Monday, July 30, 2007

Wii-haw!


So this past weekend, my brother-in-law visited us so that we could make him dinner for his birthday (the wife made some frijoles barrachos, while I grilled up some carne asada and a few links of kielbasa), and with him be brought his latest pride-and-joy, the Nintendo Wii.

Now, as an erstwhile dedicated console gamer (I now game, and keep up with gaming news, vicariously through single and/or childless friends), I had largely given up on the silliness of Nintendo products in favor of the tech-nerd-smorgasbords that were the various incarnations of the XBox and PlayStation: better graphics, better games, sensible controls; these were all things Nintendo seemed to lack (Nintendo, for you non-gamers out there, has been notorious throughout its history for "innovative" (read: clunky and non-intuitive) peripherals that only have use for one or two games, from the very odd (R.O.B., for example), to the neat-but-rarely-exploited (how many "light gun" games were there beside Duck Hunt?), to the really-useful-but-completely-overlooked-by-developers (the SNES had a mouse that was used for, by my count, exactly two games, including the one with which it was sold as a bundle)).

Enter the Wii. When I first heard the name, it sounded more like the nail in Nintendo's coffin -- who would want to 'fess up to owning something that sounds like a child describing what he did in the potty? And then I got a look at the controller (see above), which can only be described as resembling, in turns, an old-school TV remote (back when they were just called "TV clickers"), a garage door opener, or a control for some kind of automatic window blinds. This will never sell, I again remarked -- players want sophisticated, ergonomic controller design, not a two-button old-school NES throwback that just happens to be wireless. And then I got wind that its graphics capabilities were nowhere near its competitors, the XBox 360 and PS3 -- were the Nintendo executives committing some sort of corporate Seppuku to atone for their past crimes? (It should be noted here that Nintendo has always been the most litigious of all gaming developers, to the extent that they sued, unsuccessfully, to ban third-party developers from independently designing games back in the 8-bit days).

But all that has changed in my own mind, and in the minds of thousands of others. The much vaunted PS3 loses money on every console and is having extreme difficulty moving units in the US. The XBox 360, while dazzling and popular, is likewise not terribly profitable, extremely expensive, and focused on the "adult gamer" market. Plus, you can get one without any effort. Meanwhile, go out and try to get a Wii. Seriously, right now, head to your local store-that-sells-consoles, and try to casually pick up a unit. I'll wait.

Having trouble? I thought so. Those things are flying off the shelf like hotcakes! Even months and months after its release, there is still great hype and excitement over the clunky, boxy looking thing with the ugly controller and less-than-state-of-the-art computing power! Two anecdotes: back in April, the wife in a couple with whom I and Mrs. Red Shirt are friends decided that, as a birthday present for herself, she would acquire a Wii with their tax refund. To make a long story short, it took a couple weeks of calling every possible store in town every single day, and a final mad dash to Wal-Mart in the middle of a weekday when she just happened to call right when two units came into stock (beating out, by a matter of minutes, another guy who was trying to get one for his own birthday). She and her husband love their Wii, and it was their Wii that I first got to experience back on the 4th of July. Second story: the wife of a very good friend of mine was recently diagnosed with a condition that requires many weeks of bed rest. Therefore, this friend of mine, a very busy, overworked lawyer guy (but dedicated husband) spends a great deal of precious time and energy locating a Wii for her to play while on bed rest.

My point with these illustrations: these are not your typical gamers, and yet they have all become enchanted with the Wii. I, too, after having had a chance to really get into some Wii games, have become a... ok, I'll say it -- a Be-Wii-ver. And the primary reason for it is that clunky, ugly stick you see above. Not just a wireless remote, this thing is a tool. The Wii comes with a sensor that must be placed on top of or below the television set, and detects very subtle movements of device, which control the game. Case in point: my brother-in-law has a golf game for the Wii, which I played, alot (not the simple one that comes with the console, but a much funner one with much more advanced interactivity). You actually have to grasp the controller like a golf club, and swing it like a golf club, in order to play the game! And it's not just a simple up-and-down movement that can be lazily imitated, oh no! It can detect hook and slice, and the perfect follow-through must be performed to really get the most out of your drives. So you must be up on your feet while playing, not just sitting back in a recliner. Even the simple, included-with-the-Wii bowling game is advanced enough to detect any spin you might put on the "ball" as you "throw" it using the... Wii-mote.

