I decided to use this column to talk about my initial experience with the Wii and its unique control scheme. In addition, I’ll touch upon the first batch of games I’ve dipped into. Now, these won’t be traditional reviews as I haven’t come close to completing 10% of any given title – but I have messed around enough to understand how each controls and whether they are worth a purchase or not. Simply put – are they any damn fun?
First the controller.
With the Wii, Nintendo opted to turn its back on participating in the escalating arms race and let the superpowers (Microsoft and Sony) duke that out. Nintendo’s foray into the last generation – with their Gamecube – was a failure at retail and their precious market share had already eroded enough that there was just no way a new graphics powerhouse was going to put them back in the game. If they were on the same field as Sony and Microsoft, they’d end up playing the role of water boy.
So they opted instead to slightly retool the Gamecube (pumping out a unit that is roughly 2 – 3x better than last gen’s X-BOX – which is still an improvement over the Gamecube) and focus the development dollars on redesigning the way we play.
Thus the Wiimote and Nunchuck controller were born.
If you’ve seen their quirky new commercials – where two Asian businessmen drop in on American homes across the land and get the denizens to jump, jive and wail away with nothing but a wireless nunchuck – you’ve got a good idea of this controller. Essentially, it’s a TV remote control looking device (which some games use solely) with an input at the base that allows an analog stick controller (tethered by a wire) to connect for those games that require more standard analog control. The entire package is wireless (Bluetooth) so the only wires you are dealing with is the one between the Wiimote and the Nunchuck attachment (again, if the game requires it.)
Through a series of sensors (gyrometers, accelerometers) inside the remote, the device analyzes your movement and position in 3D space – transmits the data back to the Wii – which then translates to your actions on screen. All done with microsecond timing – resulting in a lag free experience.
All right, that’s enough with the techno wizardry. I like to chalk it all up to magic. At least, that’s what it feels like. In fact, there has to be some wicked mojo running if the device could actually coax my wife, Andi, to join in and actually demand a second game. She was then spied beaming enthusiastically to her step-father at a belated Thanksgiving dinner – who decided that he too must have one. I merely described the system to my Dad and he decided on the spot that he needed one for Christmas as well.
It’s there that I think Nintendo may be on to something. Once you actually play the system – you realize how stagnant and monotonous gaming has gotten over the years – and how fun it actually can be. I honestly haven’t had this much fun since I was a kid – and that’s the beauty of the device – it makes you feel like a kid again. Yet, it’s not just for kids.
I’ve been trolling the net and have read a number of accounts of the surge in Wii popularity. In one week, Nintendo has sold over 600,000 units – a huge increase to PS3s anemic 175,000. Granted that’s the benefit to a healthy supply – however a survey of retailers reports that every time they get a shipment, they sell out within the hour – so the demand eclipses that generous supply. EB Games reports that for every one call they get for the PS3, the Wii gets 20. I think this can only help Microsoft gain first place – and if Nintendo gets enough units installed in people’s homes, they could have a shot at number 2. Especially, at that sweet price point ($250 – including game).
All right – now on to my quickie game impressions.
1. Wii Sports
This one comes packed in with the system (remember the good old days of freebies) so every Wii adopter is going to have a copy. That’s a perfect choice by Nintendo as its ease of use makes this a great pick-up and play title and really showcases the system’s capabilities. If anything, this will be the title that sends the elderly to eBay looking to score a Wii, as it is so easy to use and so much fun. With built in wireless support for up to 4 players – this makes for a great party game right out of the box.
The title features five sports titles – Tennis, Golf, Baseball, Bowling and Boxing. Using your custom Mii – you take your controller in hand and use it as each sports’ main equipment. Thus, in Tennis, you swing the controller like a racket. It is your club for Golf. Your bat (and ball) for baseball. Your ball for Bowling. And with the Nunchuck attachment – your fists for boxing.
So far, I have spent the most time in Tennis (each game played solo has challenges to attain – so I am working one sport at a time) and I can honestly say this game is a blast. It’s so cool to play a game of baseball and see the other team staffed with the Miis stored on your console (have you ever struck out Morpheus??? I have, beeyotches!!!) When Andi joined in, the fun just bumped up exponentially as we played doubles tennis against the computer. While the game supports up to 4 simultaneous players, you better have a lot of acreage in order to avoid injury. A few times, I was on the receiving end of Andi’s custom brand of spousal abuse.
