Review by Dorkmaster Flek

"You have never played anything like this...and by God, it works!"

The One Minute Review

In short, the Wii had a lot of expectations to live up to for Nintendo fans such as myself and the big question on everyone's mind is, does it work like Nintendo said it would? Well I'm here to tell you that it does, and while it's not perfect, I am extremely impressed with the system and the overall experience thus far. Playing games on the Wii is, in a word, refreshing. The gameplay is so radically different from what you're used to that it is simply a breath of fresh air for someone like myself who has been playing games all his life. As for Nintendo's claim that the Wii will get non-gamers into games, I'm not sure how many non-gamers wanted to stand in line at the launch just to get one along with the hardcore gamers like myself, but overall this statement is pretty accurate. When my brother and I pulled our parents over to play Wii Sports Tennis, even my jaded mother admitted that we were right: it was fun, and she'd do it again (she would've kept playing if her roast wasn't going to burn in the oven at the time). My father thought we were crazy, but after watching us play bowling and baseball (he was an avid bowler back in the day) he had to admit it was very impressive. The system itself is very well designed and takes up very little space. It sports a sleek, Apple-style design similar to the Ipod, and the system interface is simple and functional. My only real complaint is that the online functionality isn't fully working yet, but what is there works great and more things are on the way. Overall, the Wii is an extremely impressive package and a refreshingly unique experience. With a comparatively low price point, a totally unique experience, and complete backwards compatibility with GameCube games and hardware, I would definitely recommend it for gamers looking for the next new experience, as well as parents looking for a new console system for their children because Nintendo is a brand parents can trust, and this is something they can actually play with their kids.

Wii-mote Control

Nintendo is asking you to take a big leap with the Wii. They're asking you to take basically everything you know about playing games and throw it out the window. The "Wii-mote", as it's affectionately known as now, offers new ways of playing games. By now everyone basically knows how it works, but I'll give you the details. The remote is the main control interface. It looks like a TV remote, and it has a big clear A button right where your thumb goes when you hold it like one. A little above that is the d-pad, and in the middle of the remote are 3 small buttons in a row. There are plus and minus buttons on either side, and the "home" button in the middle (more on this in a minute). At the bottom of the remote are two buttons labelled "1" and "2" that can be used as action buttons when holding the remote sideways for some games, or peripheral functions in other games. Additionally, on the underside near the top is a trigger button labelled "B". This trigger goes right where your index finger is when gripping the remote. It's all very comfortable, and after playing the games for a bit the buttons will be second nature in no time.

Now the plus and minus buttons kind of function like start and select buttons for navigating and opening menus and such, but the home button is special. Pressing the home button during any game pauses the game and brings up a standard system menu overlaying the game. This menu allows you to reset the game, go back to the main Wii interface when the system first boots up, and check the battery life as well as adjust settings on the remotes currently active. The remote has a built in rumble motor (albeit a small one) and a small speaker, both of which can be adjusted individually for each remote in this home menu, which is very handy. Something worth noting is that the audio quality from the speaker isn't very good, but it's more like a telephone speaker and meant to give small audio cues, not deliver a musical score or anything of that nature.

The buttons are fine, but the real innovation with the remote is that it includes various sensors that detect the motion and orientation of the remote. If you're holding it upside down, it knows. If you swing it like a baseball bat, it can tell. This is where the real innovation comes from when playing games on the Wii. Because you can physically use the controller to mimic the actions taking place on screen, it's extremely intuitive and opens entirely new possibilities for gameplay ideas, some of which we're already seeing with the innovative launch titles. It's also a ton of fun, and this is where Nintendo is hoping to hook the casual and non-gamer crowd with the Wii. Naturally, concerns were raised over physical exhaustion or injuries from this new method of control. While physical injuries are a risk in any physical activity, exhaustion isn't really a big issue because you don't have to make large gestures for the controller to work. It works just as well with small gestures, and you can easily sit back and relax the whole time on the couch. Of course, it's much more fun the other way, but the option exists if you want it.

The other main feature of the remote is the infrared sensor on the end. This works in conjunction with a sensor bar attachment that comes with the system. You place the sensor bar either above or below your TV in the center of the screen and simply tell the system whether it's above or below the TV in the system settings. No other calibration is needed. When pointing the remote towards the screen, it is picked up by the sensor bar and can translate the position to a cursor or icon on the screen. By moving the remote around, you move the cursor, much like using a mouse on a computer. This is chiefly used to navigate menus and aim in various games that require aiming functionality, and it's actually very impressive how well it works considering there is no calibration other than positioning the sensor bar and setting whether it's below or above the TV.

