Once a year, I'm released from my bondage inside the subterranean Gadgetbox HQ, and spilled out onto the street to fend for myself for a day or two, before my inevitable recapture. Seen Chan-wook Park's Oldboy ? Yeah, it's kind of like that. With less live squid ingestion. Don't ask.
This year, I found myself on the mean boulevards of New York City, with instructions to head over to the Consumer Electronics Show's NYC Press Preview. But as long as I was enjoying my temporary freedom, I decided to take a sidetrip to Rockefeller Center. Unfortunately, the Rockettes weren't around, but I found the next best thing: the Nintendo World Store. And when I set foot inside, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but playable Wiis, from there to here!
We've been waxing wild about the Wii for some time now, so I'm sure you're all wondering: did it live up to the hype? Will it change video games the way we know them? Could it be the console that will finally destroy the antithesis between video games and datelessness? Read on, fair readers, read on!
I got a chance to try two games on the Wii. The first was from the Wii Sports package that comes with the console, which includes five games: Baseball, Boxing, Bowling, Golf, and Tennis. The guy manning the stations explained that boxing was right out as they only had one nunchuck downstairs, which was in use, and it's required to get your box on. Given the remaining four options, I went for golf. Why? Golf is a pretty stationary game, so hopefully I'd only look moderately ridiculous.
From my first impression, the Wii Sports games are really for the casual users. They seem pretty simple and the control schemes in the games seem designed to emphasize the motion capabilities of the Wiimote. For example, in the golf game, you swing the controller as if you're swinging a golf club. A power meter shows you how hard you're swinging (there's a little overview map that gives you an idea of how much power you'll need to get your ball where it's going). You can take as many practice swings as you want, and when you're ready to actually hit the ball, you hold down the A button (the big one under your thumb), and give it a whack. That's about all for important controls. You can also use the D-pad to adjust your swing left or right, and up and down change your club, but most of that is ancillary to playing.
It took some time for me to gauge how much power I needed to put in any given swing. The power scale is relative to whichever club you're using, so you'll need to adjust your motion if you're, say, driving versus putting. And the controls are a little bit touchy; sometimes, if you're motion's not quite right, it won't register correctly and your golfer character will do a little phantom swing. With practice, this happened less, but it could be frustrating for first-timers.
The verdict? I'm about as bad at Wii golf as I am at regular golf.
After spending a while with the sport of kings golf, I decided to see what else the Nintendo World Store had to offer. Traipsing up their very Apple-esque stainless steel staircase, I discovered the second floor, which featured Nintendo merchandising, a display case of historical Nintendo items ranging from the original hanafuda cards the company used to make to a gold Triforce-inscribed GameBoy Advance signed by Shigeru Miyamoto. And...a bunch more Wiis.
After glancing over the shoulders of people playing Excite Truck, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, and other games, I got ahold of the controller once again (and this time, the nunchuck attachment as well) to play a little Call of Duty 3.
CoD 3 is about as far as you can get from Wii Sports. It's a WWII FPS that's also available on Xbox, Xbox 360, PS2, and PS3. I've played a number of FPSs in my time, so I was curious to see how the Wii's control scheme would handle it.
Mixed, as it turns out. It works as follows: the thumbstick on the nunchuck moves your guy around, while moving the Wiimote controls where your character looks. Trigger buttons on the nunchuck control kneeling and going prone, while aiming and shooting are handled from the Wiimote. Parts of the scheme were extremely intuitive, for example holding down the large A button on the Wiimote brings your rifle sight to your face, allowing to aim better, and pulling the trigger on the controller fires. Smooth and natural.
On the flipside, I found the motion sensing part of it extremely twitchy. The Nintendo guy told me that it was very sensitive, and he was right; flick your wrist too much or too fast, and you'll send your guy into a death spin that's hard to recover from. It was very difficult at first, but as I went along, I improved modestly. I also found that it helped to stand farther back from the screen, though I don't know if this was a technological or psychological factor. Either way, eight to ten feet seemed to work better than, say, four or five.
Another guy who'd been playing around with the Wii came over to give CoD a try after I finished, and when I told him that the controls were very sensitive, he mentioned that the sensitivity was adjustable. He pressed the home button on the Wiimote, and the system crashed. Hard. Unfortunately, neither of the employees on the floor had a key for the case to reset the machine, so I snapped a picture and vamoosed, not wishing to linger too long in the store, lest I be discovered there by my Gadgetbox overlords.
So it was back into the drenching rain for me, and off to my assigned task. Would I be buying a Wii come this holiday? No, probably not. But I certainly wouldn't throw one out of bed. It's still got potential and I haven't even delved into the Virtual Console yet (for which recently announced games include Dr. Mario and Mario Kart 64—be still, my beating heart!). If the sensitivity is indeed adjustable without crashing the machine, that'll go a long way towards assuaging my doubts about the console. But if you're in the market, I highly recommend you try one out if you get a chance and see if it's for you.