And they do some clever things with it, too. In a Mario game I played, which is normally played with the remote held horizontally like a traditional controller, you can turn the thing lengthwise at the screen and shine it like a flashlight, revealing secrets on the screen that are not otherwise visible.

The sensitivity of the remote is also very impressive. Believe it or not, nearing a score of years ago, Nintendo tried something similar with the Power Glove, which I owned -- literally a motion-sensitive glove that could be used to control the games. With its poor data rate, bad motion sensitivity, awkward setup, and lack of games designed for it, though, the Power Glove was the coolest piece of useless junk I ever had. The Wii controller, on the other hand, is elegant, simple, useful, and, of course, fully supported by every Wii game, since it is the "native" controller for that system.

I am fully convinced, now ,that even my own technophobic father would greatly enjoy the Wii, given its great interactivity, and diversity of games for the non-traditional gamer set -- including, I'm told, a pretty good fishing game that I suspect he would like.

The bottom line is this: Nintendo's latest entry in the console wars really deserves some Wii-spect.

(Oh yes, I went there, didn't I? Whattaya gonna do about it?)

p.s. At a fraction of the cost of the other this-generation consoles, it's also a great money-saver for all the fun you get out of it.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous J. Dizzle said...

...how many "light gun" games were there beside Duck Hunt?

Clearly, you never played Gumshoe or Freedom Force. The former was strange yet intriguing, and the latter was just shoot-'em-up fun. Plus, who didn't like Hogan's Alley?

Also, "Be-Wii-ver"? "Wii-spect"? For shame, sir.

(All this aside, once I'm out of part-time grad school limbo, I do plan to at least get a Wii, if not a PS3. I desire hot widescreen FPS action...)

10:11 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

For the record, I HAD Gumshoe (rather than duck hunt, as it turns out). "Strange" does not begin to describe the process of shooting a detective to keep him >afloat as he automatically traverses each level.

And ok, fine, Hogan's Alley was fun.

And having not played the XBOX 360 or PS3 yet, I can say in a completely unbiased manner that they both suck and you should get a Wii, if only for the golf games. Me, I'm holding out for a good two-player sword-fighting game with multiple styles, from traditional european-style fencing to aikido. What's the hold up, Nintendo???

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Marty said...

It's stuff like this that makes me glad I'm old.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous J. Dizzle said...

You know, the really sad thing is that it took me quite a while to realize you had to shoot him to make him jump. I can't tell you how many times I played that game, shooting randomly at stuff only to promptly fall into a pit and die. I was ready to chunk the game into traffic when I accidentally shot the detective and he scampered into the air. Talk about feeling dumb...

Speaking of creative user interfaces (like your two-player swordfighting suggestion...that would RULE), have you seen the EyeToy for the PS2? Some of the exercise and martial arts titles look really fun, assuming you can get the lighting right for the motion detection algorithm. However, I think my downstairs neighbor would quickly tire of ol' Tons Of Fun here playing ninja at all hours. The video would be a YouTube smash, though.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Was this merely you in a clever wig, JD? After that last comment, I have my suspicions.

Marty -- the Wii is actually targeted to (at? toward? I'm having prepositional trouble this morning) non-traditional gaming audiences, so you might be surprised. Given your penchant for repeatedly, futilely smacking pavement with your feet, however, you might find this old-school peripheral more to your liking. Although I'm sure the Wii developers will somehow invent some form of shoe-based controller; perhaps they'll even call it (this one's for you, JD) the "Wii-bok".

One ticket to hell, please. My bags are packed.

7:33 AM  

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