Review by chris-williams

"Underspecified, underpowered and underwhelming"

I'm rather late to the party with this console but I recently bought a Nintendo Wii, primarily for my children to play on but also with the intention of playing on it myself - a bit of Resident Evil, perhaps, or Fire Emblem. I freely admit that I was seduced by the buzz that the Wii represents a new paradigm in videogames and the backwards compatibility with the Gamecube, which had many excellent games, made it even more desirable.

Initial Impressions

My initial impressions were very favourable. All the components were neatly packed into two trays and the packaging was decently robust. As you're no doubt aware, the Wii hardware is very bijou and rather attractive. It packs a lot of ports and functionality into a remarkably small package - the whole unit is barely larger than a couple of game cases stacked on top of each other. It's certainly a lot easier on the eye than the ungainly XBox 360 although nowhere near as desirable as the Playstation 3.

Hardware

As mentioned earlier, the compact design incorporates a lot of functionality. There's a 5.25" slot loading drive at the front together with a compact flash card reader to expand the Wii's rather meagre 512MB of internal storage. The rear of the unit features mains input, video out and the plug for the Wiimote sensor, together with two USB ports (although I am not aware of any use for these). The left side of the unit, or top if you stand it up vertically, has a flap that lifts up to reveal four Gamecube controller ports and slots for two Gamecube memory cards. A welcome inclusion is wi-fi functionality. The Wiimote controller feels substantial and is an attractive piece of hardware, but the nunchuk (the attachment with the analogue stick controller) feels rather flimsy and plasticky.

Hardware setup was surprisingly finicky. The main culprit for this was the Wiimote sensor. This is a bar with a couple of LEDs that the Wiimote uses to calibrate itself. it needs to sit either on top of or in front of your television and has a very long and flimsy wire that tends to get entangled with all the other wires that almost certainly trail behind your TV. It is quite ridiculous, in fact, since the wire is somewhat over three metres long when it barely needs to be one. When you factor in the external power supply the whole setup ends up looking rather untidy. The build quality is rather suspect too - the unit has evidently been built to a budget and there are certain little niggles, such as the way that the Gamecube controller flap falls off whenever you plug one in. The first unit I brought home had a hardware fault - when I switched it on there was no guarantee that I would get any video output. Either I'm very unlucky or there's a reliability issue here.

The default control setup - Wiimote in one hand and nunchuk in the other - is, I'm afraid, simply awful. Attempting to navigate the Wii's user interface by literally pointing and clicking is an exercise in frustration; the pointer moves haphazardly around the screen (or doesn't since it's quite an effort to get the pointer on the screen in the first place) so that operating the console becomes a slow, clumsy and unpleasant experience. For your own sanity you'll want to get a classic controller, a dual stick pad that plugs into the nunchuk port on the Wiimote, and offers a far more usable control scheme, where you move a pointer in the X and Y axes using an analogue stick - a perfectly usable scheme that has worked fine for the past twenty years. I should point out that the classic controller is incredibly cheap and nasty (actually, it's not that cheap) and has a much poorer hand feel than the old Gamecube controller.

If a Wii game supports the classic controller, you're probably best off using it since the Wiimote feels awkward in the hand. Some games, such as Super Paper Mario and Mario Kart Wii, require the Wiimote to be held horizontally in both hands which feels completely wrong. The marketing hype would have you believe that the Wii represents a revolution in control and is both intuitive and natural. It's just like swinging a golf club or tennis racket, they say, anybody can pick it up. Poppycock. It's nothing like swinging a racket or a club. The feedback is all wrong and judging force and direction is next to impossible. Also, when I've played racket sports I don't remember having to hold down the B button to take a shot. However, given how the Wiimote has driven sales of the Wii, I bet Sega wish that they'd made the Bass Fishing controller the default controller for the Dreamcast.

Control issues aside, it's a good job that Nintendo's not inconsiderable marketing machine focused on the novel control scheme, because if they'd tried to market the rest of the package they'd have had another failure on their hands. The Wii is quite unbelievably anaemic. It actually has rather less grunt than the six year old XBox. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the substandard graphics.

The Wii may support 480p and widescreen, but it's not really that impressive. If you have an HD-ready TV, it will almost certainly show up the limitations of this resolution, making everything look pixellated and blocky. Some will respond that good graphics don't equal good gameplay. I'm not persuaded. Were this true we would all still be playing games on an NES or Sega Master System. And there's no doubt that good graphics make a good game better. If you don't believe me, just check out some screenshots of Mario Kart Wii and then compare them to screenshots from a game like Pure or Burnout Paradise. There's simply no competition.

Software

Once powered up, the system was quite straightforward to set up (or at least it was once I'd replaced the nunchuk controller with the classic). However, easy setup is the least you can expect from a consumer electronics device. Once past the initial setup screens, it's rather poor. The main interface looks like a badly designed web page and is divided into a number of "channels" - disc channel for playing games, shopping channel for channelling even more of your hard earned to Nintendo, weather channel for, er, finding out what the weather's like where you live and a couple of more, none of them particularly worthwhile. There are a couple of niggles in the user interface that become more annoying the more you use the console. Having to manually dismiss a health and safety warning every time I turn the Wii on drives me nuts. Also, when I stick a game disc in the drive, I expect it to start. Instead I have to navigate to the "disc channel", which, depending on what's plugged into what, can be an annoyance or a chore, click on the disc and then confirm my intention to play. Not good. Nintendo's inexperience in producing consumer electronics (as opposed to gaming machines) and operating systems (as opposed to games) is evident because compared to the competition, the Wii's interface is clunky and amateurish.