I’m convinced that this is the type of title that will coax casual game players to want a Wii immediately. It’s got that addictive quality so intrinsic to the best games. The graphics may be a bit dated but it doesn’t matter when the game is this much fun.
One other thing – some of these games are just begging for the drinking game tie-in. Bowling and Golf especially. That could get fun… and dangerous.
2. Excite Truck
Excite Truck is the spiritual successor to the NES classis Excite Bike. In that game, you raced from left to right – on a dirt bike – where the sole intent was to grab massive air over the pyramid like ramps that dotted the race track.
Excite Truck employs the same affinity for big air – sending you off-roading through a variety of scenic locales (California desert, Arctic tundra, Scottish highlands) as you barrel your truck, jeep or ATV over rough terrain and launch yourself into the stratosphere. This is pure arcade racing at its best and the sense of speed and exhilaration you get from careening out of control and flying through the heavens is top notch. It actually reminds me a lot of the sleeper hit, Beetle Adventure Racing for the Nintendo 64.
The game uses the Wiimote in a different manner. For this game, you hold it sideways (think of the old NES controller and you’ll have an idea) and tilt is left or right to steer. For buttons, all you need to worry about is Gas and Break – although adventurous types can take advantage of a third button for the optional trick system. Tilting the controller back toward yourself will pullback on the truck – prompting the truck to soar farther – while tilting forward will push the nose down and bring you down to Earth a lot faster. One can see the potential applications for flight games readily apparent in this control scheme.
While this is not the deepest racer (with it’s 10 tracks and 10 truck variations it’s no Gran Turismo) but there are enough challenges (variables where you have to hit a number of checkpoints, collect rings, damage trucks, etc) to add some variety. I’m sure better racers will come along but out of the gate this is a pretty solid start and a helluva’ lot of fun.
3. Call of Duty 3
CoD3 has been released across all platforms and obviously this version cannot compete with the XBOX 360 or PS3 editions. If anything, it is probably a notch higher (in looks) from the XBOX. What it does bring to the table is perhaps the closest approximation of the mouse/keyboard set-up (beloved by PC First Person Shooter fans) that a console has ever seen.
This game uses both controllers – with the analog Nunchuck controlling movement and the right Wiimote acting as your viewpoint/gun sight. The pinpoint accuracy afforded by the Wiimote enables you to get pretty close to pixel-perfect accuracy – thus the mouse comparison. The controls do seem a little too sensitive (you can turn down the sensitivity in options) meaning you have to have a steady hand when playing. That said, the game is wonderfully immersive as you do feel like you’re holding an actual Garand blasting away at ‘Jerry’ around every corner – leading to many tense, suspenseful moments.
World War II shooters are a dime a dozen – but the new Wii control scheme does bring something new to the table – making this retread a bit more compelling to play through.
4. The Legend of Zelda – The Twilight Princess
I am a huge Legend of Zelda fan. I’ve written extensively in the past on this. There is just something to this series – the puzzles, the boss battles, the fantasy world created – that is just sewn to my soul. Its been that way since I discovered the original Zelda – on that glorious golden cartridge back in the summer of 1987 – and has led to me looking forward to every subsequent release – none of which have disappointed me. It is this series alone that led me to trade in the 360 and purchase the Wii.
So how is the latest installment?
I don’t know. I haven’t played it yet.
That is not an indictment on the game (which has received some stellar marks – most calling it the true successor to the Ocarina of Time – revered as the greatest Zelda adventure ever.) The reason I haven’t played this is I want to play it in it’s best possible display and as of this writing, I have yet to procure the necessary Component Cables to connect the Wii to my flat screen. Currently, I am running the Wii through Composite cable (the Red, White, Yellow cables) which results in a slightly less defined picture. While I do not have High Def, my Panasonic Tau does have Component inputs – meaning the Wii will display a sharper, more vibrant picture – which really does make a difference to those who see these sorts of things.
If Nintendo stumbled in one place with this launch, it is with the availability of Component cables. Apparently, they said goodbye to the Gamecube with a large number of GC component cables left unsold and destined for the landfill. Misinterpreting that to mean a lack of demand for these cables, they offered up a small shipment of cables for the Wii launch. Thus these cables are now selling for about the price of the system on eBay. There is good news on the horizon as Nintendo has kick-started the sweatshops and expects to flood the market with cables in mid-December.
Until then, Zelda can wait.