Last Sunday, I purchased a Nintendo Wii. The Wii is Nintendo’s next-generation console (soon to be last-generation) that is going head to head with the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Like those other consoles, anticipation for it is high, though not nearly as hyped up and overblown as the Playstation 3, so a couple of friends and I decided to camp out at the Target near my work in an effort to secure one at the earliest possible moment. Our initial plan was to get in line around 5 AM, giving us 3 hours before the store opened. However, those plans changed when we got kicked out of another friend’s house after we made too much noise playing Gears of War on a friend’s high-def TV. I guess the sleeping wife didn’t enjoy the hoots of victory and the din of battle. So, we ended up being in line at 2 AM. These November nights are pretty cold, and I barely prepared for it, meaning I was fairly miserable most of the time. For entertainment my friends and I brought our trusty Nintendo DSes, and played games until even wii-er hours of the morning. Around 7:30 AM, Target employees came out with what for everybody was waiting: the ticket guaranteeing us one of the 81 Wiis in stock. They also had hot coffee and popcorn (?) for us. I got ticket number 46. I’m glad we didn’t get in line at 5 AM like we originally planned because it was right around where the 5 AM people were standing in line that the cut off point was. At least 30 people were turned away; Target just didn’t have enough Wiis for everybody. At 8 AM we were let in the store, where we stood in single file line for about 30 minutes as we were given our assigned Wii, any accessories (limited to 1 of each) we might want, and then checked out. By the time I got back outside it was pouring rain. I’m still amazed that of all nights I stood outside for 6 hours was one of the few dry nights we’ve had here in the Seattle area — especially with a record breaking wet November. After getting home, I made two unsuccessful attempts to hook up the Wii. I was just too exhausted to stay awake.
Read on for more thoughts and some reporting on game play
Since then, I’ve put the Wii through its paces, and I can say with confidence the Wii is awesome. The Wii is the only one of the next-gen consoles that interested me, mainly because of the revolutionary method of game control. After experiencing the Wii-mote, I am completely sold on the idea. This will fundamentally change the way console games are played at least in most game genres. I will admit there are some game genres where the Wii-mote might not be ideal (e.g. traditional platformers), but some genres will gain a whole new level of control and fun (e.g. sports and shooters). It will only be a short time before the more creative game developers will find unique and utterly cool ways of using the Wii-mote to play games. I learned my lesson with the Nintendo DS which heavily relies on tactile input from the gamer for control on many games. At first, I thought this was just a gimmick and would never really see it put to good use. Fortunately, I was completely wrong, and the DS is one of the most novel and playable platforms to hit the gaming market. I think the same thing will happen with the Wii, so I’m really excited to see what comes out over the next year. For example, imagine a fishing game which gives you tactile feedback when a fish strikes, then you actually jerk up the controller to set the hook. After setting the hook, you make a reeling motion with your other hand, all the while controlling the rod with the other hand as you try to land the fish just like in real life. All fishing games right now, which are strangely popular, rely on boring button mashing to do this stuff. There’s no realism to it and just relies on timing. With the Wii it would rely on timing, manual agility, and a great degree of skill in co-ordinating not just thumbs but your whole upper body.
I have spent most of my Wii time playing Zelda: The Twilight Princess. I’ve already logged an embarrassingly high number of hours (don’t worry the Wii keeps a calendar of all my play time, so I know how long I’ve played each day) in the fantasy realm of Hyrule. The story line is the typical Zelda storyline: you’re the young elfin hero who needs to save the Princess and the Kingdom. Find your shield, your sword, and your pieces of heart as you travel over great distances, collect powerful items, and explore deep dungeons. Even though the story is fairly predictable, it’s still well done and engaging. The characters all have that endearing Japanese cartoon behavior and animation style. The graphics are very pretty, even not in hi-def. Playwise, the game is intuitive and fun. You swing around the Wii-mote for different sword attacks and you can punch with your left hand to do shield bashes. This combo of full arm movement makes battles much more interesting and, dare I say it, aerobic. You can’t really just sit there and lazily mash buttons. It’s interesting how much of a difference it makes when the game transfers combat control from just thumbs to thumbs and the wrists. I often found in the more intense battles I had to sit up in my seat and actually move. There are some times when movement in the game is frustrating, especially when I’m mounted on my steed. The movement controls on the horse are klumsy and annoyingly difficult at times. I often think about turning my horse, who I named Ed, into glue to make a few extra rupees. My only other complaint with Zelda is that it seems a bit too easy and linear for a Zelda game. It’s very rare I found myself without a clear idea of what I’m supposed to do next, and the way the world is designed limits a lot of exploring that would take me far outside the storyline. However, I am only a third of the way through the game, and maybe I’m just spoiled by World of Warcraft, which allows virtually unfettered exploration.
Wii Sports is the other game in which I’ve spent a lot of time. Wii Sports comes with the Wii and has basic implementations of tennis, baseball, bowling, golf, and boxing. The graphics are simple and nothing to invite friends over to see. However, the game play is definitely something you want friends over to see because it’s in the multiplayer action that the game really shines. I brought the Wii into work the day before Thanksgiving with the intention of just showing people what it’s all about and letting them try it out. You know, a quick 30 minute demo. We ended up playing it for the rest of the day. We found 4-player tennis and 2-player boxing to be the most fun. In tennis, a lot of the movement in the game is automated, leaving the player with the key mission of getting his or her racquet swings down right. We had some really fun rallies in tennis, and the Playmobil-esque characters were funny to watch. It was amazing to see how the game really gets people into acting out what they would be doing if they were playing it real life. You swing over head to do your serve, forehands were swings on the forehand side, backhands were on the backhand side, and if you were up at the net it was quick jerks in the appropriate direction just like in real life. Sure, you could play the game without doing most of this, but there’s something about the Wii that makes you want to more than just flick your wrists around. Boxing was also a blast. You punch and guard with both hands, and the motion sensors also gave you the ability to dodge to the sides. Boxing was fairly intuitive. Punch high with either hand for shots to the opponent’s face and punch low for body shots. Guarding was done by holding the hands where you want to guard: up by your face or down by your belly — just like in real life. When I had my time in the ring, I actually worked up a sweat. I’m not sure I’ve ever sweated because I was playing a video game. I can imagine Wii sports being extremely fun with a group of guys and a few beers. Yes, that would be very fun.
As you can tell, I am a big fan of the Wii. Heck, I may be on the road to becoming a Nintendo fanboy. But for it being the cheapest of the next-gen consoles at $250 for the system and $50 a game, I think Nintendo has one of if not the hottest entertainment device on the market today. If the Wii changes the console gaming industry like I think it will, then we are witnessing the death of the lazy gamer. No longer can the gamer just veg out on the couch with only thumbs twitching, now the gamer has to move.