Wii want to play!
Release Date: November 19, 2006
Hardware Category: Game Console
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
November was a very important month for gaming as two highly anticipated consoles were launched to challenge the Xbox 360 for next-gen dominance. Both Sony and Nintendo dipped their big toe into the sweet next-gen pool with the release of the PS3 and the Wii. A few months later and we can see that the Wii made a huge splash, while the PS3 just sank to the bottom of the pool. This was somewhat surprising as the PS3 has integrated Blu-Ray player, "True HD", "4D graphic engine" and a cell processor that is powerful enough to allow "real time weapon change" in games (not my quotes so do not kill the messenger). The Wii on the other hand does not support HD or surround sound, and incapable of even playing simple DVDs. So what is so special about the Wii?
I can tell you that the hardware is nothing special. The system is powered by the same IBM processor as did the Gamecube, but in a more efficient 90nm design allowing them to overclock it to about twice the speed of the original Gamecube. In this new generation of HD graphics, the Wii’s graphical output is limited to only 480p. The audio is also stuck in the old world with support for Dolby Pro Logic II, which is nothing more than enhanced stereo. The media is nothing special either. Nintendo has adopted the standard DVD9 format for the Wii, but wisely kept support for the Gamecube format as well. This compatibility was not difficult for Nintendo as the Wii is nothing more than an overclocked Gamecube. What is grabbing everyone attention is the Wii's controller; the Wii Remote.
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The Wii Remote, or better known as simply the wiimote, is Nintendo's answer to the question on how to attract non-gamers to purchase your gaming console. Nintendo figured the controls of most games scared off the casual gamers. They designed the wiimote to be a friendlier game control method. The design was based on a regular remote, as everyone young to old know how to use a remote control (I would argue that fact) and thus could use the wiimote. The wiimote features motion sensitive controls that allow gamers to interact with games via movement and pointing. This is not unlike a computer mouse, but does differ in that it can also detect rotation and acceleration. If that bag of tricks was not enough, the wiimote also contains a speaker to provide audio feedback as well as the standard force feedback when playing games. Finally, the wiimote actually contains internal memory, so players can carry their Mii (combination profile and avatar) to another Wii and keep playing without the need of a memory stick. The wiimote also has an expansion port to allow for attachments. The first of these add-ons, called the Nunchuck, comes bundled with the Wii. The nunchuck adds a standard analog controller to the Wii, and two extra triggers. Another attachment is the "Classic Controller" that is used to play classic games via the Wii Virtual Console. More attachments are planned, including a "zapper" attachment (think SNES lightgun).
The Nintendo Wii features a simple and clean user interface. This interface looks similar to a wall of TVs that allows gamers to select from various “channels”. These channels can be comprised of games or services. Out of the box (and once configured on your own network), gamers can choose from the Forecast Channel (to get the latest weather information), the News Channel (to retrieve the top headlines of the day), the Photo Channel (to view images), or the Nintendo Shopping Channel (to buy more games). Available for download is the Internet Channel, that will allow you to browse the Internet via Opera for Wii. But enough of the fluff, lets get to the games. The most popular of these channels, at least in my household, is the Mii channel. Miis are virtual avatars of the gamer. Think of a Mii as a gamer profile represented by a 3D animated character instead of a simple picture. Miis are very simplistic, but kind of grow on you. I was able to produce a Mii that was a fair representation of me (that it if I had short stubbly arms and legs). My Mii could hang out with other Miis that were on my friends list, but becoming friends with other Miis is not as simple as sending a friends request in the Xbox 360. Every Mii comes with a huge 24 digit Mii code that must be shared. For a console that is so user friendly, why did Nintendo make this feature, possible the best one of the entire console, so unfriendly. Even without other Miis to chillax with, Miis are still great as they are often used in Wii games. On the subject of games…..
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The Wii performs best when games are made to take advantage of the unique features of the wiimote. WiiSports (included with the console) is a prime example of how much fun a Wii can be. WiiSports is in reality a collection of 5 mini-sports titles (bowling, tennis, baseball, golf and boxing). Each mini-game is actually more of a demo to what the Wii can do than an actual full featured game. For example the Wii Boxing allows only for 3 rounds fights, Wii Golf for 9 holes games, and Wii Tennis for matches of 3 sets. Wii baseball is even simpler, allowing only for 3 innings of batting and pitching. There is no fielding, attempting to pick off players, base running etc... The bowling is the most complete mini-game of the bunch, allowing for a full frame of bowling to be played. What makes the games fun is not the set of features, but how each game is played. For example, the bowling has the player holding the wiimote as one would a bowling ball and to press the little trigger under the wiimote and to perform a normal bowling ball swing and to let go of the trigger (not the wiimote) as one normally release the ball. Playing tennis or baseball is even more simplistic in that the gamer only need to use the wiimote as a tennis racquet or baseball bat and to swing at incoming balls. What was extra cool was that the sound of hitting the ball comes from the speaker on the wiimote itself rendering the illusion all the more real. Boxing was fun, but did display the biggest problem with the wiimote; accuracy. As it turns out, the wiimote is not very good at tracking slight movements. I think the problem stems from the fact that the wiimote sensor is tracked in relation to a couple LEDs that sits under the TV screen. This allows for accurate left and right tracking, but not up and down tracking. This is very obvious when playing boxing as high and low punches are often not correctly tracked. Even with this limitation, the mini-games are indeed fun and more so when playing with others. Once I left the safety of these motion controlled friendly mini-games and entered into the world of real games is where the Wii starts to loose its lustre. The same motion controller that makes the Wii so much fun when playing mini-games becomes downright confusing and/or frustrating when playing a regular game. Trying to play the Wii version of “Zelda: Twilight Princess” with the wiimote was very frustrating. I found myself wishing over and over again that I had a regular control pad. The wiimote did nothing to enhance the controls of this game. The only time the wiimote was useful was in the mini-games that exist in the main game.
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At the risk of sounding snobbish, I found the graphics in Zelda to be distracting to the main title. I understand that the Wii does not compare to the Xbox 360 in terms of graphical capabilities, the problem is that the Wii cannot even compare to the Xbox in this department. Below are screenshots from new Tiger Wood 07. The first is from the Wii, then the Xbox, then the Xbox 360. You can plainly see that the Wii version has the least amount of overall detail and shadows. This is not an issue when playing simple party friend mini-games, but in title such as Zelda, the graphical limitations can actually detract from the enjoyment of the game.
Overall, the Wii’s strength is in fun multiplayer party games. It shall never replace by beloved Xbox 360 as my main gaming console, but it will remain part of my gaming repertoire. Looking for a recipe for a fun filled afternoon? Simply mix a few wiimotes, a few friends and a collection of mini-games and enjoy.