Posted by Dom
As Nintendo releases a new games machine pretty much once every five years, it was unsurprising that the UK launch of its new Wii console last week generated a tremendous amount of interest. As expected, the mainstream media concentrated on some of the perceived negative aspects of the launch – such as stocks selling out within minutes, controllers flying out of unsuspecting gamers’ hands, or machines selling at up to £1,000 on eBay. The Great British public, meanwhile, concentrated on the twin tasks of exploring every high street/back street avenue available to snap up a console, and then enjoying the new system to the max once they’d got their hands on one.
I was one of the lucky ones. Having read a few glowingly complimentary articles online during October about the machine, I decided to pre-order one from Woolworths – not one of the mainstream game stores, admittedly, but a shop that I thought would be getting a decent amount of stock, and which wouldn’t be totally over-subscribed. Come Friday morning (which I’d ‘coincidentally’ booked off as holiday from my homepage duties), with no word from the Woolworths website apart from the ominously vague order statement ‘Processing’, I was gearing myself up to have an almighty sulk, and spent a mournful morning in the Kingston rain traipsing round random shops to gauge if there were any machines going begging. I should have been a tad more patient, however, as come mid-afternoon, I got a text from Woolies saying my Wii was ready to be picked up at the Kingston store, so I rushed out to pick it up.
So what’s the Wii actually like? Is it worth all the fuss, and are the scare stories in the media accurate?
First impressions of the machine are re-assuringly positive; I’m certainly no great tech-head when it comes to setting up any kind of new machine, but you really can get the Wii up and running within only 20 minutes or so. Successfully getting the Wii online obviously depends on what kind of Internet connection you have at home – my wireless setup was recognised by the console incredibly quickly (once I’d remembered to enter my wireless key), and after a couple of painless necessary updates, it was net-ready with the absolute minimum of fuss. What you can actually do online at the moment is pretty minimal – the News and Weather channels, for instance, aren’t ready yet, although you can use the ‘Virtual Console’ feature to download such classic titles as Sim City, Donkey Kong and BomberMan. At a cost, though – you have to buy Wii Points, either from your local games shop or by using your credit card, to be able to download any retro gems.
The Wii’s main user interface is pleasingly sparse and simple, with the available channels laid out in a simple, no-nonsense style. Many people new to the world of Wii will have a good couple of hour’s fun creating their own ‘Mii’ – cute little virtual characters that you can design to look like yourself, or any other friend/relative/famous person that takes your fancy. These Miis can then be dropped into many of the Wii games already available, so, as an example, it can actually be ‘you’ running round a tennis court or weaving around the boxing ring in the game that comes packaged with the Wii, Wii Sports.
Onto the all-important games – what are they like? It’s fair to say that reaction so far has ranged from ecstatic to puzzled, mostly because of the revolutionary way the Wii asks you to play your games – instead of the traditional joypad, you’re asked to use a combination of a motion-sensitive remote control (dubbed the ‘Wiimote’) and an extra device known as the ‘Nunchuk’, which allows even more interesting options when it comes to playing.
Using these controllers instead of the ages-old, traditional joypad is a bold step forward by Nintendo that could really revolutionise gaming – and the bundled free game Wii Sports has one main aim, to teach you just how to get to grips with the devices. Baseball, boxing, golf, tennis and ten-pin bowling all rely on you using your remotes in new, innovative ways – whether you’re gripping them like a baseball bat to try and hit home runs, or as an extension of your hands to try and knock your opponent out in boxing.
Graphics are fun, cute and colourful, but light years behind what Xbox 360 owners, for example, have come to expect. That’s not really the point, however. The Wii is designed to be completely different to everything that’s gone before, and to totally eschew the direction taken by both the Xbox and the Playstation 3, in favour of a world where fun, enjoyment and simple playability take precedence over jaw-dropping, next-generation visuals.
Get somebody else involved (you’ll need to fork out for an extra Wii remote, unfortunately – although you do get one free with another launch title, Wii Play), and you’ll soon begin to understand the possibilities of the machine, which is already being described as the ultimate party gaming system. Nintendo wants everybody from every conceivable demographic to ‘get’ the Wii – in the process breaking down the stereotype of a sad, socially awkward gaming ‘geek’ that has followed video games around for so long. And making them lots of money, of course.
On this level, and as a system that’s bringing incredible amounts of fun to the lucky few thousand who actually have a UK machine, the Wii is a huge success already. Programmers have only begun to get their heads around the different ways of playing games that the motion-sensitive remote provides – which means that whilst there may be a fair amount of tat around in these first few months, there could be some staggering leaps of quality and innovation in just a couple of months. Once the online capabilities of the system are fully up and running, and your little Miis are running around other people’s consoles and joining in their games, a whole other new and exciting world is opened up, and when you consider that hundreds of classic retro games will be being made available to download over 2007, you can begin to see just where Nintendo is heading.
Innovations like the Wii updating itself even when you’ve switched it ‘off’, flashing a blue light at you when you receive new email, are pretty funky, and we haven’t even mentioned side issues such as the pretty comprehensive photo channel, or rumoured hook-up possibilities with the Wii’s little brother, the handheld DS. And new games such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Process are gaining incredibly positive reviews across the board.
The dire internet warnings of flying remotes and smashed-up TVs seem to be pretty far-fetched to me, as well – I’m sure there will be isolated incidents, but I’ve been involved in some pretty heated sporting contests over the weekend and haven’t had any alarms or worries about the safety level of the wrist strap. Whether other games compromise this fact I can’t really comment on yet, but I still think it would have to be quite a freaky incident for anything serious to happen.
The Wii is ultimately a genuine breath of fresh air in an industry that was in danger of going stale. Its achievement in offering something completely different to its two main rivals shouldn’t be underestimated, either. Whether there’ll be an ultimate ‘winner’ in this new round of console wars is difficult to predict, of course, but the very fact that there’s a refreshingly different alternative out there is something that should be celebrated. And the simple truth at the moment that you pretty much can’t get your hands on a Wii in the UK, unless you’ve pre-ordered one weeks in advance, means that the British public is buying into the concept whole-heartedly as well.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who has a Wii, if you have absolutely no intention of buying into Nintendo’s plans for world domination, or simply want to share your Friend Code with other like-minded users, please let us know.