February 16, 2007

way too long: a Wii review

As a family member is considering buying a Wii, I thought I’d write down my thoughts concerning the console. As it turns out, I have far too many thoughts about this piece of electronics equipment. Specifically, I had 1,784 words worth, and that doesn’t include this excerpt. Therefore I can only recommend that you read the following if you consider yourself a veteran of the masochistic arts.

I obtained my Nintendo Wii just before Christmas, and so have had access to the console for just over a month and a half. As some relatives are considering buying one “for their children”, I’m posting a review of the console as I feel I represent the type of person who previously wouldn’t doesn’t identify himself as a “gamer” and yet felt compelled to purchase a Wii.

The Upsides

Intuitive Controller. I recently held a Wii Tennis party where we had teams playing the Wii Sports Tennis game. Of those present many who competed had never held the Wii Remote before their first match. The instructions I gave were no more helpful than “The game moves the character for you, just swing when appropriate.” Of course, there are many subtleties to the game, but these crude instructions were enough that people were able to have a good time without looking down to remember where the “q” button is. I don’t think I could have gotten my Dad to play Tiger Woods golf on the xbox, but when all he had to do was swing the controller like a golf club he was more than willing to step up to the Wii Sports Golf game. A fun moment occurred when, after completing a practice swing, he tried to “step up to the ball” to hit it, as if here were actually on the back nine. The controller aides immersion in a way that no amount of high definition graphics can.

Cost of console. At $250, the Nintendo Wii is far from free, but if you’re comparing it to the cost of the Xbox 360 ($300 for the ‘core’ and $400 for the ‘premiere’ edition) and the Playstation 3 ($500 and $600, respectively), it might as well be. It’s even cheaper than the last generation of consoles released by Sony and Microsoft in 2000 and 2001 respectively, which both cost $300. I suspect that part of the reason the blu-ray equipped Playstation 3 and well established Xbox 360 didn’t sell as well for the holidays is that their entry point is higher than most parents are able/willing to spend for their Christmas budget. If you’re going to buy a game or two and an extra controller, the costs can quickly go from exorbitant to ludicrous. Also, the Wii is the only console that actually comes with a game, the incredibly addictive and family friendly Wii Sports

The Games. What’s a game console without good games (Answer: the Sega Saturn)? Between the included and excellent Wii Sports, the addictive mini-game based Rayman Raving Rabbids, the critically acclaimed Zelda title, and Wario Ware: Smooth Moves, there are some good games available right now. The Wii is also backwards compatible the GameCube, Nintendo’s previous console, meaning you have access to the existing catalog of games over the past six years. Nintendo also has the Virtual Console through which you can buy even older games, and which deserves its own section.

Virtual Console. Through the wireless 802.11b/g card provided you can connect to the Internet and access the Virtual Console, which allows you to purchase and download older games to play on the Wii. You can currently purchase games that originally ran on the NES, SNES, N64 platforms, as well as Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx 16. At $5-$12 each, you can access great games from a previous era and play them all on a single console. Currently there are 52 Virtual Console titles available, and more are added each Monday.

You get a GameCube for free! Unlike other consoles which are partly/mostly backwards compatible with previous offerings, the Wii is 100% compatible with previous games, which means the entire back catalog of GameCube games are available on the cheap.

The Downsides

The Cost of Controllers. If you’re buying a Wii, you’re probably going to want to play with a friend, indeed Nintendo has made it a major selling point of the console (It’s called the Wii for fornication’s sake). There is one Nintendo “remote” controller with a “nunchuck” attachment, which allows two handed motion sensing along as well as ananalog joystick. These two components are sold separately at $40 for the remote and $20 for the joystick. In the included Wii Sports games, two player tennis and baseball require at least one extra remote, and two player boxing requires an extra remote and nunchuck. Buying the extra remote bumps up your entry price up to $290, with the extra nunchuck you’re up to $310. Note that it’s definitely normal for a console to only include a single remote, but the Nintendo controllers are expensive in proportion to the console. This may be justifiable given the new control scheme is a major part of the console, but it’s something to watch out for.

Perhaps worse is the fact that if you buy titles on the virtual console, not all of the games are compatible with the wii controller, as the original host system had far more buttons in a different configuration. Specifically, if you want to play SNES, N64, and most TurboGrafx-16 and Sega Genesis games, you’re going to have to buy a different controller. You’re looking at $20 for either the classic controller or a wired GameCube controller, and $34 for the wireless GameCube controller.

The GameCube Integration Isn’t. This one caught me by surprise. I bought Super Smash Bros., a GameCube game, bought a used wireless GameCube controller, and then a Classic controller with the intention of two player Smash Brother goodness. As it turned out, this was not to be. There were two problems with this setup:

  1. The Wii Classic controller does not work with GameCube games. Despite the fact that the GameCube controllers work with the Virtual Console games, they don’t work the other way around. You need two GameCube controllers to play multiplayer GameCube games. There’s no way around it.
  2. Despite the fact that the Wii has 512 MB of onboard flash memory, the GameCube games are unable to access it, meaning if you want to save these games you’re playing, you’re going to have to buy a $20 memory card to store your progress

Now, if you already owned a GameCube, this is no problem, these are things you already have. If you’re just starting out with this console, you’re looking at $60 to get setup for playing multi-player GameCube games. Now this is much cheaper than purchasing a GameCube with an extra controller, but when the Wii claims to be “backwards compatible” one doesn’t envision dropping the better part of a C-Note just to access that compatibility.