Now you won't literally aim at the pixel your pointer is on with the remote, because it's actually the sensor bar doing the detecting, although some games have individual calibration options for this so you can tweak it. This is why it's more akin to using a computer mouse than a light gun, for example. Using the pointer as a relative position, you can move the remote in the right direction. Even more impressive is how well it works when you're off to the side at an angle pointing at the TV. This is important for those multiplayer games where you will undoubtedly have four people sitting close together so they can all get at the TV. There is a definite "dead zone" way off to the side, and it gets a little wonky if you move way far back from the sensor bar (they recommend 3-8 feet for distance), but overall it's very manageable and Nintendo has done an admirable job of making it brain dead simple to setup, and yet it works very well. Of course, all this is wireless. The remotes currently take 2 AA batteries, which reportedly last for about 40 hours of play time, which is pretty good. Nintendo also reportedly has plans to release rechargeable battery packs for the remotes in the near future, and you can bet third party accessory manufacturers will come out with their own products as well. It would've been nice to have these at the launch, but supposedly they were having trouble getting them to work properly so they had to be delayed, which is better than releasing them and having them blow up your remotes.

Using Both Hands

If you thought only your right hand would be doing all the work, think again. The one remaining feature of the remote is a port on the bottom end of it. This allows you to hot swap a variety of addons that use the remote's power and wireless capabilities to communication with the console. There are two addons available right now. The first is the "classic controller" addon, which looks like a rounded SNES controller with two analog sticks, similar to a PlayStation Dual Shock controller. This simply plugs into the remote to become a standard wireless controller. This is primarily used for Virtual Console games right now (more on that later), but it can also be used for games that just simply don't well with the remote itself, such as traditional fighting games for example.

The other addon (and the main one) is called the "nunchuck" controller, supposedly because it attaches to the remote like a nunchuck. This resembles a small handheld joystick, but with an analog stick on top where your thumb goes. On the back of the nunchuck are two trigger buttons, the Z button and C button above it. The nunchuck provides analog stick control capabilities to games so they can use a combination of existing control schemes and the radically different approach of the remote. An important detail is that, while it doesn't contain the pointer capabilities of the remote, the nunchuck does contain the same motion sensor technology. This means the nunchuck also knows how you're holding it or swinging it, and this is put to use in various innovative ways. For example, in Wii Sports Boxing, you hold the remote and nunchuck in your hands like boxing gloves and throw punches. For first person shooter games, you use the control stick on the nunchuck to move forward and backwards and strafe from side to side, and the remote to aim at the screen and control your turning. The combination of controls is very wide and depends on the type of game, but it's very intuitive and easy to get into.

I Invented the Internet

Perhaps surprisingly to those who know Nintendo, they actually have a fairly good online plan in place with the Wii, with more on the way. The console has built-in WiFi support, just like the Nintendo DS. But where the DS only supported the outdated and easily crackable WEP encryption, the Wii thankfully supports all the latest encryption standards (WEP, WPA/WPA2). The network interface is simple and walks you through configuring your network settings automatically or manually and then performs a connection test. I had very little trouble getting my Wii connected to my wireless router via WPA2, though I did try WPA first with no luck so I would recommend trying the latest encryption your router supports. If you don't have a WiFi router, the Wii is actually compatible with the Nintendo WiFi USB Adaptor that they released last year for use with the DS. If you don't have that either, you can connect to a wired router via a proprietary USB Ethernet adaptor from Nintendo. Unfortunately, this isn't being released until January 2007 and regular USB Ethernet adaptors won't work with the Wii, so you're out of luck to get online until then.

Once you get online though, you're able to use the online features of the system. One of these features is called WiiConnect24, and if you turn this on the system basically goes into a sleep mode when powered off that uses very little power. While in sleep mode, the system can automatically download new system updates or game updates, as well as allow other people to do neat things like visit your town in Animal Crossing while you're sleeping if they're on your friends list, for example. Very cool stuff. Some other online features are news and weather channels by locale (these weren't active at launch but are going active within the next few weeks), as well as playing games online that support that functionality. When it comes to playing online, everything will go through the Nintendo WiFi Connection portal that the DS online games currently use. This basically gives Nintendo a centralized approach very much like Xbox Live, but not quite as full-featured, although it is totally free and very simple to use which is a big advantage.

