I should really have posted these on Friday or over the weekend, but I was working all the time, which sadly involved telling lots of people they wouldn’t be able to get a Wii for Christmas. Not everyone took it well – “merry f***ing Christmas!” still rings in my ears! – but I had a valid pre-order and I deserve a Wii as much as anyone else.
Obviously there’s a lot to get through, so today I’ll focus on what you get in the box: one Wii console and Wii Sports. For the rest of the week I’ll go into Wii Play, Red Steel, Wii titbits and Internet shenanigans and, of course, Zelda: Twilight Princess.
So, what do I think of it?
I’ll start with the machine itself. It’s beautiful, a gleaming white and blue design that’s extremely sleek and compact. The remote has a lovely weight to it, and even though some of the buttons are a little fiddly at first, I doubt you’ll need to bash them in many games, not at first anyway.
The presentation of all the software, channels and so forth is in keeping with the exterior design: very simple and refined. In terms of audio-visual styling it reminds me of the Dreamcast’s browser, which was similarly cut-back on buttons and the like. It looks very nice, and the channels system works well, even though there are only four channels at the moment. The others are:
- Forecast Channel – check the weather anywhere in the world. Out December 20th.
- Internet Channel – a free web-browser designed just for Wii. Coming December 23rd.
- News Channel – spin the globe to read RSS news. Out on January 27th next year.
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One thing that Nintendo are keen on is that the Wii should be the centrepiece of the family home, but rather than go for a media centre-type route as Microsoft and Sony have done, they’ve decided to add functionality designed to bring them together, rather than give them each something to enjoy individually. Key to this family hub system is the Wii Messageboard.
Essentially a virtual pinboard, this lets you leave messages for other Wii users in y our house, but as it’s integral to the system it’s possible for games to access them automatically. Wii Sports posts your top scores and fitness age (more on that later), and in future Animal Crossing will use it as a replacement for its in-game board.
There’s more, though. By registering a friend’s Wii number – a sixteen-digit code identifying their machine – you can send them messages, Mii characters and even digital photos from your SD cards. Similarly, add any regular email address and you and the owner can exchange emails, creating a family addressbook and message centre. The downside of course is that it’s one messageboard for everybody, but then in an age when we all have multiple email addresses anyway it’s not really such a problem!
I was initially confused about how to send SMS messages to a mobile phone, but it actually turns out that you send emails to phones, not texts. I was quite disappointed, I must say, but I can understand why Wiis sending free texts wouldn’t be the best business sense for Nintendo. The Wii site offers little explanation, sticking to the SMS story, but perhaps that’ll be available in a future update, as at the moment it just lets you register an email address.
Let the games begin!
Okay, let’s actually delve into one of the games. The obvious starting point is Wii Sports, since it comes with the Wii. Though little more than five tech demos, it’s still immensely playable and addictive.
I should say at this point that the learning curve on the games is brilliant. The first time you play you get a few practice shots/punches as it takes you through the controls onscreen, then you’re matched against an opponent of a low skill level. As you progress through the game you gain skill points, so your opponents increase in skill. I hit Pro status in Baseball today, but I’m still struggling against splitters. Please post tips for dealing with splitters!
Instead of choosing an established sportsman or a cheap lookalike, you use the Mii characters you create in the Mii Channel as your character, and it logs your skill level. Playing Baseball with an all-star team of Miis from your friends is great – so far Ed has let me down with his fielding, but Sid is a great player. They also turn up in the background of your Bowling game, and I think along the sidelines in Tennis. It’s a simple thing, but it’s very cool to play alongside your mates. Anyway, into the games themselves!
My favourite! This is a doubles game where you control the racquet, not the player, who moves automatically. You simply swing the controller at the right time to return the ball; like Pong, but without the movement. Dead easy.
EXCEPT the real clever bit lies in the choice of shots. You can hit lob shots by twisting your wrist over, or slice beautifully satisfying backhand shots with a twisting/cutting action. Seeing them clip the top of the net and win the point is genuinely exciting.
So far the net game seems a little underdeveloped, as it seems to focus on baseline hitters, but I’ve found a tip that works is to hit the ball early and twist your racquet to “cut” the ball across court, rather than balloon it in the air. It takes practice, but when it works your opponent will find it very difficult to reply.
Another tip would be to be aware of low-hanging light fittings when serving…
My next favourite, although also the most responsible for tennis elbow – it’s hard not to pop your elbow out of its joint when going for the big home runs!
The actual game is very simple. Swing the bat at the right time to connect with the pitch and knock it as far as possible for a home run. The fielding is automatic, and they run, dive and jump about to try to nab you out. Essentially you have to hit it past the bases and onto the main field to get anywhere, as otherwise they’re far too quick.
