Op-Ed

Op-Ed
Wii Hits All the Right Notes

John Funk | 8 Dec 2006 11:27
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imageWhen Nintendo announced that their upcoming next-gen console would feature a radically new system of control and relatively minor graphical upgrade instead of the massive leaps in console power preferred by Microsoft and Sony, they immediately sparked a debate which has raged ever since. Both Microsoft's 360 and Sony's PS3, on the one side, looked to become mighty behemoths of consoles, hurtling videogames into a new world of High-Definition. Nintendo's, on the other hand, decided that their Revolution (as it was then known), would only be a small step above their Gamecube in terms of graphics-but they hoped that the radically different, motion-sensitive controller would inspire anyone, not just gamers, to pick it up and play.

Now that Nintendo's new console, now called the Wii, has finally arrived, it's time to take a look at it and see if their radical hopes can become a practical reality.

Most game reviewers play their games cranked to the highest settings, on the newest equipment, taking full advantage of the High-Definition formats that are such an integral part of the battle between Sony and Microsoft. I, however, write this review from the point of view of a less-than-wealthy student, who plays his games with his good buddies on a smallish but serviceable TV that doesn't support high-def at all (which may actually be closer to the majority of potential customers of the Wii).

Now that the Wii and the PS3 have launched, the Console Wars fully enter their fifth round ... but how do Nintendo's machine and philosophy feel once the console's in your hands?

The Wii was easy to set up right out of the box, and as has become the norm nowadays, can either be set vertically in an included stand or laid horizontally on the ground. It's really small (especially when compared to the 360 or the even bigger PS3) and seems like it could be portable.

The first few seconds I held the Wiimote and Nunchuk together, it felt extremely weird and awkward. After gaming for a rather long time and getting used to the feel of two hands together grasping a heavier, more solid controller, having so much space between my hands and two completely different components in each really felt strange. However, I got used to it extremely quickly, and it's surprising how natural it feels. The remote feels small and actually kind of fragile, but not to the point where I'm wary of swinging it around (I just make a point of putting on the wrist strap).

imageThe Nunchuk attachment has the familiar analog stick and two buttons on the front, Z and C. The remote itself has a D-Pad at the very front, one large A button right where your thumb hits the controller, and a B trigger for your index finger, also placed just where your finger hits the bottom of the controller (like the Z on the N64 controller). From my experience thus far, it is these three, along with the nunchuck, that control most movement and combat functionality. In addition to the combat controls, there are buttons to interact with the Wii menu, as well as two buttons for non-combat game navigation, such as for viewing maps. The audio speaker in the remote is certainly an interesting and immersive touch, though the quality isn't great and there doesn't seem to be any way to adjust its volume.

One of the more entertaining features of the Wii is the Mii Channel. On the Mii Channel, you create Miis which are super-deformed, cartoony avatars with which you play some games (Wii Sports at the moment). These cartoons will also represent you online, and if given the option, will visit other Wiis on your friends list, mingling with their Miis. Though the options are rather limited, you can actually make some surprisingly accurate versions of people (my friends have made Miis of themselves that look astoundingly like them). But, I suspect Nintendo will take advantage of their online store and offer new Mii customization options at some time in the future.

The Wii comes bundled with Wii Sports, a collection of sports mini-games designed as an introduction to the Wii controller. You can play Tennis, Bowling, Baseball, Golf and Boxing (though only Bowling and Golf can be played multiplayer without having a second controller). I'm normally not a fan of sports games, and couldn't ever see myself playing a game of one of the aforementioned sports, but Wii Sports is surprisingly fun. The games are relatively faithful representations of their respective sports, and it's very immersive to actually complete the throwing motion to roll the ball down the lane instead of hitting a button to do the same.

imageFor such a simple game, it's very immersive. My group of friends includes those who play Oblivion on obscenely powerful PCs, MMOG addicts, old-school console devotes and people who've never picked up a game controller in their lifetime. And yet, over the past few days, I've seen all of them congregate in a dorm room, having a few drinks and a blast with the Wii. There's something about getting up and moving, taking action, that feels very "right."

And it's much more entertaining to watch someone else play than on most other consoles. Plugging in four controllers and playing doubles tennis is ludicrously fun, though you might need to have a bit more room than you anticipate. If you're worried that your arms will get tired or cramp up, don't worry-we played for hours without running into that problem.

It's surprising how well the motion-sensitive controller works-if there are real problems with the sensor bar failing to function in direct light, I've not experienced them yet, and I'm very interested to see what developers will do with it in the future.

There are some issues, of course. I'm not actually sure if the problem is that the controller is "too sensitive" or "not sensitive enough," but it's often hard to do smaller motions. Sinking a 3-inch putt in Wii Golf is probably one of the hardest shots in the game, because the game doesn't seem to recognize a small movement as an actual shot, and you need to tilt the remote past the horizontal point to actually make it swing. This, of course, presents a risk that the game will think you're swinging much harder than you actually are. Also, the ball in Wii Bowling almost invariably curves to the left ... but that may just be an attempt to stay authentic rather than an error in programming. (Ed note: It is. A bowling ball thrown by a right-hander will almost always curve left. We have bowling trophies. We know these things. -RP, JG).

Graphically, well, it's hard to say, as the makers of Wii Sports certainly didn't give much thought to the visuals, and Zelda: Twilight Princess was originally developed as a Gamecube title. The Wii is certainly capable of some very pretty things, but it's very clear that it's not on the same graphical level as the 360 or the PS3.

Still, that's not the point, and it never has been for Nintendo's Next Gen contender. The Wii gets people who ordinarily wouldn't play games to pick up a controller and have a blast. Though it can certainly be enjoyed on one's own, it seems like it'll function the best in group environments and on a social level. This is what Nintendo was going for: reaching out to non-gamers, and making a big community out of everybody who plays and loves games. It may not have the biggest processor, but it's got a huge heart. Though the name has long been changed, the Wii could still very well be Nintendo's Revolution.

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