But the main online feature is the shopping channel. Here you buy "Wii Points" for various rates depending on your country and spend those points on products in the online store. One of the first products available will be a web browser for the Wii based on the Opera browser that will be free to use at first, with other products to follow. The main feature of the shopping channel is the Virtual Console, however (I told you we'd get to that). This area allows you to purchase and download games from various old consoles, including Nintendo's hardware (NES, SNES and N64) as well as other companies as well. As of the launch, they also have support for Sega Genesis games and TurboGraphix games. The purchased games are saved by your console's unique ID, so if you delete them to make more room you can always download them again. The emulation is perfectly accurate and all the nostalgia is preserved, and the games are reasonably priced with NES games running about $5 US, $6 for Genesis, $8 for SNES and $10 for N64 games. This is the main area that the classic controller is used in. Unfortunately, there are only about a dozen games available right now, but there are plenty more coming down the pipe very shortly, and regular monthly additions starting in 2007. This is definitely a very cool feature of the Wii.

The Down

The system itself sports a very simple and stylized interface. The main functionality is broken up into "channels" (notice the TV theme?) that you use the remote to navigate. There is the Disc Channel where you play Wii/GameCube games, the aforementioned news and weather channels, the shopping channel, and the Mii channel (more on this shortly). There are also additional channel slots for more options, and you can customize the menu layout, such as placing Virtual Console games directly on the channels interface for easy access. There are a fair number of channel slots available, and you can expand it by using the console's SD slot. The console itself has 512 MB of internal flash memory for storing game saves, updates and settings, but it also supports standard SD memory cards (which are currently available in sizes up to 8 GB) so there's plenty of available storage options. It also supports backwards compatibility with all GameCube controllers and memory cards via slots/ports on the side of the console for the GameCube hardware, as well as playing GameCube and Wii games. Unlike Sony and Microsoft, whose consoles sport numerous backwards compatibility issues with various games, Nintendo has based the Wii off the GameCube hardware and thus maintained an actual 100% compatibility rate between the two.

The Mii channel is something new altogether. Mii's are basically profiles for you to use on the system, but they're actually personifications of you. When you create a Mii, you can adjust all the features of their appearance to make them look like whatever you want. The Mii's that we created for our family and a few friends actually look surprisingly like ourselves, albeit a more cartoon-like appearance. Wii's can also be transferred to a Wii remote with it's small built-in memory and brought to another person's console, and games can take advantage of the available Mii's however they choose. Wii Sports not only uses the Mii's to track your stats and training details, but they also put the characters directly in the games that you play. The potential for future use of the Mii's is very cool, and it will definitely be interesting to see what developers do with them.

The system also sports a simple and easy to use interface for adjusting the system settings and managing the saved data stored internally and on the external memory cards, if any. Parents will be happy to know that all Wii games have the ESRB rating embedded in the game and the Wii has parental control options so you can limit what ratings are allowed on your system. It can also store a list of friends by entering their unique console ID numbers in the Mii interface. This allows your Mii characters to mingle with each other from the different systems, as well as creating a connection to your friends consoles that can be utilized by other games.

Now I mentioned above that Nintendo based the Wii off the GameCube hardware. This means that graphically speaking, the Wii is not even close to the power of the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Rough estimates put it at about twice as powerful as the GameCube. This doesn't mean it looks bad by any means, and a game like Zelda: Twilight Princess is proof that stunning art direction can more than make up for a lack of technical power, but graphics nuts will definitely be disappointed if they look to the Wii for the next generation of realism in graphics. Casual and non-gamers probably won't care much, but it is something to be aware of.

The Final Word

Nintendo has stated that the Wii is not about graphics, but about new methods of gameplay and delivering a unique and enjoyable experience that everyone can engage in. A lofty goal, to be sure, but one that I feel they have accomplished admirably. The console is intelligently designed and easy to setup and use, the remote feels great and most importantly it works just like they said it would, and they actually have a good online plan this time around. The fact that the system is not nearly as powerful as it's next generation counterparts might be a turn off for some gamers, but really it doesn't matter because this console is so far out of left field that you really can't compare it to anything else. Even having only seen the launch games, we're already seeing creative ways of using the remote in a variety of different games. What the Wii represents most of all is huge potential. The system works, and though it may take developers a bit of time to get used to working it because it's so different, once they get comfortable and really flex their creative muscles, you will see things on the Wii that you've never seen before. The bottom line is this is a system that everyone should play, because I guarantee you've never played anything like it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/22/06

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