Nintendo Wii Impressions
The Wii is clearly one of the gutsiest moves Nintendo has made since the launch of the NES in the United States back in 1985 and 1986. Some complained that Nintendo's last console, the GameCube, was difficult to make multi-platform games on (mostly because the controller didn't conform to PS2 and Xbox standards). Well, this time around, Nintendo has really gone the way of opposites by not only refusing to do high definition graphics, but to spend that time and effort to come up with a controller that's so unique, so weird, that even months from now die-hard gamers will still wonder if it was the right move.
The "out-of-box" experience for the Wii wasn't the best I've seen, as there are quite a few parts, dongles, pieces, and attachments that come with the main Wii console and Nintendo didn't have free room to give the absolute best user experience available. We have the normal accessories like the "Wiimote" controller and batteries for it along with a video cable (just composite - that's the red, white, and yellow cables - component cables will be sold separately in the near future) and an AC adapter that seems a little similar to the GameCube's adapter. This is all stuff you expect. but then we also have the vertical stand, a transparent plastic piece about the size of a DVD disc that sits under the vertical stand to stabilize it, the "Nunchuck" controller attachment, a big heap of manuals, and the sensor bar.
The sensor bar helps the Wiimote understand where it is in 3D space when you need to have a cursor or crosshair on the screen. With it, the Wiimote knows exactly where you're pointing at on-screen, and can also tell when you twist it or move it towards or away from your TV. The sensor bar sits either on top of your TV or just in front of it on the bottom, and you'll need to make sure that stuff isn't in the way between the Wiimote and the sensor bar as it needs a clear line of sight. System setup is a little more complex than some consoles, mostly because of the need to place the sensor bar, but overall I still found it was pretty painless.
There's a couple of panels on the side of the Wii (the top if you use the vertical stand) that hide four GameCube controller ports and two GameCube memory card slots. You can just leave these covered up if you want and flip them open for GC gameplay, or you can remove the panels entirely with a snap and a slight pull. Yes, the Wii is fully compatible with GameCube games, and even some of the crazier attachments like microphones work. The only one that doesn't work is the GameBoy player. There's enough space to plug in four WaveBird controller receivers if you want, though.
The actual Wii interface is a pretty unique thing. Much like the console and its packaging, most of the Wii's on-screen graphics are in simple colors on a white background. You can set up your "Mii", or a cute little character which then works to varying degrees in many Wii games, or you can jump right into whatever game disc you threw in there.
You can buy and download a small selection of classic games for 8- and 16-bit systems as well as the Nintendo 64 and then play them with various controllers (NES games are $5, SNES and Genesis games are $8, while N64 games are $10, and the library will grow in size every Monday), and the Wii does include wireless functionality right out of the box. I really have to give them credit for that, because Sony requires you to buy the $600 PS3, rather than the $500 model, for built-in wireless functionality, and Microsoft expects you to fork out $100 for their USB Wireless adapter. Yes, the latter is a real ripoff, and I really liked that Nintendo just built it in. If you don't have wireless, you can plug in one of many third-party USB to ethernet adapters as well, and you don't need to spend an arm and a leg on a first-party accessory for this.
Unfortunately, there isn't much online functionality available just yet. Eventually we'll see News headlines and weather updates along with a real web browser, but for now those features are disabled until Nintendo enables them.
The Wiimote is a unique piece of hardware. It's got sensors built in, internally, that can tell when you flick it around in various directions. It's also got the infrared system, which interacts with the Sensor Bar, to tell where you're pointing the Wiimote when you point it at the screen. Note, though, that various refractions and other light issues can cause interference with the infrared portion of the Wiimote's sensing. If your on-screen cursor is jumping around, go into the Wii Menu, then into settings and finally into Sensitivity. From there you can see how many "points of light" the Wiimote can see - if it's more than two, then start turning off lights and closing blinds in your house until there are only two.
Now, I'd like to post the rest of my impressions here in the form of an extended pros-and-cons list.
Gutsy move. Many Wii games are controlled only with the Wii controller in the unique way that Nintendo has laid out for game developers. You play it this way, or you don't play it. So far, I like it, and I really think that game developers shouldn't just be brainlessly trying to port games for other consoles to the Wii. That's not what this console's strength is, and skipping over it defeats the whole purpose of having a Wii. Kudos to Nintendo for doing something totally unique, and kudos to so many game developers for realizing the potential.
Potential. My thoughts on how good the Wii's launch titles actually are aside, I think that the Wii will spur on all kinds of innovation in the more creative game developers out there. Whether the bigger, more profit-motivated companies like EA can really stay on board, well, we'll see. But looking back at the last ten years of video and computer games, I can't think of any one piece of hardware that has had more potential to change the way games are played than the Wii. Now, it's up to Nintendo to realize and capitalize on this potential.
Classic Gaming. For years and years now, technically-inclined gamers have fiddled with emulators on their PCs, downloading "ROMs" of games long since discontinued, knowing it was technically illegal but having no way to legitimately play those old games aside from trying to deal with old, faulty hardware. Nintendo is bringing this system into the mainstream in an excellent way, with Virtual Console technology that runs NES, SNES, N64, Sega Genesis, and (eventually) Turbo-Grafx 16 games. The prices are pretty reasonable and the ability to store them on worldwide-standard SD cards (rather than some proprietary memory card with only a small fraction of the amount of storage that you'd expect for the price) is wonderful.
