Our partners over at Next Generation shut themselves away to play with the Wii. Here's their take on the much-talked-about console
First things first. When you heft the remote controller’s measured weight in your dominant hand and point it at your screen for the first time, it works almost flawlessly out of the box, without calibration. And once you get through the customary name and date set up and click on your first Wii Channels option, it’s amazing how intuitive the whole thing is. What was once an outlandishly wacky concept becomes an obvious one in a second, and you can’t help but wonder why it wasn’t thought of earlier.
The Mii Channel is the first place you should visit. Creating a Mii personal avatar is a charming activity, and while the options to create your character are sparse it’s humorous to try to rig the system’s limited option into a caricature of your face. When you’re done, you’re given the option of transferring your Mii to your remote, and doing so is creates a real sense of ownership of that controller.
Bringing the console online is the next step in the process, and it is by far the most painful of all the options. It’s not that it’s difficult – it’s almost identical to bringing a DS online, right down to the layout of the interface – but once you do the system will automatically update. Twice. Each of these updates feels like an eternity, though it doesn’t seem like these waits will be particularly frequent after launch. Once you’re online you’ll be asked if you want to link this system to your account at Nintendo’s website. Do so, and it will automatically configure everything.
There’s not a great deal to do online yet. The News and Weather Channels are still inactive, though they’re largely redundant features in markets outside of Japan. The Virtual Console Store is likewise fairly barren – there’s a killer app in Super Mario 64, available off the Nintendo 64 for the first time, but most of the other titles worth playing have been packaged and repackaged multiple times since their original release – the original Legend of Zelda, for example. Still, it provides a solid proof of concept.
You can enter a credit card number or the number off a prepaid card to acquire some Wii points, in a convenient exchange rate of one penny per point. From there, selecting a game is a matter of simple clicks, and a short wait while the game downloads – you can’t do anything during this time except play with the load bar, entertainingly retooled as an interactive running Mario. When he collects all the coins your game is ready to play. Nintendo has thought about this experience in its entirety.
The Virtual Console works well. Every download comes with a digital game manual, and the emulation seems beyond reproach. The classic controller used for most of these games is a great piece of hardware – it’s a fully featured, comfortable first party control for less than $20 – though its odd placement of the Z button (tiny, and placed in duplicate between the bumpers and the remote connection cable) made some Super Mario 64 moves much more difficult. It’s hardly a big deal, though.
The GameCube backwards compatibility is likewise perfect, at least in the time we spent with it. In fact, once you put the game in and select the game from the Disc Channel, all additional Wii functionality is disabled, and the system becomes for all intents and purposes just a GameCube. So it’s a nice second life for a console that didn’t get nearly as good as it deserves, and that its library can piggyback on its much more marketable progeny system is a very sweet boon.
Of course it’s necessary to mention the pack-in game, Wii Sports, as it’s presence in every Wii box makes it a major part of the experience. The verdict is that it’s definitely fun, though a little bit light on content and mechanic complexity. Which makes it the perfect system introduction, actually – watching your friend’s Mii avatars compete in a series of athletic events in a delight, and as you swing way too dramatically in Baseball or take unnecessary lead-in steps during Bowling your head can’t help but swim with ideas, where the very best minds in our industry could possibly take this setup. It’s also a great party game, with every event in it having at least some charm – though Baseball becomes rather repetitive and Boxing has some issues with control reaction. It’s worth spending time with, so it’s good that we’re all getting it.
As for the rest of the games, well, they’re launch games (except for the re-appropriated swansong Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess). But the thing about them is, much like the Nintendo DS’s launch games, even when they weren’t great they still felt important. They felt like they were paving the way for something better. The much greater breadth of the Wii’s launch lineup shoulders this burden as well, so don’t be surprised if the third game in your collection (after Wii Sports and Zelda) is charming, yet awkward.
The Wii has had a great launch. It’s inexpensive and easy to acquire, has a solid lineup of genuinely fun games, and even has a killer app. Its network services work well out of the box, its added-value features feel genuinely valuable, and even though the graphics are blurry and low-resolution, it still feels like an elegant, high-tech Japanese machine. There’s plenty to do with it now, but the real reason it feels like its worth the asking cost is the eventual, innovative brilliance this hardware setup can’t help but spawn.
In the meantime, come for the Zelda and catch up with the GameCube games you missed. There’s plenty of time to watch this system stretch its long, long legs.