A games console does not exist in a vacuum so some mention must be made of the games available. Wii Sports, which comes free with the console, is actually a good indicator of what you can expect. It may be a technology demo and a freebie, but does it have to be so unremittingly awful? The golf game, in particular, is the worst game I have ever played with an appalling control scheme and graphics that would disgrace a Playstation 1 title. In fact, because of the "innovative" control scheme, many much loved franchises have been given horrible Wii makeovers from Soul Calibur and Dragonquest to Call Of Duty. The most popular console of any generation is always going to attract rubbish and this generation it's the Wii. Nintendo have to take some responsibility for the sheer volume of appalling games because they licence the damned things. When it comes to first-party titles, traditionally Nintendo's strongest asset, things aren't too great either. Mario Kart Wii, for example, looks terribly dated while Super Smash Bros Brawl looks hardly different from SSB Melee on the Gamecube (and that was an ugly game). That said, there are good games for the system, but they are very few and far between.

Special mention must be made of "Miis". These are the custom-made avatars that represent you and members of your family and Nintendo evidently think they're great because they're everywhere (play a few first party games and you'll see what I mean). I personally loathe them. They look like bad polygonal models of Playmobil people and they have hands but no arms, which just seems wrong. Had Nintendo made them look like Sims, they would have been rather charming, but instead Miis are another negative against the Wii.

Since Gamecube backwards compatibility was a reason I bought the system, I'll mention this feature here. It's present and works right enough, but it's not properly incorporated. You can't use Wii controllers with Gamecube games and you can't use the built-in flash memory for game saves. Instead, you'll have to track down Gamecube controllers and memory cards and because the Wii has created a healthy secondhand market for these, they don't come particularly cheap. Many secondhand Gamecube games are surprisingly expensive, too.

Online Capabilities

The wi-fi functionality was as easy to set up as the rest of the system (as it should be). However, the online side isn't as well developed as it is on the PS3 and XBox 360. Some games support online multiplayer, but the main reason to go online with the Wii isn't to check out the weather or read the news headlines. No, the main reason to go online is to buy Virtual Console games from the online store. Virtual Console - whereby you can download and play games made for a wide variety of retro systems from the obvious (NES, SNES and Nintendo 64) to the not so obvious (Turbografix 16, for example) - sounds great on paper but isn't so great in reality. The store interface is appallingly clunky (especially when compared to XBox Live Arcade and Playstation store) with awkward navigation and hierarchical menu after hierarchical menu. And it's an unavoidable fact that an SNES game on a 32" LCD TV looks simply horrible; old games should probably stay as fond memories and nothing more. The worst aspect, however, is that everything is grossly overpriced. There is a fixed price point for each virtual console system so a Nintendo 64 game costs GBP7 ($10) which is almost exactly twice the price of a Playstation 1 game from the Playstation store. There is absolutely no free stuff, either, notably no game demos since the concept of try-before-you -buy hasn't reached Nintendo towers. Again, the Wii compares very unfavourably with the competition.

There's a nasty gotcha with the Nintendo store that you should be aware of. You don't have an online account. Instead, your transactions are tied to a hardware key. If you return a faulty system to Nintendo, they'll transfer your transaction history to the replacement system. Take it back to the shop, like I did, and everything you've bought is gone for good.

Value for Money

In a word: terrible. When the Wii was released, its price point of GBP179 seemed like good value for money. However, the price point has not come down since then while at the time of writing the XBox 360 starts at a frankly astonishing GBP129 and is a greatly superior system in every respect. The Playstation 3 may retail at around GBP299 but for this price you're getting the finest console ever released. You also have to factor in additional costs: the classic controller is a necessary purchase since the Wii is close to unusable without it. You'll probably also have to fork out for a proprietary component cable since running the Wii through a scart lead is not going to look nice on your lovely hi-def telly while a compact flash card may be necessary when the Wii runs out of space. As it happens, the initial cost of the hardware shouldn't be too much of a factor, anyway, since the initial cost is amortized over the number of games you buy during the console's lifetime. I bought dozens of PS2 games, making the initial cost of the hardware negligible. That said, the dearth of really worthwhile Wii games makes it difficult to offset the cost of the hardware. In short, given that the Wii is slightly inferior to a GBP30 XBox from eBay, you'll see that it really isn't good value for money at all.

Conclusions

I wasn't intending to write such a negative review but when it came down to it there was almost nothing good to say about the system. The money I've spent on Wii hardware and software represents three hundred of the worst pounds I've ever spent and if this review will stop others making the same mistake, I'll be a little happier. The undeserved success of the Wii is a triumph of marketing over substance. Nintendo boast of having opened up videogames to previously untapped markets of casual gamers, in the process belittling as poorly socialized geeks the loyal customers who put them where they are now. If you are reading Gamefaqs it is almost certain that you are not one of these "casual" gamers and the Wii is unlikely to be for you.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 10/21/08, Updated 10/23/08

Game Release: Wii Hardware (EU, 12/08/06)


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