I've had my Wii since December, and have meant to share my impressions of the system for some time. But whenever I would sit down to type up my thoughts, it would occur to me that my time would be better spent playing the damn thing. But, at long last, here I am, ready to speak frankly about my experience with the wildly-hyped next big thing in video games.
I'll work my way up to the games, which are, of course, the most important aspect of a games system. But I'll start with the general design and features. The machine is small and quiet, barely the size of two VHS tapes. The main menu is designed to look like a series of TV channels, which keeps things simple, though the ability to create sub-folders would be nice (for instance, filing all downloaded games into one channel). The messaging system is nice to have, but not terribly useful. Friend codes are a pain (both you and the recipient of your message must enter the other person's friend code before you can communicate with each other), and in this case, the inability to create folders for messages, or really filter your messages in any way beyond deleting them, is a major flaw. The photo channel is a nice bonus, making it incredibly easy to watch photo slide shows on your television. The ability to automatically take screen shots and transfer them to the photo channel would be a nice feature to add (it would have allowed me to share a much nicer photo of my Mii than what you see above). The weather channel would be useful, if it updated more often, and was more accurate. Seeing a happy sun when it is raining outside is irritating. The news channel updates more frequently, and I actually use it more frequently than I anticipated. Not that it's all that taxing getting the news off the computer, but if I find myself lying on the couch, it's nice to just sit back and read the news on the TV. The text size and resolution keeps things easy on the eyes, and navigation is reasonably smooth. The news channel features a global map (as does the weather channel), showing where news events took place; an amusing flaw often has the map showing, for instance, Syracuse, Italy, when the news article refers to Syracuse, New York. A new channel, "Everybody Votes," was just recently added. Fairly useless, but amusing enough for the two minutes or so it takes to answer a couple inane poll questions, and then vote on what response the majority of Wii users will choose. And, of course, there is the Mii channel. There are some minor quibbles I can offer, wishing there were more options to choose from in customizing one's Mii, and more ways to share them with other users, without the burdensome friend codes. But word is these concerns will be addressed in future updates, and none of this takes away from the joyous experience of creating yourself and your friends on your gaming console, and using your own image to play a video game. Bowling a strike is much more satisfying when it is you that threw the ball, and not some random character. The implementation of the Miis is the perfect example of how you don't need the most bleeding-edge graphics and processing power to create a brilliant new gaming experience.
But whatever the merits of these channels, they are minor extras, at best. The Wii is a video game machine, and as such, the most anticipated feature of the system, beyond the actual games made for the Wii, is the Virtual Console, which allows you to download classic video games for play on the Wii. I must say, while this was the first feature that really got be excited about the Wii (it wasn't until I experienced the Nintendo DS, and its unorthodox control scheme, that I became more open-minded about the motion-sensing controls), it's left me underwhelmed so far. I've downloaded a total of four games, and only spent a significant amount of time playing Super Mario Bros. and the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Partly, I've been disappointed by the lack of selection, but seeing as that has improved markedly recently, I guess I'd have to say the main problem is the price. Games for the original NES are $5, which seems fair to me. But prices go up from there, from $6 for TurboGrafx-16 games to $8 for Sega Genesis games and $10 for Nintendo 64 games. The more expensive games may indeed be more sophisticated, but they are all old games. With the possible exception of the Nintendo 64 games, I don't see a price tag over $5 being defensible, especially in comparison to prices for brand-new games downloaded from the Xbox Live Arcade (virtually all classic games on the Xbox are $5, and unlike the Wii store, free trials are available). Of course, the main reason I haven't downloaded more games is probably because I'm busy with new Wii games; I'll probably make more use of the Virtual Console in the future. But the pricing definitely doesn't encourage impulse purchases.
