Nintendo Wii Review

by Mike Shea on 5 December 2006

There is no logic or reason for many of my actions. If I had known how badly I would want a Wii, I would have pre-ordered it months ago and walked in on day one. Instead I found myself outside a Toys R' Us at 5:30am on a Sunday with forty other people hoping that I might get the privilege of spending $250. It ended up not working out there, but did work out at a Circuit City at 7:30 that same day. I went home at 9am bouncing around the car and calling all of my friends like I was eight years old. I got a Wii, one of the prized Christmas legends up there with Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tickle Me Elmos.

My excitement doesn't change logical facts. Now is a lousy time to buy a Wii. It's a lousy time to buy a Playstation 3 as well and I'm glad I never felt the urge to get one of those considering how much harder they are to get.

There are four good reasons never to buy a game console the first year:

  1. The price is as high as it will ever be. Usually it goes down by $50 to $100 after the first year.

  2. The availability sucks. There were a million Nintendo Wii's released so far and they're all gone. They sell on Ebay for nearly $150 over the cost.

  3. The games suck and there are too few of them. (As Woody Allen states: "This food is terrible and in such small portions!"). Good games don't start making it out for a system until six months to a year. The Xbox 360 only now got Gears of War.

  4. The hardware is usually buggy. Xbox 360 had all sorts of heat problems when it first came out. The PS2 had drives breaking down. The PS3 supposedly has drive problems now. It usually takes a few hundred thousand units in production before all the kinks get worked out.

Knowing all of these things didn't stop me from pressing my face up against the window of the Circuit City hoping I could see a glimpse of a great white ziggurat of Nintendo Wiis. I was exactly like the kid in Christmas Story. I knew exactly how it worked. I watched Youtube videos of how it was packaged and unpackaged. I knew all about all the demo games that came with it. And, after nearly freezing to death, I finally got one.

Everything you've read about the Wii is true. It's very ingenuitive. It's a lot of fun to use. There's nothing like bowling with your wife in your own living room, dropping down to one knee as I do when I really bowl. My score was exactly as I would expect my score to be in real life. You can even do the little spinning ball tricks to angle the ball into the pins.

The boxing game is a bit weird to get used to but its fun throwing your arms out and watching the boxers box. It has neat little Matrix blur effects when you land a particularly good blow. I want to spend more time figuring out the boxing game.

Zelda is a little slow so far. It took me over 90 minutes to start swinging a sword - in the original zelda its the first thing you're likely to do. For a system built around casual gaming, Zelda is sure complicated. For example, to fire your sling shot you have to hit - on the Wiimote, press one of the + to assign it to that bar of the +, press the + when you're out of the menu, press Z to begin aiming, aim your point-of-view with the analog stick on the nunchuck, aim with the Wiimote, and then press the Wiimote trigger to fire. I sorely miss the days of just hitting A to swing a sword. I will likely write a whole other article on the complexity of console gaming.

The Wii Sports games are not nearly as complex and its these games that show off the strength of the Wii. You hold and swing a bat like it was a bat. You bowl like you'd be bowling. You punch like you punch. These games are intuitive as hell and I hope Nintendo makes a thousand more of them.

The graphics are fine for a simple system, but they do suck compared to the Xbox 360. They're not in high-def and the progressive component cables haven't arrived yet. After cursing at them the entire time I had a PS2, I'm back to little jaggies on the edges of faraway mountains. My biggest complaint about the Wii is the lack high definition resolution.

There's also an added complexity to the control system for the Wii overall. I watched a video of Shiguru Miamoto, the creator of Super Mario brothers, and his concerns about the sensor bar. They were right to worry. It's weird to place the bar on the TV and get it plugged into the system. It isn't particularly hard, but its not as easy as plugging in a system and playing. You have to tweak it to get it working just right.

The Wiimote is a great control and there is a need for the nunchuck, but adding it makes the whole system more complicated. While the Wiimote is wireless, the minute you plug in the nunchuck, you now have this big honking wire flopping around while you punch. Again, its necessary, but it's just complicated compared to the single full-function Xbox 360 controller.

The Wii comes with built in wireless internet, and that's a big improvement over the extra $100 it costs to get it on the Xbox 360. Still, it isn't entirely hands-off to get it set up. First, you have to go to your network settings and activate it. It would be nice if it just looked around and found it instead of making me activate it. Second, it didn't work with my Linksys 54G router, the most popular wireless router in the US, so I had to tweak my router to get it to work. I could do it but most non-geeks would have a hard time and might even give up.

Even if you get it connected, there's not much point. The Wii Console has a bunch of old NES, SNES, N64, Genesis, and Turbographics games but I played all those games before and I'm not about to pay another $10 for the game I played ten years ago. If they sold some new games like those in Wii Sports, I'd buy those in a second. $10 for Super Mario 64 is just too damn much.

There are no multi-player online games yet. They expect to see them in the summer but thats a long time to wait. If I were Nintendo, I'd release all of those Wii Play games one by one and charge $5 for each of them. Those games are the reason I got a Wii.

There are no planned massive online games. These are the type of games I think will have the biggest impact on gaming and so far there hasn't been a good one on a console. The Wii

One thing that got me excited about the Wii was its backward compatibility with Gamecube. I never had a Gamecube but I heard all about Metroid Prime, Mario Sunshine, and Final Fantasy Chronicles. Now I can buy those games used for under $10 a piece.

Unfortunately, its not that easy. Gamecube games won't use the system's internal memory so you have to buy a Gamecube memory card. The classic controller doesn't work with Gamecube games either, so you need to get a Gamecube controller on top of your Wiimote, Nunchuck, and Classic controller. Of course, you just paid $250 for a wireless system, so you're not about to get a wired Gamecube controller. Instead, you'll spend about $35 for a wireless Gamecube controller now too. So now, on my little table next to my chair, I have five different controllers including my Xbox 360 controller.

That's a lot of complaining I just did and I don't want to take away from the good parts of this system. Let's recap:

  1. It's wicked fun.
  2. It's cheap at $250.
  3. It's inclusive. It comes with wireless internet, a wireless Wiimote and Nunchuck, and the best game available for it; Wii Sports.
  4. It is a new way to play games: Tennis feels like tennis, boxing feels like boxing, bowling feels like bowling.
  5. It lets you buy a whole bunch of 90+ metacritic score Gamecube games for about $10 each.

And the bad parts:

  1. It's not in high definition.
  2. Getting online isn't exactly easy.
  3. There's too many damn controllers: Wiimote, Classic, Nunchuck, and Gamecube.
  4. The online play doesn't exist.
  5. There aren't any real good games other than Zelda and Wii Sports.
  6. Zelda is too complicated for a system thats supposedly casual friendly.
  7. Right now you can't get it anywhere but Ebay for $150 over the list price.
  8. There's no headset.

Last night, while grilling turkey burgers on my grille, my wife and I played a full round of bowling. She laughed at me every time I dropped down to my right knee when throwing the ball. I didn't notice that I did it, but I do that exact same thing when I really bowl. Our laughter and our fun was well worth the $250.

I expect great things from the Nintendo Wii over the next couple of years. I think it has the greatest potential of any of the new systems to get players out of their chairs and further emerse them into their games. Unlike the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, the folks at Nintendo took a gamble and threw away the old way of playing for something completely different. It is a big risk but hopefully one that pays off.