Wii Infrared Interference. The Wii remote allows you to point at a screen directly with the remote controller for menu navigation and game play. This pointing mechanism works by the Wii Remote detecting infrared from an IR transmitter placed either on top or below the television. What may not be obvious is that infrared is common, being given off especially by light bulbs. We have a lamp placed next to our television and if we don’t adjust the Remote’s sensitivity, the remote will start jerking around the screen, which causes problems especially for finesse games like the drawing and shooting portions of Rayman. It should be noted that this can be fixed by adjusting the sensitivity, but you might need to adjust the sensitivity both when the light source is on and when it is off.

Poor Graphics. This has been covered extensively, and indeed the graphical capabilities of the console are inferior to the Xbox 360’s, which offers high definition output as a rule, all games being done in widescreen with a resolution of at least 720p, and which has the ability to upscale to 1080i for games which don’t support it. The Wii is 480i 4:3 with the included cables and can only do 480p widescreen (dvd quality) with a proprietary Nintendo cable. I’ve played some of Zelda on the Wii and compared it to Kameo, a similar style game on the Xbox 360, and there is no doubt that on an HD set, Kameo completely blows Zelda out of the water, it is a gorgeous game to watch. On the flip side, Zelda is still a much more fun game to play. Though the graphics can assist immersion, game play trumps graphics, so this isn’t something I’d worry too much about. Also, the majority of Americans do not have high definition sets, so it’s not likely they’d notice a huge difference anyway.

Virtual Console Issues I love the idea of being able to play the old school games just as they were on my modern console. Two problems are getting in the way of this: The games are annoying to buy and some of them don’t support all the features they used to. Virtual Console games are purchased with Wii Points, which are 1 US cent/point. To purchase these games, you need to enter in your credit card number, city, state, COUNTY, phone number, and other billing information via the Wii Remote. If this wasn’t annoying enough, the Wii doesn’t encrypt and store this info, instead forcing you to re-enter this information every time you want to add points to your account. While this might be a better choice from a security perspective, it is a pain and discourages from purchasing these titles.

Once you have the titles on your system, several games do not support all of the features that the original title did. Currently, Nintendo doesn’t support rumble feedback, even when attached to a GameCube controller which supports it. Also, Nintendo 64 games which required the add on memory pack don’t support those features which require it and Nintendo claims that there is no fix. This means that you won’t be able to save Time Trials for MarioKart64.

Conclusion

Wii Still a Good Deal. Despite the pitfalls mentioned above, you can still get a system which will play all the Wii and NES virtual console games multiplayer for $310, which includes the base system with its’ included controller ($250) and an extra remote/nunchuck combination for $60. More than that, it’s a fun console that gets you moving as opposed to the stationary button mashing imposed by other consoles with a game development community that’s excited about writing games for it. Also, at this early stage, it seems that the Wii is on its way to the head of the pack of the new generation of consoles, which means that aside from Nintendo’s already worthwhile catalog, many third party developers who neglected the GameCube will again allocate developer resources for the Wii.

I kept trying to come up with a catchy closing line, but then realized I’m not trying to sell anything. THE END

7 Comments »

  1. Cheap shot on my Saturn! There were tons of great games for that console–Dragon Force, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Guardian Heroes, NiGHTS, Burning Rangers, Shining Force 3, Virtual On, Saturn Fucking Bomberman…the list goes on. Its death is more attributable to Sega’s retarded market strategy (“Hay lets release it early with no fanfare”) and ability to piss off third party developers (see: Working Designs). Also, Square Enix. And those horrible, horrible CD cases.

    The Wii is for normal people who like to play games in their free time. The snooty nerd in me scoffs at your pedestrian entertainment and thinks that unless you have to memorize 30-button combos and use millisecond-perfect timing in order to compete, you’re a big pussy.

    Comment by Keith — February 17, 2007 @ 2:14 am

  2. I, like Keith, do feel a little slighted by the poke at the Saturn. I loved playing it… even the games I revisit that I realize now were crap, like Daytona USA. But there’s still this charm in it. It was the first system to have an onboard clock, so some games would play differently depending on what day or season you played them. That was, and still is, a revolutionary idea.

    Comment by Ben — February 17, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

  3. Just thought I’d mention for the potential Wii purchasers that you can in fact save Wii game data on the internal 512MB of Flash memory of the Wii. There is no need to purchase an SD Flash memory card to start playing and saving your games. You can also save Virtual Console games to this memory until it fills up, at which time it would be necessary to bring in an SD card for more storage capacity.

    Also note that any Virtual Console games bought are tied to the Wii they were bought on, not any kind of customer account, so you can’t buy another Wii or a replacement Wii and expect to be able to play the VC games you’ve purchased. At least not without help from Nintendo.

    Comment by Will — February 17, 2007 @ 9:31 pm

  4. i scrolled through this post and made it to the bottom.

    Comment by ug — February 22, 2007 @ 12:18 am

  5. […] Last week, Red posted a dissertation on Why Anyone Would Buy a Wii, which basically amounted to thus: you would buy it ’cause it’s awesome. Today, I’d like to focus on a list of games I would love to buy on the Virtual Console. Now, I completely believe that these games will probably NEVER come out on the Virtual Console, just because I think I’m one of the few people in the world that even remember games like To The Earth, but this is my wishlist, and I can wish for whatever I want, damnit. […]

    Pingback by Penciled In » Five Releases I’d like to see on the VC: NES — February 24, 2007 @ 10:31 pm

  6. Brian,

    Thanks for the de1784 words. As promised I have read them and yes I indent to purchase for my son. Thanks also to others for the comments. Sounds like I don’t need an SD card addition on the gamecube stuff.

    Uncle C

    Comment by Uncle C — February 27, 2007 @ 2:22 pm

  7. 4 hours in line at Circuit City starting at 6AM and I am now a Wii owner.

    Comment by Uncle C — March 26, 2007 @ 3:09 pm

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