Well, it’s finally here. What some have criticized as Nintendo’s biggest mistake, and others have lauded as the second coming of gaming, is sitting right over next to my TV. So, two weeks since launch, how does the little white box stack up? It’s good so far…really good. A lot of it has to do with the games, but the hardware is no slouch either. And yes, there are a number of dings that accompany any launch.
The Wii console itself is without a doubt Nintendo’s sexiest machine, period. Not even the DS Lite can top the sheer slickness of the Wii, the utter simplicity that graces every corner of its glossy frame. I know there will always be hardcore stalwarts who prefer the NES, SNES, N64, or maybe even Virtual Boy for that matter, but the fact is the Wii is the first game console that looks good anywhere in a living room.
The controller shares the aesthetic perfectly. Its simple, remote shape is familiar, inviting even. It’s a far cry from the intimidating, three-pronged N64 “claw” or the potentially-fatal-if-swung classic Xbox pad. Side by side with other next-gen controllers, it has the least possibility of scaring non-gamers. And it feels great in the hand, which is the only thing that matters anyway. The weight is just substantial enough, the wrist strap is never very obtrusive (and can be removed), and the subdued yet apparent rumble won’t make the remote leap out of your hand. Even with the Nunchuck plugged in, the Wii’s interface looks stylish, maybe because the gadgets aren’t clumped together in one chunk of plastic. The Nunchuck does feel a bit light at first, but after a while you really forget it’s in your hand.
My one complaint: the speaker in the Wii-mote. It’s crackly. It’s annoying at times. I currently have it turned off. A feature that is intended to heighten immersion actually muddies the experience. Yes, it’s novel the first few times, when you hear Link cap a bottle or a gun reload in Red Steel, in your hand, but the poor quality gets irritating quickly. For the life of me, I can’t understand it either. Nintendo has been putting small, quality speakers in their handhelds for years. The DS speakers are, for a portable, crystal clear and make for a decent stereo setup on the go. Why couldn’t Nintendo slap one of the little gems into the Wii-mote? I seriously doubt size is an issue. I really hope they raise the speaker performance in future Wii-mote models, because there is a great deal of immersion potential, if they’d only get it right.
Now, on to the main event: software. There are probably hardcore gamers reading this, so let me put your fears to rest—Zelda Twilight Princess is, by and large, amazing. I’ve sunk 30+ hours into it already, and I just can’t stop, which is a great sign. It isn’t a paradigm shift the way Ocarina of Time was, but it doesn’t need to be; Twilight Princess showcases that the Wii can handle deep, traditional games with its unorthodox controls, and do it with style too. The Wii remote is the superior way to play Zelda, and I honestly can’t imagine going back to strict buttons and analog.
As for the game itself, be prepared for the same, good old Zelda, mostly. You get a few surprises here and there, and the controller really livens up some of the items, but it’s the same formula we’ve had and loved since Ocarina. But ridiculously big. You won’t get any “unwelcome” changes, like Majora’s 3-day cycle or Windwaker’s cel shading, just an exponentially bigger, richer world to explore, more dungeons and the best storyline the Zelda series has ever seen. The style is darker, edgier, and takes itself much more seriously, with just a few hints of Miyamoto’s telltale innocence. Twilight Princess is a must buy for serious gamers, just don’t expect a massive change in the way you play Zelda, other than the new control scheme.
Red Steel, on the other hand, it a different story. Not a bad story, per se, just not an extraordinary one. In terms of raw polygon count and texture resolution, Red Steel is prettier than Zelda in many respects. Ubisoft’s shooter is visually the most next-gen of all the Wii launch titles, practically dripping with bloom lighting and particle effects. I think I even spotted some normal mapping; I might have been looking a little too close. We know the Wii can handle bump and normal and all those juicy effects— every pixel of the Rogue Squadron games on Cube were slathered with shader tricks—so I won’t be surprised if we see more glitz appearing in second generation Wii software.
Red Steel’s big problem is that it’s a launch title. It has a genuinely enjoyable solo campaign, if you can adjust to the awkward new control setup. Ubisoft did a good job on a limited timetable, and the improvements from the E3 build are readily apparent, but the interface is still rather rough. Sword combat, far from the precise, graceful art of dismembering an opponent, quickly degenerates into frantic slashing and shaking of the controllers. There is some skill involved, but the disconnect is just too prominent to make this new form of combat appealing.
Shooting and aiming doesn’t fare much better. On big TVs it’s serviceable, but if you have a smaller screen you may get frustrated. In any case the guns feel too “floaty” and that invisible bounding box is too wide. I’ll hold out for Metroid Prime 3 before I decide if the Wii is the new home of first-person (Retro Studios did have a large hand in designing the Nunchuck, so they clearly know what they’re doing). Red Steel is a great idea that had the unfortunate honor of blazing the trail. With future improvements, like Nintendo’s newly licensed LiveMove toolkit, a stellar sequel is in order. I expect no less from the developer that gave me Prince of Persia.
Trauma Center: Second Opinion feels much as it did on the DS, which I think is a very good thing. It has that perfect combination of offbeat quirk and killer app that just works, and even better on Wii. The more realistic art style might be a chafing point for purists who love the original, but for me it makes the whole game feel a bit more legitimate. Still, it’s the over-the-top anime approach and larger than life story that gives the game its appeal—it’s really just short of Phoenix Wright’s cult classic feel.
Second Opinion is also once again in the perfect place at the best time. Its visuals won’t exactly blind you with brilliance, but the gameplay itself is an excellent example of how the Wii controls work, and the “broader spectrum” philosophy behind the console.
And so, after the spectrum of true “games,” we come to the inevitable, uncomfortable question: is Wii Sports a worthwhile pack-in, or is its primary use that of a Frisbee? The answer depends on your perspective.
If you are a solitary, dungeon-dwelling gamer, who only leaves your lair to hunt the wild Chipotle and case of Ballz, you’ll be more than a little under-whelmed. I’m not trying to insult anyone here; I know many gamers will go five hours at a shot in Zelda, myself included, and Wii Sports isn’t nearly meaty enough to hold the interest of a hardcore solitary gamer. Played alone, Wii Sports is barely a passing distraction. But in a group of people, even the hardest of the hardcore will find themselves having fun.
Wii Sports is a simpler parallel to Smash Bros: you can play it alone, but much of the potential fun is wasted. The rudimentary nature of the games, Tennis, Bowling, Boxing, Golf and Baseball, makes them cry out to be demoed for friends. The whole purpose of this shallow pack-in is to break the ice to people who are terrified of that gaming stigma. I would’ve preferred a new Mario of a free copy of Zelda with my Wii, but most of my family wouldn’t know where to start with those games. That’s the idea. Instead of discarding their accumulated tech demos, Nintendo put them to good use as a crash course in Wii gaming. So, the next time your girlfriend (if she’s a non-gamer) or dear old grandpa is over for a visit, drop a Wii-mote in their hand and say, “try this, it’s fun.” If everyone keeps an open mind, I guarantee you’ll all have a good time.