Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wii Impressions

I've only been Wii-ing for three days, but I've checked out most of the features. These, my friends, are my impressions:

Overall, I think the Wii is going to be a very nice system. The set-up was easy. The games have been fun. The controller is striking and it works better than I had begun to fear. This post is a bit long, but I wanted to get it all out in one go. Please read on.

Getting the Wii up and running was simple, as might be expected from a Nintendo product. The unit is slim, roughly the size of the re-designed PS2, and can be positioned horizontally or vertically. The infrared sensor bar is the one noticeably unique element in the system set-up. The bar sits either just below or just above the TV screen. It works in conjunction with the Wii-remote in triangulating the position of a pointer or crosshairs on screen.

When I first fired up the Wii, I was impressed with how responsive and accurate the pointer was. The Wii-remote is used to navigate the system's main menu screens, using a little hand with a pointing finger. Moving the Wii-remote moves the hand, and the controls are very responsive: even little things like rotating the remote causes the hand to turn. Overall, at least in menu navigation, the controls felt tight and right-on.

The Wii interface takes the form of different "channels." The first channel is dedicated to whichever game is in the Wii. Another channel houses the Miis, cutesy little characters or avatars that users create, use in some games (like Wii Sports), and share with other gamers. There is a calendar/planner channel and a digital photos channel that I expect will get very little use from me. There is also an online Wii shopping channel, which is where virtual console game are purchased, and online weather and news channels, although these last two won't be operational until late December. Each virtual console game that is purchased also occupies a new channel.

Clicking the pointer on a game channel starts that game. I'll just briefly touch on the games:

Wii Sports is fun but a bit too simple. Clearly, it is meant to demonstrate the motion sensitive controller, and it has an aroma of the tech demo about it. That said, bowling with the Wii-remote works really well. On my first play-through I bowled a 129 (it wasn't as easy for me as the oddly negative pro-Wii writer at Slate suggested), which is about as good as I can manage in real life, too. Golf, baseball, and tennis were rather fun, but many aspects of play, like the running controls, were taken over by the computer. This diminishes how deeply I can really get into these games. So far, boxing has felt a bit unresponsive and wonky, because I naturally try to punch faster than the game allows and the motion-sensing feels out of touch with my motions. That said, each sport has a training mode which can deliver a short-but-sweet blast of fun, like the bowling training in which you hurl the ball at a wide-ass lane with 91 pins. Wii Sports is sure to please casual gamers and even non-gamers, though from my perspective hard-core types are likely to want more from a sports title.

The only other Wii game I have now is Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I'm about 5 hours in at this point. The game seems solid and unmistakably Zelda-ish. If you've played any Zelda game since Ocarina of Time, which this game resembles in some ways, you will be very familiar with the style of play. I feel like I am only scraping at the surface of Twilight Princess, I've explored just a small piece of the game world, and I've read it takes upwards of 40 hours to finish. So far I'm having a great time, and enjoying the Wii controls more than I expected. Like many Wii games, this Zelda uses the Wii-remote and the nunchuck attachment, which consists of a motion-sensing controller (with a thumbstick and two triggers) for the left hand that connects to the Wii-remote via a cable (hence the name). Shaking and swinging the controllers to make Link swing his sword feels very natural. Likewise, aiming the slingshot with the Wii-remote is easy, and the crosshairs feel fluid and responsive to movements in the remote. I must say I expected less. Twilight Princess was born as a Gamecube game, and some reviewers have felt that the Wii controls seem tacked-on. For the most part, I disagree: from my perspective, the controls felt natural and took good advantage of the motion sensing. My only gripe is that the most powerful attacks come from locking on to a target with one button and pressing another button, with no use of the motion controls at all. When I play, I am almost inclined to use less powerful attacks that use the motion controls because swinging the Wii-remote to make Link deliver a sword slash really is fun and more immersive than pushing buttons.

