Wii Hits All the Right Notes

Wii Hits All the Right Notes

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.

Permalink

I'm cheering for Nintendo as hard as anyone this time around, but one thing has me worried; all the positive press the Wii has received, especially in non-gamer media, revolves around Wii Sports. It's a great demonstration of the capabilities of the Wii, to be sure, but most of the Wii games aren't going to be like Wii Sports. I wonder how intuitive Excite Truck or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance are to non-gamers. I'm bringing home my Wii for Christmas, to see how my parents and grandparents react to Wii Sports, and more importantly to my three other Wii games.

Voxaryx:
I'm cheering for Nintendo as hard as anyone this time around, but one thing has me worried; all the positive press the Wii has received, especially in non-gamer media, revolves around Wii Sports. It's a great demonstration of the capabilities of the Wii, to be sure, but most of the Wii games aren't going to be like Wii Sports. I wonder how intuitive Excite Truck or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance are to non-gamers. I'm bringing home my Wii for Christmas, to see how my parents and grandparents react to Wii Sports, and more importantly to my three other Wii games.

I managed to accomplish the unimaginable the other day, I managed to get my Dad to play Ultimate Alliance on my Wii, and he won't stop hogging Colossus and Deadpool...

It's quite surprising to see someone who'd normally never pick up a controller suddenly asking me when his next level up was going to occur...

I'm in Nintendo's corner for the simple fact that in the "next-gen revolution" they didn't get caught up in the graphical power and focused more on providing gamers with a fun, innovative, new way to control the games.

ReedRichards:
I'm in Nintendo's corner for the simple fact that in the "next-gen revolution" they didn't get caught up in the graphical power and focused more on providing gamers with a fun, innovative, new way to control the games.

Just because the hardware is capable of great graphics does not mean the games will not be fun and innovative. Hardware offers both possibilities and limitations. With the Wii you have the possibilities offered by the new control scheme, but the low end specs are a limitation. With the other consoles you have the possibilities offered by their impressive processing power, but they are limited to the now traditional dual analog control scheme.

The low end specs are a problem. The Legend of Zelda looks like a really good Gamecube game. My point is simply that Nintendo's main focus was seemingly on gameplay whereas Sony and Microsoft could distract from bad gameplay, for awhile at least, with beautiful graphics. I am of the opinion that the Wii's motion sensitivity could grow old and the soon to be substandard graphics...well...lame thereby sending the Wii the way of the Gamecube.

I agree that both systems (PS3 and Wii) will have great games. I'll probably end up owning a Wii (and a 360) eventually. However, I'm more excited about Nintendo's offering than I am about the others. It's funny because I hate Super Mario Brothers and I think Link needs to grow up. ;-) I 'd love for Nintendo to take a risk on a new IP, but it will never happen so long as they can slap Mario's face on a game.

heavyfeul:
Just because the hardware is capable of great graphics does not mean the games will not be fun and innovative. Hardware offers both possibilities and limitations. With the Wii you have the possibilities offered by the new control scheme, but the low end specs are a limitation. With the other consoles you have the possibilities offered by their impressive processing power, but they are limited to the now traditional dual analog control scheme.

I thought Resident Evil 4 looked awesome on the Gamecube. I didn't have any issues with the frame rate or level of detail achieved. Heavyfeul, what if Microsoft was releasing a new machine that was 10 times more powerful than the PS3 next year? Would you start telling people about how limiting the PS3 is for videogames? C'mon, be honest. ;-)

ReedRichards:
I am of the opinion that the Wii's motion sensitivity could grow old and the soon to be substandard graphics...well...lame thereby sending the Wii the way of the Gamecube.

Some would argue that the DS's dual screens and touch screen is a gimmick, but some developers have really built some truly innovative games that just can't be achieved to the same degree on another system. (I sold my Xbox and Gamecube and bought a DS Lite.) The Wii's success with the remote is in the hands of the game developers. Will they build traditional games on the traditional dual analog standard and port them over to the Wii... or will they build truly original game designs putting all doubts about the remote control to rest? Time will tell... because it's all about the games.

Echolocating:

heavyfeul:
Just because the hardware is capable of great graphics does not mean the games will not be fun and innovative. Hardware offers both possibilities and limitations. With the Wii you have the possibilities offered by the new control scheme, but the low end specs are a limitation. With the other consoles you have the possibilities offered by their impressive processing power, but they are limited to the now traditional dual analog control scheme.