But enough of that, let's get to the Wii games. As you probably are aware, the Wii's main feature is it's motion-sensing controller, which looks like a remote control. The Wii comes with a pack-in game, Wii Sports, which is the perfect game to familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar controls, and realize just how revolutionary the new controls really are. Wii Sports consists of five games, but the one which seems to capture everyone's attention is bowling. The appeal of this game is obvious: The controls feel exactly like real bowling. You don't experience the resistance offered by the weight of a real bowling ball, but beyond that, playing the game really does replicate the experience of bowling. And the physics of the ball and pins is very impressive; the relative amount of pin action when I bowl versus when my mom bowls is comparable to what we would experience when we bowled in real life. No doubt, bowling is the Wii's killer app, and a great example of Nintendo's tactic of appealing to the non-gamer; my mother has rheumatoid arthritis, and she enjoys the occasional game of bowling (not much else on the Wii has captured her interest; the Nintendo DS is more her speed--she bought her own after borrowing mine for months), and pretty much everybody who has entered my home since I purchased the Wii has bowled at least one game. The other games in Wii Sports aren't quite as well-implemented, but most are still quite fun, especially Tennis. I got bored with baseball pretty quickly, but golf has grown on me a bit. Boxing is exhausting, but the motion controls seem a bit flawed, with about half the punches I throw not turning up on the screen.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is the most successful game for the Wii in terms of sales and critical acclaim, and probably deservedly so. I haven't gotten very far in the game, because I haven't had enough time to really get into such an immersive gaming experience. But from what I've seen, it is impressive, if not quite up to the enormous praise it has received. Wii Sports is probably my favorite Wii game, but I'm also rather fond of Rayman Raving Rabbids. It's not perfect, but this collection of minigames has a lot more positives than negatives. The evil rabbits are hilarious, as are most of the games (though a few games are fatally flawed by controls that simply don't work). The on-rails shooter games are fun, but my absolute favorite part of the game are the rhythm games, where you, as Rayman, dance, and if you keep the beat, you are rewarded with Rabbid backup dancers. Really shows the potential for the upcoming DDR game for the Wii. My only complaint about the Rayman rhythm games is, the music is too low in the mix, so that the experience isn't as musically rewarding as it could be. (I tried to find a game-play video showing the Rhythm game, but a quick look at YouTube didn't turn up anything, though I did find a clip of a delightful minigame where you have to find the rabbid in the choir singing out of tune, and slap him silly--and I also found some spots for UNICEF featuring Rayman and a Rabbid)
I've picked up quite a few Wii games, and mostly been quite satisfied. Super Monkey Ball is the only game I really didn't like, mostly because the controls are really flawed for most of the minigames. Elebits was fun, but I got bored of it fairly quickly--it was compared a bit too much to Katamari Damacy, so I probably had too high of hopes for it; I'll probably give it another chance once I get bored with my other Wii games. Trauma Center: Second Opinion is better than it's DS-counterpart. I was a bit disappointed to learn that the Wii game would just be a port of the DS version, which I already have, but performing surgery on the Wii is a lot of fun, so it was definitely worth double-dipping, in this case. WarioWare: Smooth Moves is fun, in short bursts, just like the other WarioWare games. But the Wii WarioWare does have one flaw: The game has to tell you which of the many "poses" one has to strike with the Wii Remote, before the game starts. This somewhat takes away from the main appeal of the WarioWare games, in my opinion, because the main challenge in these five-second games is to figure out what the hell you're supposed to do. That aspect of the game is still present, but somewhat watered down in the Wii version. Still fun, though. Sonic and the Secret Rings has a lot of problems, but just barely works well enough for me to recommend it. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. There are several great games currently available for the Wii, though none of them are perfect. But considering the dramatic change in the game controls, it's actually remarkable how much of the potential of the Wii Remote has already been unleashed in the early Wii games, which really makes me hopeful for the future.
That's my impressions of the Wii, after three months or so of ownership. To be perfectly honest, I haven't been playing the Wii as much as I anticipated. In fact, I'm still getting plenty of use out of my Playstation 2, and my Nintendo DS gets plenty of play, as well. The launch of the Wii actually turned me into a bit of a video game nerd, constantly scanning the video game blogs looking for tips on where to score my Wii, and once I found my Wii, I kept reading the blogs, which kept my excitement about video games stimulated. In fact, I'm really trying to justify the purchase of an Xbox 360. If buying one wouldn't pretty much force me to buy an HDTV as well, I probably would have already bought one. But I'm waiting, until the price comes down a bit, and until I break down and buy an HDTV. Maybe this Summer. But for now, I have my Wii, which means I can bowl, perform surgery, and dance with bunny go-go dancers, all in my own living room. Who needs anything more?