Review by Phange

"With a decidedly iPod-inspired design, is the Wii the "console of the masses"?"

The Nintendo Wii in most gamers' mind is a literal representation of the David and Goliath story; the two giant powerhouses of Sony and Microsoft nearly vaporized the Gamecube's success everywhere but in Japan, forcing Nintendo to "put up or shut up" so-to-speak. Knowing they couldn't afford the millions (or even billions) of dollars required for research and development of state-of-the-art technology, Nintendo differentiated themselves with a system focued not on graphics or extra (sometimes game-related) features, but on the philosophy that people just want to have a good time with games, and that non-gamers find most traditional games too daunting. Take the iPod, for example. Before its time, MP3 players were for the hardcore internet downloaders and were simply ignored by the mainstream society. Then, with the advent of the stylish iPod and the user-friendly iTunes, people who would ordinarily shy away from MP3s found themselves paying a good chunk of change to play their music on the go. Could there be a vast, untapped market of non-gamers who secretly wouldn't mind playing some simple, entertaining games with easy-to-learn controls? Well, for Nintendo's sake there had better be.

Technical Specifications

There's no doubt in anyone's mind that the Wii is literally on the other side of the football field when it comes to system specifications. If anything, it's firmly rooted at the top of the last-generation of hardware situated roughly on-par or better than the original Xbox. That said, the Wii has a few interesting hardware quirks which would be considered "next generation" by most accounts.

First off, it has a WiFi card built right into the system (something even the mighty Xbox 360 can't boast). This allows for wireless internet access in any location with a wireless network. Because the Wii uses an internet service similar to (albeit much less featured) Xbox Live, your console essentially has its own "name" on WiiConnect24, Nintendo's new internet service. You can communicate with friends via emails (called messages) or by trading Mii characters.

Because the technology inside the Wii is fundamentally similar to older technology, Nintendo was able to drastically reduce its size, making the Wii one of the smallest systems ever made and ultra-quiet. It's easy to note that Nintendo followed the iPod formula of "small, white, sleek and shiny" to a T with the Wii.

Menu Interface

Apparently someone at Nintendo liked 1950's television, as it seems to be the chief influence on the Wii's menu design. Each option is presented as a CRT Television screen called a "channel". The Wii currently defaults to a half-dozen channels: the Disc Channel, the Mii Channel, the Photo Channel, the Shop Channel, the Forecast Channel and the optional Virtual Console channels. Channels that are not currently used appear as television static until their slot is utilized.

The 1950's influence didn't stop there, though. Some of the channels (such as Mii and Photo) have clear The Sims-inspired 1950's shopping music. In a rare move for Nintendo, the entire Wii interface manages to feel extremely refined and simple but at the same time designed clearly for the young adults to elderly crowd. It is these people that will get the most out of the clever menu design.

It is worth noting that the Disc Channel will display what game you have inserted into the Wii, so you don't have to click it to find out. Nice touch.

Controllers

Currently, I have three controllers: The Wii Remote, the Nunchuck, and the Classic Controller.

The "Wiimote": This is the controller that caused such a storm at Tokyo Game Show in 2005. Initial impressions were that Nintendo had lost their marbles and that disaster had finally befallen the company. Over time, however, public reception began to warm up to its concept and it eventually became the hallmark of the Wii's design.

Ergonomically, the Wiimote is actually slightly larger than I had expected but still quite small by console controller standards. It fits snugly in the hand and almost feels like a gun (of sorts) when you're holding the "B" trigger.

Button placement on the Wiimote is a bit of a mixed bag. Unless you're holding the Wiimote sideways, basically the only buttons you'll really have access to at any given time are the "A" and "B" buttons, and the D-Pad. The D-Pad looks and feels pretty much exactly like the DS Lite's, which may be disappointing to some but it hasn't hit me as being particularly bad so far. The "A" button, like on Gamecube, is a giant button clearly designed to handle most of the action. The "B" button is a trigger akin to the Nintendo 64's "Z" button, which is a nice addition.

Other buttons include the plus and minus buttons, the "home" button, and "1" and "2". These buttons are quite small and basically impossible to use while using the pointer functionality of the Wiimote unless you're using both hands. So far, their uses in games that use pointer functionality seem to primarily be for pause menus, removing/adding maps, etc. It is best to think of these buttons as periphery.

The Nunchuck attachment is very comfortable, though it's alarmingly light and feels somewhat cheap. Nevertheless, the analog stick is one of the best yet and it sports two trigger buttons on the front.

Real-World Use

The Wiimote's pointer accuracy is spot-on as long as you're within the recommended range from the sensor bar. For those like me who live in dorms or small rooms, it may be difficult to position yourself a good distance away from the television. Though there are "dead angles" with the pointer, they are usually avoidable and the sensor bar quickly re-registers the pointer when it comes back into range.

The tilt sensing capabilities of the Wiimote are better than I had expected, and the Wiimote can detect very subtle (though generalized) movements. Unfortunately, both of these modes are mutually exclusive by nature of how the Wiimote works, which allows for some exploitation (IE, in Wii Sports Boxing you can punch nearly straight down but with the Wiimote held at a 90 degree angle and still register a high hit) but for the most part it should be fine.

Overall

The Wii is a nice, solid system and the controller performs roughly on-par with realistic expectations. While some extra features would've made the package a bit more worth the money, the Wii is still an affordable console that will definitely provide hours of fun for gamers and non-gamers alike.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/21/06


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