The Pack-in Game. Knowing that probably one in ten (twenty?) kids back in the SNES days didn't really like Super Mario World, I was a skeptic about another pack-in game. But I was wrong - Nintendo knew what they were doing with this one. I don't even like sports other than boxing, and I really enjoyed playing all five of the games included in Nintendo's Wii Sports. It accustoms you to the controller, gives you plenty of challenge against the computer or along with friends, and several of the games work fine even if you only have one controller.
Slick Hardware. The Wii is really, really tiny. Stack up three DVD cases, and that's about how big it is. When consoles only seem to be getting bigger and fatter, this one is about the size of, well, the whole DVD drive inside of the Xbox 360. It's smaller than the HD-DVD add-on for the 360. It's totally dwarfed by the PS3, and compared to the original Xbox, well, you've heard the "Xbox=huge" jokes. The tiny size of this console actually makes them funny all over again. Full GameCube compatibility is also really, really nice.
Built in Wifi. Considering how much Nintendo's competitors want to charge you to get your console connected via Wifi, then having built-in wireless functionality in every Wii is really great.
The Price. $250 is a great starting price for a console when everyone else's cost hundreds more (not including the Core version of the Xbox 360, which is almost useless without at least $100 worth of accessories). Nintendo has shown us that innovation shouldn't cost the gamer an arm and a leg.
Launch Issues. From the delay of the News and Weather "channels" and web browser to the inexplicable lack of accessories in some necks of the United States, it seems that even Nintendo has had some launch delays of their own. It would have made for a more solid launch if much of the stuff Nintendo had promised really did make it in for launch day, and here in Texas, there are hardly any separately-sold controllers to be found. To contrast, if the 360 shipped without any HDTV functionality, it kills off one of the main draws of the system. The lack of availability of a second controller is much the same for the Wii, where simultaneous mulitplayer is supposed to be one of the biggest reasons to buy the thing in the first place.
Console shortages. Of course, there are the actual hardware sellouts and shortages, which were almost inevitable on launch day - if Nintendo can get over the hump and get enough consoles out before Christmas to where they're not being snapped up as soon as they're put on the shelf, they'll be looking at some very nice statistics for numbers of people playing. Until then, getting one's not easy since few retailers are taking pre-orders anymore and customers are having to drive around town and wait out in the cold early in the morning every day trying to snag one. Either that or you have to resort to dealing with eBay. I hope there comes a day when a video game system launches and these problems will just be a thing of the past.
Wiimote problems. My own issues were chronicled earlier in this review, but what happens if you actually like playing your video games in a bright room? What if some lights in your house can't or shouldn't be turned off? What if you do want to play less than three (or more than 10 feet) away from your TV? All of these issues can cause major potential problems for Wiimote usage, and it's not something most gamers have ever had to deal with.
A Gaggle of controllers. Ready for this? Ok. GameCube games can only be played with a GC controller hooked up to the system. Wii games are only playable with the Wiimote, and some games (or mini-games inside normal games) require the nunchuck attachment. (Note that the Wiimote is sold separately from the Nunchuck). When it comes to Virtual Console games, the NES and Genesis games can be played with the Wiimote, but the SNES and N64 games can't - for those, you need Nintendo's new Classic Controller, hooked up to the Wiimote, or a GameCube controller. Got it? Good, because there will be a quiz. Really, the problem here is that in Nintendo's bid to make the world's most accessible console, their adherence to playing older games has made a mess of the whole controller situation. I really don't see how parents or anyone who didn't grow up playing video games are really going to be able to figure this one out without a Best Buy employee spelling it out for them. And even then, it probably still won't be very clear.
Kiddy Console. I know this has been a hotly debated topic regarding the GameCube, but let's face it - a bunch of the Wii games released so far look like they're made for little kids. Now, I'll say right now that Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz is a very tough and fun game for adults, and kids would probably not get very far in it, but the look and style of the game just makes you look like you're playing a game that's made for a four-year-old. Sure, you might say that you don't care how you look, but if your college roommate walks in with three strangers and there you are, tipping a Wiimote around while "Baby" monkey is whining and crying in a high-pitched voice, I don't care how much you care - you're gonna look like you're playing a little kids' game. Simplistic-but-not-kiddy games like Wii Sports help, but let's face facts here. Nintendo needs a better mix of games that look more "adult".
Of the few M- and T-rated games released so far, only a few really deal with real, grown-up themes. I'm talking about Red Steel, Splinter Cell: Double Agent, and Call of Duty 3 as opposed to Zelda: Twilight Princess or World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions. I know that Nintendo gained some points with gamers with the release of Resident Evil 4 a couple years back, but if they want to shake off the "kiddy" stigma that the GameCube had, there's only one way: more M-rated games that deal with real life issues in a truly mature way.
Overall, the Wii is a very powerful little console with a unique style of controller that many developers are starting to embrace. As long as new, innovative games are continually released that put the Wiimote and nunchuck to good use, and we see a nice range of games that cover all age brackets, then this console will be a winner. It'll certainly help if Nintendo can get their online functionality working quickly, and ship enough consoles and accessories out by Christmas so that people aren't calling and visiting stores on a daily basis to get their hands on them.