Nintendo Wii: First Impressions

I really should give up and add a Wii Category to my blog. It’s right over there on the right hand sidebar (yay WordPress!). I just don’t want to cave; I don’t have a Category for most of my other interests; Mandrina gets her own Category, but I’ve managed to avoid adding even a Cat Category, much less a Glitch category.

Okay, I give up. I added the Category. Wii!

I gave into temptation yesterday. I bought a Nintendo Wii on the day after release (November 20th, 2006). I purchased it at CostCo for about $330 US. I then picked up Red Steel for about $45 (I don’t remember the exact price). After several hours of searching I found a second Wiimote and Wiichuck ($65 US after taxes) at a Walmart in Lynnwood (I think it’s Lynnwood, at least). So all told I dropped over $450 US (taxes, people, taxes) on the cheapest next-generation console. I’m glad I didn’t buy the good more expensive one! The only way I won’t feel bad about it is if it’s just THAT COOL.

Mandrina didn’t know I had bought one; I bought the second Wiimote and Wiichuck on my way home, telling her I needed to “run an errand.” I gave the second controller to her as a present, she laughed and immediately knew why. Makes it hard to surprise the girl, let me tell you.

Now for my Wiiview. (I know, I know, stop with the puns.)

The Wii is the cheapest of the so-called “next-gen” consoles. At $250, it’s less than half the price of the high end PS3; it also comes with a fairly fun game. The cost increases due to picking up an additional game and a second controller would be fairly similar to the hit for picking up additional games and controllers. All told, I got three full games, two complete controllers, the base unit, and the game with the system for less than the cost of the competition. It’s a good deal — as long as the system is good.

Mandrina and I opened it up between parts of cooking dinner. I was going to wait, Mandrina’s not very good at waiting (she’ll admit this freely). After I had made the buttermilk biscuit dough, I put it in the fridge to rise (I think that was the purpose, but it had no yeast) — while we were waiting, we opened the Wii up. I banned her from opening the actual games, and we opened up the console together. The box is relatively small — three times the height of your average board game, but only two-thirds as long. The system came packed in two separate cardboard subsections, both clearly labelled with their contents. Pull the two out, and you’re left with immediate access to all parts Wii.

Some of the parts were harder to identify (there’s a stand for the Sensor-Bar, for instance), but most things are obvious. Mandrina took the Wii itself out of its foam envelope, and admired it — I started popping open its plastic covers. I’m concerned that they might break with hard use, but, WOW! The amount of stuff they packed into such a small device! Don’t be distracted by its aesthetic lines. Despite it’s rather clean appearance, underneath it hides the soul of a monster — the top flips up in two sections; the smaller back section hides two memory card slots for Gamecube memory cards. The front portion of the top flips open to reveal four Gamecube controller ports. The front has the most obvious cover, where both an SD card and the sync button for Wiimotes are located. Everything is so well hidden, however, that it feels like a nice, simple, device, at home next to a DVD, but with fewer buttons. The Wii has a Power button, Reset button, and Eject button immediately visible; the slot-load drive is the only other visible element that isn’t hidden. Its simplicity is to be admired; I have computer with more buttons on the front!

I wanted to setup the Wii on the “big” TV upstairs. Mandrina wanted to play the Wii while we were making dinner. I didn’t want to setup the Wii just to take the time to take it down later. I, of course, caved — I wanted to play, too! The ease with which setup took place made the fact that I’ll have to take it upstairs far less painful — although playing the Wii on a 13-inch television was a bit annoying. I will refer you to the Three Step setup process: 1: Place Sensor Bar on top of Television and connect to Wii.¬†2: Connect power to Wii. 3. Connect Wii to TV. 4. Turn on. Okay, so it’s a Four Step process.

There are, of course, variations to this theme: Place the Sensor Bar underneath the TV. Place the Sensor Bar on the Sensor Stand on top of the TV. Place the Sensor Bar on the Sensor Stand underneath the TV. Connect the Wii to the TV, then Connect power to the Wii. You get the idea.

