It’s a good thing I didn’t base my opinion of the Nintendo Wii on the quality of the bands playing at last nights kick off of the 2006 edition of the Nintendo Fusion Tour. If I had, this wouldn’t be the article you’ll see it’s going to be. Of course, I’m 32, so my idea of the pop-punk/rock scene was at least 15 years ago, when the acts making up the tour would have likely been of the grunge variety.
Anyways, Enough about the “music”, or whatever was really happening on the stage (The sounds of two cats fighting on a dumpster may not be far off from what I heard, except cats can’t swear). I was there to get my first hands on experience with the Wii. At E3 2006, the line was far too long, and frankly, I’m not a Nintendo fanboy. In fact, the only Nintendo product I’ve ever owned was a N64 back in the day when GoldenEye was the best game on the market. To me, Nintendo has always been the gaming platform of choice for children and aside from their 3 major platformers (Mario, Zelda, and Metroid). I felt there was little reason for me to buy any Nintendo console, even the handhelds, as I could get most of the same games on higher end hardware that my friends were buying.
After last night, and my experience with the Wii, that’s about to change.
If you’ve read any of my prior articles on my time at E3, or my desires for improvement in the gaming industry, revolutionizing controllers has always been at the top of my list. Before last night, the closest I’d seen to a real change in the way people think about the how to of playing games were 3D mice and head mounted LCD’s. The few gyroscopic based controllers were awkward and bulky, and the manufacturers could never figure out how to go wireless without giving up on reliable connectivity and maintain good game play. Until the Wii, that is, because after just half an hour using the Wii remote, it’s clear that Nintendo got it right.
At the tour, Nintendo had 10 Wii units with large LCD displays. Available for play were Wii Sports, Wii Play, Excite Truck, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam, and Metroid prime 3: Corruption. As you can guess by the predominant age range of the attendees, the lines for Tony Hawk and Metroid were quite long, so I made the decision to get more hands on time as the expense of playing the hotter titles.
Wii Sports is comprised of Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Bowling, and Boxing. All of the sports except Golf were available to play. The games themselves are not high-end titles; in fact they are basically cleaned-up “proof of concept” games intended for the user to learn how to work the Wii remote in a 3D space. Making learning fun is a concept popular with educators, and it seems to work on gamers as well, as the sports games made for a short learning curve on how to use the remote.
The first game I played was Bowling. It was simple enough. With the remote in hand, you squeeze the trigger, and then swing your arm back and forward like you’re throwing an actual bowling ball. You release the trigger to release the ball. Using the buttons on the remote, you can adjust for line and natural curve on the ball as the gyros in the remote capture the arc of your arm swing, and a minute left hook will carry the ball slight left across the lane. After just a few tries, I was making adjustments and throwing strikes. There was a slight disconnect with reality in that to add speed to the throw, you flick your wrist right before release.
One think you notice right away is that the playing experience seems very pliable. Moving between games doesn’t require a new controller; it simply requires different use of the same controller. My next game was Tennis, and you use move the remote left and right to move back and forth on the court, and a simple flick of the wrist to hit the ball. It actually felt very much like playing ping-pong standing still, which I think is an excellent approximation of what each sport game felt like; playing a miniaturized version of a real game.
Next was Boxing, which after only two rounds of playing, it was easy to predict that several companies will be launching exercise titles exclusively for the Wii. For boxing, you actually use two remotes, one in each hand, which approximate gloves. You raise and lower the remotes to block, move them side to side to dodge, and punching with either hand has the same effect on screen. Much like in bowling, the angle of the punching motion was interpreted into different types of punches and where on the body they landed. This is the first boxing simulator I’ve played where I actually came away feeling like I’d done some boxing.
The last Wii Sports title I played was Baseball. This was the first game that at least part of the action didn’t feel like the sport. Throwing a pitch happens with a flick of the wrist. You control the type of pitch you throw with the angle it’s done at, and the speed by how hard you do it. Hitting with the remote felt like swinging one of those small wooden souvenir bats. You don’t actually have to swing too much, but hitting feels a lot more like the actual act than pitching does.
When I finished off the Wii Sports titles, I got in line for Excite Truck, mostly because it was only 3 people long. This game certainly doesn’t display what the Wii is capable of graphically, but it was fun to see what using the remote as a steering wheel would be like. Sadly, this was the only game I played where I don’t feel the gyros were being read precisely enough. Turning felt somewhat sluggish, and like you had to make a larger hand motion that would be expected. It still played fairly well, and reminds you how far we’ve come since Excite Bike on the SNES.
The last game I played was the target shooter that is a part of Wii Play, which will come bundled with one of the add on controllers. This wasn’t really anything to get worked up about, but did show that the remote is (obviously) well suited for playing FPS games and makes the trigger placement on the bottom of the remote seem like an excellent idea. In fact, even in my large hands, the remote didn’t feel too small which isn’t always easy to find.
While I didn’t play the two high-end titles, I did watch a good bit of others playing them, and I will say that graphically the Wii is better than I thought it would be. In fact, it seems to be a decent step up from the GameCube, at least at this very early point.
I have to say my overall experience with console was very positive. The games felt very immersive, in large part because you aren’t just sitting there pressing buttons. In fact, even in the games that required button presses, moving the remote was still the primary means of controlling the action.
I bought my Xbox 360 because it was the first next-gen console to market. I am not buying a Playstation 3 until the price comes down to the point where I wouldn’t rather spend the money on say a trip to Europe or NHL season tickets. And while in previous generations I would have likely not given purchasing the Nintendo console even much consideration, I am now definitely going to buy a Wii. The Wii remote is truly a step ahead of what the other consoles are offering. If the games live up to what the technology seems capable of delivering, there could be a major shift in the US console marketplace.