I thought Resident Evil 4 looked awesome on the Gamecube. I didn't have any issues with the frame rate or level of detail achieved. Heavyfeul, what if Microsoft was releasing a new machine that was 10 times more powerful than the PS3 next year? Would you start telling people about how limiting the PS3 is for videogames? C'mon, be honest. ;-)

I am not saying that great looking games cannot be created on underpowered systems, but there is a limit to what can be achieved, particularly in the earlier stages of a console's lifespan. Remember, Resident Evil 4 came out very late in the game. Also, the disparity between the Wii's specs and its counterparts is far greater in this generation than the last. The difference is going to be more pronounced. The quality of any game/systems graphics are judged based on the best example currently available. Once you see some of the best there is to offer, in terms of graphics, anything else begins to look drab and pixelated. I experienced this first hand after upgrading to a new gaming PC this year. My Xbox just does not look the same anymore. Before the games used to be on par with my previous rig. Now they just seem dated and drab.

Lets not forget about physics and interactive environments. Having a more dynamic and varied experience is one thing I hope to see in this generation. Whether it will occur to a satisfying degree remains to be seen. But, I can guarantee one thing...it will not be acheived on the Wii.

heavyfeul:
Lets not forget about physics and interactive environments. Having a more dynamic and varied experience is one thing I hope to see in this generation. Whether it will occur to a satisfying degree remains to be seen. But, I can guarantee one thing...it will not be acheived on the Wii.

If powerful hardware truly inspired more varied and dynamic experience, we'd be seeing something cool already... but alas, the only thing that more power has enabled is more realistic crate smashing (Half-Life 2, anyone?). I'm still waiting for developers to actually do something truly innovative with all the processing power, but they won't because they're too busy reinventing a new, shinier wheel with each console generation.

It's like all this processing power is stifling creativity and innovation because game developers are so concerned with making things look even more shinier (marketing pressure)... that they ignore everything else (substance). Nintendo is taking that distracting equation out of the picture and telling developers to focus on game-play, not graphical power.

I don't disagree that processing power is a good thing, but the game development industry doesn't want to take a risk in harnessing it for game-play. We got the power to process it, why can't I drive a tank through the walls of a building? Why can't an enemy AI register my tactics and try a different tactic to counter mine that makes me want to change my tactics? Why can't I shoot an enemy and destroy parts of his body armor? (remember Gladiator in the arcade, anyone?) I'm tired of having prettier crates to smash. I've been there and done that.

heavyfeul:
Once you see some of the best there is to offer, in terms of graphics, anything else begins to look drab and pixelated.

So... one day, you'll say that RE4 looks like ass? I mean, eventually it will look drab and pixelated, right? Or will it continually be looked at as an achievement in graphic design? There will be a point when prettier graphics will cease to be a significant factor. Some people feel this is now... or, we're so close, it might as well be now. I don't drool over screenshots anymore. I've moved on... and now I'm excited about game-play and creative art direction where graphical processing power has little to do with it.

Echolocating:
I don't drool over screenshots anymore. I've moved on... and now I'm excited about game-play and creative art direction where graphical processing power has little to do with it.

Amen Brother!

I guess we should all go back to pen and paper, board, card, and text games then. If graphics are unimportant and gameplay is paramount, why play videogames at all? It would certainly be a lot cheaper to give up the hobby in favor of games that have stellar gameplay but no video. You can make statements to the contrary, but the simple and inescapable fact is if you play videogames, graphics are important to you. Otherwise, you wouldn't play them in the first place.

Personally, I have no interest in lowering the bar at this point. The technology is there. I say use it. I still do not see why you can't have innovative and creative games that are fun to play AND have great graphics? This is certainly not outside the realm of possibility. There does not have to be a trade off. It is simply a false dichotomy.

What is at issue is simply graphical quality. I think people are confusing realistic graphics with high quality graphics. It does not matter if we are talking about Psychonauts and Okami, which have unique imaginative universes or Fight Night and Call of Duty, which are primarily reality based sims, I think games should have high quality graphics. Period. A great or fun game can only benefit from better quality graphics.

heavyfeul:
I guess we should all go back to pen and paper, board, card, and text games then.

Sounds good. A number of us here in the Humidor are doing just that, actually; playing p&p for the story, immersion and other "I don't know whats" a lot of modern videogames aren't doing right.

