Review by pjnelson

Reviewed: 12/04/06

Wii Have a Winner

Nintendo was once the dominant force in the gaming industry. Though their games have often been the standard by which other games are judged, the Nintendo 64 and GameCube consoles were only modest successes by comparison to Sony's PlayStation and PlayStation 2 platforms. The eyes of gamers have been on Sony's hardware for some time, while Nintendo has been very largely dismissed. This relative disinterest in Nintendo hardware dramatically changed when the Wii was finally shown in full force at E3 2006, from which point the system has been surrounded by all sorts of positive press and enthusiasm.

While the other guys have focused on pushing graphics, at a significant cost to them, Nintendo instead focused on revolutionizing how we play and experience video games, and now that the console is available it is evident that they've delivered on their promises. The Nintendo Wii offers us improvements in fun and immersion and at a more affordable price than the alternatives.

The one big revolution with the Wii is obviously the controller, commonly known as the "Wiimote" because it is roughly the size and form of a remote, like those for our televisions or DVD players. Using motion detection, the Wii is aware of exactly how we are moving the controller around in three-dimensional space, and this information can be translated into input for gaming or other Wii activities. Aiming the controller around can mean moving a cursor around on screen, like for browsing the main menu or perhaps for aiming a weapon in a game like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. A swipe could translate to a sword slash, a thrust could become an in-game punch, or a swing could mean swinging a golf club or tennis racket in a sports game like Wii Sports.

The "Wiimote" can also accept peripherals, like what is commonly known as the "nunchuck" which has an analog control stick and two additional buttons. This "nunchuck" also has a full range of motion detection and can be used similarly to the main controller. In Wii Sports, as an example, this combination can be used to represent the left and right hands in a boxing game where the player's movements of each become in-game blocks, punches, and jabs. In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, you can make a casting motion with the controller to cast your fishing pole and reel with the "nunchuck".

This kind of play control represents a dramatic change from the standards of the past decades, but plays on our instincts. Back in the days of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, new gamers often tended to make bouncing motions with the controller, trying to make Mario jump, or moving it around in all sorts of directions when we intended for some other sort of action to occur on the screen. It also adds a sense of immersion, as swinging the controller like a baseball bat while playing a baseball game creates a degree of illusion that we're actually playing the sport. It's a lot more fun that doing it the old way, by just pushing buttons on the typical controllers. This novelty may wear off over time, but it is still always going to be more fun and engaging than just pushing buttons.

The Wii displays its functions in the form of "channels", which are represented on the main menu with images shaped like little television screens. There is a game channel, from where we can choose to play either Wii games or GameCube games, both of which are accepted by the disc drive. There is a Mii channel, wherein we can create personal avatars of ourselves, our friends, or whoever else we like, which can be exchanged with friends. Miis can also be set to mingle, and mingling Miis will wander onto other people's Wiis and be seen in a mode known as "parade". There is a photo channel where photos can be edited and shared. There is a shop channel from where games can be downloaded to the Virtual Console. These Virtual Console games are titles from all sorts of classic consoles that can be played directly from the Wii. More channels are on the way in the months ahead.

The Wii comes complete with built-in WiFi. It had no problem detecting my wireless router and the unit is constantly connected to the Internet. At any time I can send and receive messages from other users, we can exchange Miis, and download games for the Virtual Console. In December and January the Forecast Channel and News Channel will be up and running, through which we can get global weather and news on our Wii. An Opera web browser is also on the way, which can of course be used to do some web-surfing on the Wii. The Wii will support online game play, but we won't see it until sometime in 2007.

The Wii's one Achilles heel is graphics. While being a noteworthy improvement over the last generation of hardware, it is still not nearly as large a leap as was taken by the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The Wii can outperform anything done on the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and original Xbox, but just doesn't compare to its present competition in the field of graphics, and the Wii does not display in high-definition. It doesn't look terrible, but it just isn't the huge improvement in visuals that we see elsewhere.

Additionally, the Wii does not have a hard drive like those available for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, though it does have 512 MB of flash memory for game saves. While that may sound terrible, for comparison the PlayStation 2's memory cards were only 8 MB, so this is like having sixty-four of those memory cards built into the hardware. If this is not enough memory, the system can accept SD cards, and not just those with the Wii logo on the box. Any regular SD card will work.

In the end, the Wii gives us a console that doesn't push the graphic envelope but instead pushes fun. Even an average game is just more fun to play when doing it with the "Wiimote". Besides playing Wii games on it, the system can play GameCube games and even features four GameCube control ports and two GameCube memory card slots, and it can download and play classic games from the past couple decades and across all sorts of platforms. It's a unit that won't set you back much, either, launching with a MSRP of $249.99, which is quite a savings from the alternatives that range from $299.99 to $599.99.

Sleek, compact, and wireless with a nifty blue LED surrounding the disc slot.

Elegant, simple, and easy to understand.

Nintendo software which is some of the finest in the industry, third-party games of all sorts, and classic games spanning many consoles and generations.

Maybe slightly steeper than many expected, but still a real bargain at $249.99.

The one area where the system obviously falls short. Still an improvement over last-gen, but just not nearly as much as the other guys.

Messaging, friends lists, Mii swapping, news, weather, web browsing, software downloading, and online game play in 2007.

Just playing games using the motion sensing is a real joy. Even games that otherwise wouldn't be all that great are more fun with the "Wiimote".

Overall Satisfaction:

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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