All three of the ports to be connected are shaped differently, color-coded, and keyed, so that the plug can only fit in one way, and only into the right place. I had the entire unit setup in less than two minutes — and most of that was taken up finding a power strip.

Powering On:
I turned on the Wii. My Wiimote was shipped preconfigured, so I didn’t need to do anything. It took a minute to get used to aiming to write, but it was so much less painful than setting up any other device in my house, it was astonishing. The little details — the slight bump when you pass over the edge of a button on screen, for instance — were astonishingly intuitively useful. I was walked through the setup process; Language, Machine Name, Date, Time. In less than five minutes (including showing the controller off to Mandrina), I was all setup… EXCEPT the networking. I’ll cover that separately. However, I was ready to go in five minutes, start to finish. Setting up the next time will be even faster, I’m sure. The interface was simple and elegant — predominantly black and white. You pointed at something, and then pressed A. I would have rather that the trigger button (B) had also worked, but I’m not really complaining — it told me exactly what to do every step of the way.

Startup Screen:
The first choice is game-specific — you choose it to launch a Game. Given my networking issues, the rest of the choices didn’t make sense to try (Weather, Channels, etc.). It’s obvious other features will be downloaded later. The one that I did start with, however, was the “Mii” option. Which, I’ll add, is almost annoyingly clever. Again, simplicity is the watchword; you point and click and you go there.

By default, you’re taken right to creating your own Mii. I was the first user, so I went ahead. Mandrina’s comment was that it looked a lot like me! Which is good; I was going for that. She didn’t like the goatee, so I guess I’ll forego trying to grow one; it’s good to know. The interface was, in pieces, counterintuitive — for instance, the shape-changing aspects of altering your avatar required me to guess to determine what did what to the current element (shrinking and growning would be the big culprits here), but it was still point-and-click simplicity. I have a Mii, and it looks kinda like Mii!

Mandrina followed a minute later, and encountered what I would call the biggest down side to the Wii so far — the Mii console only runs against the Player 1 controller. So she created someone who looks kinda like her, plus a few dozen pounds and shorter hair. I’m not saying a word. She also made her Mii shorter; I responded by making mine even taller, just on principle. I saved my Mii to “my” controller, and her Mii to hers; again, counterintuitive — the other controller has to be in range, but only the first controller is usable.

The experience of interacting with the Mii was also indicative of the direction the Wii was going in; the instructions came up and let me know with both text and images what to do next. All in all, a great experience — I would have preferred permitting the second player to have the interaction with the Mii, but aside from that… I have a Mii Avatar on my Wiimote!

After dinner (and washing our hands; I didn’t want to get my Wiimote dirty), Mandrina and I went to PLAY. We opened the Wii Sports game (the others are still sealed, by my edict (Mandrina was humoring me)), and… nothing happened. It took me a minute to realize the Console wanted ME to chose to start playing the game. A minor detail, and I’m sure people will disagree, but I appreciate the fact that it didn’t interrupt me. There was nothing to interrupt this time, but still.

Wii Sports:
I’m not sure if it’s official name is just “Sports,” but that seems too pedestrian. It was DEFINITELY the “Wii” part that made the game.

Mandrina and I started with Tennis, then went to Golf, then to Bowling, then to Boxing. Mandrina beat me (badly) at both Tennis and Bowling; we tied at Golf; I barely beat her at Boxing. She, of course, is mad at me for “hitting a girl.” *shakes head*

It was an amazing experience, to put it bluntly. I figured out some of the tricks while going; I “errored” a lot more frequently than Mandrina did, and it took me a while to realize why. One of the complaints I got when fencing was that I tended to “wind up” before attacking; the Wiimote was reading my slight windup as the actual action, so the actual action was going the wrong way. So in both Bowling and Golf I had occasional completely bad results, because I pulled my arm ever so slightly the wrong direction before going the right way. Of the bunch, Boxing was probably the least fun; I think I’d like to try it again with a larger TV, however. Bowling was a close second; I hate REAL bowling, Virtual Bowling wasn’t much better, at least for me.