Of course, everyone wants to hit a home run, and when you do it’s a great feeling – the rumble and “THWACK!” from the controller is fantastic, and you watch the ball sail into the stand and receive fireworks. One observant touch is that if the ball lands in the crowd it disappears, but if it hits the stairs it bounces off them and rolls down!
Pitching has more options, with curve, fast, screwballs and splitters all available, as well as different targets. How fast you swing your arm alters the pace of the ball – so far about 150kmh seems as fast as I can go without some form of mechanical assistance! Also, if anyone has any hints for dealing with splitters, I’d be most grateful!
I haven’t played much Golf yet, because although I can see it being quite an addictive little game it takes a little too long to get a round in. That said, the controls are great – simply get into stance, hold A and swing to adjust your power. Hit it too hard and it’ll screw off to one side, but just right and you should see it trickle into the cup!
It’s actually very similar to Golf on the NES, with its simple map, pared-down club selection and putting style. It would be nice to see a few simple tournaments or other options, but the same can be said of all these games; they’re not intended as time-stealers but fun introductions. I can’t help but wish for more though! I would put smart money on Wii Sports 2 being announced before too long though, especially as apparently they wanted to cram more sports into this one but didn’t have time. I’m not sure which universally-appealing sports would work well, though – basketball, fishing, ice hockey? Either way, an update – even a patch – with a few extra options would go down great!
There isn’t a great deal to say about Bowling, to be honest. You move left or right, alter the angle of throw, swing your arm and the ball goes sailing down the lane. It’s possible to add spin, but I haven’t really figured out how yet, although I have managed to chuck the ball into a neighbour’s lane! With a few friends it’s great fun as you’d expect, but not really recommended for solo fliers.
I’ve saved this for last as I’m not 100% sure about it, to tell the truth. On the one hand, dodging and punching is fantastic exercise and a lot of fun, but it lacks the feeling of control that makes the others so satisfying. Jabs work fine, but trying to pull off bodyshots or uppercuts is inaccurate, leaving you feeling that swinging your arms wildly is your best chance of success. When you do land a good punch the action slows down, and when you get rocked by one the screen wobbles and looks a bit weird, which is cool.
Train for Fitness!
Not only does Wii Sports contain these five versions of the real sports, it also offers fifteen minigames based on them to help you improve your game in all manner of ways. These are structured in such a way to start off with the basics and move onto accuracy and strategy, and they work great.
Tennis builds from simply returning the ball into the opponent’s court to hitting it through a moving orange bar, and the final challenge is to knock the ball against circular targets above the net. The learning curve on each is pitched just about right, and this is where the “I’ll do better next time“ addiction really kicks in. The satisfaction when I received my first gold medal was awesome!
Of the other dozen games, my favourites are:
- Power Throws – a bowling game, where each set of pins gains a row at the back, until you have over 90 pins in a bunch! Getting a strike doubles the score for that lane, but knocking over that many pins is tough! Another very addictive minigame.
- Hitting Home Runs – baseball of course, this challenges you to hit ten home runs, and then tots up the total distance you whacked. As your final score comes up, it’s honestly very hard not to click “try again”
The others are all mostly very good too, with the first two golf ones lacking a little in the way of fun. Dodging the balls in boxing is great fun!
Apart from using these games to train for the actual sports, the game pilfers from the success of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training, using three of them to calculate Speed, Stamina and Balance, resulting in a “Fitness Age” between 20 and 80 or 90. One good thing about this is the way the game posts your results to the Wii Messageboard, resulting in “I see you shaved forty years off your age today!”-type conversations. It’s a good attempt at single-player lastability, but again is best as a shared experience.
Wii is clearly a machine that aspires to be great, but risks being dismissed as a novelty. Nobody I know who has played one has come away thinking ill of it; most of my friends here aren’t particularly into games, but seeing them get up and box or swing a racquet has brought so much enjoyment that I really think Nintendo has got it right with this one.
Wii Sports is a great introduction to the controller – much better than Wii Play, if truth be told – but with a little extra provision for long-term play it would be even better. Posting high scores and results to the Wii Messageboard is a great idea, but a proper in-game leaderboard, a few trophies and belts to be won and the like would just kick it up another notch. However, it’s impossible to aim too much criticism at such a charming, enjoyable and free collection of games.
I’ll be doing more big updates this week, focusing on Wii Play, Red Steel, Twilight Princess and more details on the console itself. Thanks for reading, and come back soon!
PS At 2,056 words, this is easily my longest entry ever!