest clubs) was cooler.
The games I did get to touch - Sonic Wildfire, Tennis and Zelda: Twilight Princess - were awesome. Julianne and I started our session with a little Tennis, which was surprisingly fun. Julianne had a bit of trouble (okay, a lot of trouble) hitting the ball, but apart from her complete lack of dexterity, the game seemed to be pretty intuitive and easy and crazy fun.
In fact, my entire experience with the Wii was surprisingly frustration-free. The Wiimote handled like a dream and the Nunchuck was extremely easy to use. For a good hour I played video games using two separate, and oddly-shaped controllers and a completely new (to me) control scheme but apart from not knowing exactly which button performed certain, non-critical functions in Zelda, the experience felt amazingly familiar.
In Tennis, you hit the ball by swinging the Wiimote, just like you would when actually playing tennis. Timing is the key (Julianne) and once you train your eye to judge the ball's movement the game becomes stupidly fun. I can see Tennis becoming popular as a party game, and hope that a Table Tennis for Wii is soon to follow.
I only got about 15 minutes with Zelda: Twilight Princess, and literally jumped on a Wii in the middle of somebody else's demo session, so my impression is unfairly incomplete. I can say that the graphics, while interesting, look only a step above Gamecube quality (if at all), and that the Wiimote/Nunchuck combo brings an exciting new element to the familiar Zelda formula.
Twilight Princess looks to play a lot like previous Zeldas in terms of gameplay, but I didn't see any enemies or really any plot elements, so I can't say how well the new, "darker" mood will play out. My fifteen minutes were still fun, however, and I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on the final game.
My favorite game on display was, believe it or not, Sonic Wildfire. The demo for the latest installment in Sega's flagship series took Sonic back to his roots with no-hold-barred, high-octane ring chasing and very little else. The effect of speed was incredible, and easily more fun than any previous ring chase. In fact, it played a lot like some of the more exciting moments in the Adventure installments.
The game employs the Wiimote's ability to be rotated 90 degrees and played like an old-school NES controller. One button is used to make Sonic jump, while the rest of his actions are controlled by tilting, twisting and shaking the Wiimote. This is far more intuitive than it sounds. It would appear that Sega watched how some of their more jittery fans shook and moved the controller while playing previous titles and designed their control scheme around those same reflexive movements. Wildfire looks to be the easiest and most fun Sonic to play yet - and I've played them all. The six-minute demo was easily my second favorite of the entire show.
I also got to revel in causing what was apparently the team's first Wii crash. My Wii hardlocked in the middle of the Wildfire demo, freezing the screen and emitting a loud, persistent beeping noise not unlike a fire alarm. For a full 60 seconds everyone in the area stared at the machine trying to decide whether or not to pretend it wasn't happening, before I was briskly escorted to another Wii. It was simultaneously awkward and satisfying. Like telling bachelor party stories at your best friend's wedding reception.
My final (initial) verdict on Wii is that, in spite of the name change, it promises to be every bit as revolutionary as Nintendo promised.