The humiliation didn’t help, either.

That being said: EVERY GAME USES YOUR AVATAR. That thing you created in the Mii editor? That’s your representation in game. Not as cool as Xbox360’s face-mapping capabilities, I’ll admit, but… DUDE! I liked it.

Wii Sports: Golf:
BEST GOLF GAME I’ve ever played.

It’s not realistic; it’s not Super Monkey Ball 2 Golf (my previous favorite). If you’re looking for Tiger Woods, this isn’t it — although I’d love to play Tiger Woods on this one day. You draw your arm back, your bring your arm forward. If you go too fast and too far, you go out of control. Your power meter is off to the left; it has markers matching the map projection on the right. You want to get the same number of markers that you need according to the map. When you actually want to swing, you have to press and hold a button; otherwise you’re just practicing. You can decide to stop practicing at any point; or stop your swing at any point.

Hooks and Slices are calculated based on how much you exceed the power meter — otherwise you hit straight. You can enable a topographical overlay on the green in order to fine-tune your putting — and it actually lets you bounce out of the cup.

It’s a simplistic handling of golf — the hook and slice doesn’t come from lifting your body, or twisting your wrist. It is, however, the most fun way of playing golf at home.

Wii Sports: Tennis:
The first Wii Game we played; Mandrina beat me easily. I kept looking for the ability to MOVE the player, as opposed to just swinging the racket (had I not been looking, she still would have beaten me, don’t get me wrong). The absence of control over the Avatar’s movements is unfortunate, but I’m sure that’s being saved for Anna Kournikova’s Coed Naked Tennis or something (this is Nintendo, so… no.). Swinging the¬†racket is possibly the most intuitive gesture I’ve ever seen for controlling a tennis racket — you just swing your Wiimote. Backhand OR forehand. I just couldn’t quite figure out how to serve well. I also totally lost.

The system is simplified; where the ball goes depends mostly on WHEN you swing relative to the ball travelling towards you. It was still tons of fun.

Wii Sports: Bowling:
I hate bowling. This is known. My Jenn has gone bowling with me several times; she knows I hate bowling. Mandrina has just heard my tirades on the subject. This is the Wii game, however, that finally made me catch what I was doing wrong in terms of “pumping” my arm. You adjust your Avatar’s position and throwing angle, then you bring your arm straight up (as if you were — gasp! — holding a bowling ball!). Then you depress the button, bring your arm back and then forward, releasing the B button on the forward swing.

Now, depending on when you release, and IF YOU SPIN YOUR WRIST, the ball will travel. Yes, SPINNING YOUR WRIST actually affects the course of the ball. My attempts to use this to my advantage failed; however, Mandrina did NOT managed to beat TWICE my score! Ha. She only beat me by 50, not 64…

The Wiimote feels odd to hold in place of a bowling ball, but the motion made it worthwhile.

Wii Sports: Boxing:
The black sheep of the set. Mandrina was mad that I hit her. It was the only one of the games we played that used the Wiichuck attachment.

I think it was the worst of the set; it may have been Mandrina’s dislike for the game, or the small TV set, admittedly. It was a fairly simple mechanic, pull your two controllers together to block; move the controllers forward to punch.

It just seemed too chaotic; I wasn’t able to tell if I was hitting Mandrina or Mandrina was hitting me at times. Split-screening a 13″ TV is fairly cramped. I don’t think I’ll get Mandrina to box with me again; I am, however, sure that I’ll get her to play any of the other games with me.

First Impressions:
VERY positive; if games can continue to be delivered that utilize this unique mechanic, and not just as a gimmick, Nintendo has a wonderful system on their hands. Of course, I’m looking forward to the NEXT Zelda, when I’ll be able to swing my sword for Link — and not just as a “swing now!” command. I want to stab GANON, darn it!

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