Just a short note about graphics: as you've likely heard, the Wii graphics are nothing special. At least for the games I have, they are not much above the Gamecube. The lighting and water effects look really nice, true, but the characters are still blocky, lines are a bit jaggy, and some textures are muddy. To be completely honest, this saddens and worries me a bit. I'm not a big graphics whore, but I must admit I enjoy the eye candy some, and seeing what the Xbox 360 and PS3 can do leaves me envious. I worry because, although the Wii clearly has a lot of casual gamer appeal, producers will need to keep putting out fun and innovative titles to keep the system interesting to serious gamers--they can't rely on sweet graphics to carry the weight--and this is a tall order. Of course, I also think this is exactly what designers should do all the time, but my years as a gamer have taught me that interesting, unique, well-designed games are rare.

With that said, I've must say I really love the simple, dated graphics and old-school gameplay of the Wii Virtual Console. There are something like 13 games from the NES, SNES, Genesis, Tubografx 16, and Nintendo 64 available for purchase online right now, and the list will expand as time goes on. So far, I've bought Solomon's Key for the NES and Bomberman '93 for the Turbografx. I'm waiting on Gunstar Heroes for the Genesis, which was supposed to be available at launch but hasn't shown up yet. From the two I have, I can say that these games look and play just about exactly like the originals. I was psyched and a bit surprised to see Solomon's Key on the games list. That was one of my favorite NES games, but I think it was less popular than Gyromite. It is an odd choice for a launch game, but I am grateful.

I think the virtual console has a lot of potential. I'm not sure how much young or casual gamers will get into it, but for a gaming fogey like me, the VC will likely be a big $$$ sink. Right now, I am looking forward to Super Metroid for the SNES, Devil's Crush for the Turbografx 16, and Excitebike 64 for the N64. I'm sure I'll encounter all sorts of games I haven't thought about in a while, and I expect a fair number of impulse purchases to take place. Nevertheless, I think the pricing on the VC is to high. Right now, games are around $5 for NES, $6 for some Turbografx 16, $8 for Genesis and SNES, and $10 for N64. Sure, those prices are fine if you just want a couple games. But I want dozens of these games, and I find the prices to be just outside of impulse range, particularly for the Genesis, SNES, and N64. Most of these games are available online for free if you have an emulator. I'm willing to play by the rules and purchase them, but I expect a good, and by good I mean cheap, price. I would like to see top prices around $3 NES, $4 Turbografx, Genesis, and SNES, and $5 N64. And assorted cheap-ass games ($1 or less) would also be appreciated. Maybe this will happen eventually when the market is more saturated. Right now, though, $8 for Altered Beast is crazy; maybe I would plunk down $2 for nostalgia's sake. (An aside: I see no reason that new, original games should be excluded from the VC. I would love to see some new games in the old style. And look how popular Geometry Wars is.)

To (finally) sum up: I have mostly good things to say about the Wii. The controls work better than I was beginning to fear, although they haven't been really tested for me yet, which will probably happen when a compelling first-person shooter comes out. The graphics are nothing special, and for me this means developers have to work extra hard to come up with unique games. I hope it is a challenge they rise to, rather than seeing the Wii as a casual-gamer junk heap that they can throw any half-baked game onto because the audience is not discerning. It would be nice if Nintendo beefed-up the online functionality, but I don't think Nintendo totally gets this yet, so I expect it to be only half-realized like on the DS. Finally, the virtual console is solid, and I hope it grows into a vibrant, nostalgia-heavy marketplace (with some new games mixed in).

So far, I am quite smitten by my new friend. I hope this crush can grow into a full-blown love affair, and there is no reason as yet to think that it won't.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Nice run-down. I waited in line at Best Buy on Sunday for about 5 minutes, until the manager came out and told us that they only had 12. Supposedly Tuesdays are supposed to be a good day for shipments, so I'm going to check a few places tomorrow. My excitement level is going down slightly, which is a good thing. I don't need to obsess about owning a product which I am sure will be freely available after Christmas, if not sooner. Plus, if I hold out, one of my relatives is sure to do the right thing and satisfy my inner 12-year old on Christmas morning.