But I still play videogames, and those videogames should do more than just look pretty.

heavyfeul:
The technology is there. I say use it.

I understand what you're saying, and I don't think anyone is disagreeing with you on that point. If the technology is there, then it should be used.

But I think the major takeaway here - for you - is that the technology doesn't need to be there to make a great game.

heavyfeul:
I still do not see why you can't have innovative and creative games that are fun to play AND have great graphics? [...] It is simply a false dichotomy.

The dichotomy lies in the business of videogames. It costs more money to model, texture and animate high-poly graphics. It costs a lot of money to build 3D engines capable of displaying amazing graphic power. Publishers want you to embrace "cutting edge" graphics because they don't have to do anything to promote these games. (In fact, I'd argue that the majority of publishers don't know how to promote game-play and intelligent design at all with their advertising.) Throw some buzzwords on a screenshot and watch the crowds flock to it, is what they currently do.

I'm really hoping that developers will turn that "cutting edge" cost savings into better writing, unique/innovative game-play, intelligent AI, meaningful physics, professional art direction (not some graphic artist's fond G.I. Joe/Transformer induced childhood fantasy), more substantial content, effective quality assurance, blah, blah, blah... ;-)

i imagine there will be as usual with nintendo few worth while single player games that if your lucky may be given you a morsel once a year and the rest of the time it will be one disney movie game after another.

all the good rpg's will be on other systems and i doubt anything in the vein of deus ex will be made for the wii, but you can certainly enjoy lion king 8 on your lovely little wii.

at the very least all the nintendo fanboys can troll forums on there wii using the operah web browser. apparently satan does exist.

Personally, I wrote about Wii Sports because, other than LoZ, it was the only game I -had-. :P

Just sayin', is all...

As the only NC Themis Group Wii owner, I can say that the Wii has excited me about console games again. After going through multiple PS2's (both broke, I threw in dumpster), and having about 40 unplayable PS2 games, the Wii has gotten me back on the bright side of console gaming. I had sworn off buying a "Next-Gen" console because of the PS2 experience, but something about the little guy excited me. I picked up a Wii bundle on CompUSA, then returned all 5 of my required game purchases (NFS: Carbon, Excite Truck, Happy Feet, Rampage, and Splinter Cell) and picked up copies of LoZ: TP and Madden 07. These games have brought me several hours of single player fun so far and made me as excited as I was when I got my Genesis(with Sonic the Hedgehog and Road Rash) and when I got my original Playstation (with Twisted Metal and Resident Evil). The Wii will turn non-gamers into gamers. I watched my girlfriend, who's gaming experience was limited to NES, Genesis, Max Payne, and Alice, pick up the Wii Remote and fall in love with Zelda and Wii Sports. Any console that can make me this excited about coming back to gaming, and excite my sorority girlfriend, is revolutionary in my book.

My predictions: The Wii will bring console gaming to the masses, whether Sony or Microsoft like it. Don't compare this to the GameCube, because even the terrible games have new control schemes and offer a new way to play.

Just because the Wii doesn't have as good of graphics as the 360 or the PS3, doesn't mean that it is not a good system. There are a number of issues. First of all, we are operating under the assumption that graphics will always improve. This is not reasonable, as eventually consoles will be able to create photorealistic graphics (we are almost there now.) Furthermore, as the quality of the graphics improves, the development costs of games must also increase. This means that, while good graphics are often a good thing, if you don't want to pay $80 per game, we must eventually limit the quality of the graphics.

Second, like the DS, the Wii is creating a new control scheme. This means that there will be new options for developers when making games. After all, the most gorgeous game in the world won't be fun without good controls. Good controls can be defined as controls that do not confuse the player (something which most modern games do to my parents when they try to play them.) The Wii will allow developers to alleviate this problem by inventing simple and efficient controls for games.

Finally, my aunt has not ever been particularly been interested in video games. Since her son got one, she has been looking into buying one. If this console can make someone, who has been mostly alienated by games, decide to buy one, then it is certainly a step in the right direction.

CantFaketheFunk:
Plugging in four controllers…

I don't know about all of the other comments, but we need a new word other than "plugging".

Meophist:

CantFaketheFunk:
Plugging in four controllers…

I don't know about all of the other comments, but we need a new word other than "plugging".

"Syncing"?

 

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