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Video Games Review: Nintendo Wii

Nintendo Wii: First Impressions

Last Friday, thousands flocked to game stores up and down the country in anticipation of the all-new Nintendo Wii - only to return in most cases empty handed and disappointed as the pitifully low number available failed to keep pace with demand. A delighted Blue Feathers on Fire were one of the lucky few to succeed in actually getting a Wii on launch day.

So how does the machine measure up?

The Machine

Billed as a revolution in gaming thanks to the inventive new way in which games are played - using a unique new remote control controller – we were unsure whether it could possibly live up to the hype which has greeted its worldwide release. The mad videos you may have seen on the Internet depicting folk of various nationalities grinning like buffoons while playing on the machine immediately looked suspect to us.

Setting up the machine is initially baffling (“what the hell is this?” “I have no idea what this is for” etc.) – you need to place an extremely flimsy looking sensor bar above or below the TV. Once installed, the remote controller easily picks it up – and its accuracy is immediately and very impressively exhibited. The remote perfectly replicates your every motion on screen to the minutest detail. It also features a force feedback and its own speaker that genuinely adds to the sense of immersion when playing (see below).

We spent a bit of time attempting to eject the disk draw, only to realise after maybe slightly too long that there wasn’t one, and that there is instead a mouth which devours discs (which made us feel like idiots but were nevertheless grateful for the fact that it wasn’t, as previously feared, broken already). The mouth glows blue when you feed it discs, or if you receive an email. Just like real life!

There are several bog standard features are in evidence on the main dashboard screen including a “News Channel” and “Weather Channel” which evidently aren’t online yet. Other features such as email and seem unnecessary and tacked on for the sake of it as, if you have the broadband necessary to get your Wii online, chances are you already have them done much better elsewhere. We suspect that the News Channel will serve as right wing propaganda a la Fox News in the US. The irony of the weather channel on a Wii console is delightful as well as, with games like Wii Sports supposedly creating a new way to exercise without having to leave your living room, the implication of the Weather Channel is you can’t be arsed to get out of your chair to look out the window.

Perhaps then the function of the Weather Channel is to find out what the driving conditions are like so you can better predict the likely ETA of the pizza delivery guy? Anyway, it’s a minor point!

Mii wants to play

A further feature available as you boot up the machine is the option to create yourself as a little on screen cartoon incarnation. These characters (called “Mii”) can be edited using an array of facial and bodily features (fatness, glasses, a hat etc.) Once you’ve made yourself, you can choose to play as that character in games. This was more than mildly funny in Wii Sports for reasons mentioned below. Mii’s can be uploaded to the controller or taken online so you can play as yourself against others.

It’s a feature which serves as a quaint distraction in spite of the fact that at heart it is really rather pointless.

Wii Sports

The first game we played on the Wii served to showcase the new controller perfectly. Playing tennis as our first game, control over the racket is initially stunning and really has to be played to be believed. Once you get over the almost surreal madness (and an outward paranoia brought about by your own sense of self-consciousness) of using the remote as a tennis racket, a baseball bat, a golf club, a bowling ball or, most humorously, boxing gloves, the game is a multiplayer work of genius. The comic hilarity of the game shines through as farcical set pieces and camera angles frequently reduce you to uncontrollable fits of laughter to compliment your inane grinning; especially palpable when playing against others.

Bowling, for instance, will have you actually taking a run up as, using the controller as the ball, you throw it down the alley with initially unbelievable realism. Curve the remote as you arc it forward to spin the ball, the speed too perfectly well replicated. Two player games of boxing will have both players punching the air as virtual blows reign in on screen, using the remote and nunchuk add on (also supplied with the console) as gloves. It’s all supremely good fun as you weave and block by putting the two controllers in front of your face. You can even clap in celebration, as your pummelled opponent lies unconscious on the canvass.

The controls are so intuitive and such a joy to use that each of the five games are in our opinion, and in terms of the mechanics of the game play at least, the absolute pinnacle of their respective sports in video game form by default.

The one drawback is that prolonged playing of the game will leave the out of shape coach potatoes among us crippled up the right arm. You have been warned!

Rage online

In theory, the Wii’s WiiConnect24 service offers further services “straight out of the box” (ha!) via various online enabled channels. The much-touted Virtual Console allows you to buy old games and store them on your Wii to play at your whim in future. This intriguing service is, however, clearly targeted at those of us who have incomes on the scale of whole nations. For between £3.50 and £8 you can buy the sort of retro games that will have you thinking, “did I really used to enjoy THIS?” At least, we think that’s how much they cost, Nintendo has seen fit to distort the prices by introducing a non-floating exchange rate currency of their own called “Points” (their imagination presumably run completely dry by this stage). By our reckoning, you can get a rate of circa 142 Points to the Pound. Which incidentally is enough to buy sod all at their online store.

At any rate, non of this stuff matters because it is damn near impossible to get the bastard up and running. We spent far too long trying to get online using Nintendo’s own Wi-Fi USB connector but to no avail. We did, however, get to see it working on another machine and so can at least confirm that it isn’t all a total jip (just most of it).

Anything else?

What an absolute fucking legend this guy is!

With Wii Sports spectacularly proving the accuracy and enjoyment to be had using the new style of control, we can only anticipate what further delights await us all in future. In the meantime, we also had a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to cruise through. Using the nunchuk to manoeuvre the chap on screen, the game controls superbly. Mercifully, it is a much more serene experience to play compared with Wii Sports, reducing the risk of “Nintendo Arm” as the repetitive strain it causes may or may not come to be known. The remote control is deployed here in a variety of inventive and entertaining ways. In the main this had us swiping away with a sword, aiming expertly with a sling shot, and catching fish by casting the line into a river while wrestling to retrieve hooked fish against the force feedback from the controller.

The graphics in both Zelda and Wii Sports could probably have been done on a PS2, yet this initially off-putting factor really doesn’t effect your enjoyment of playing. What the Wii appears to have succeeded in doing, and this really must be the most striking plus point of all, is to reinvigorate our interest in gaming in general. And for that it receives top marks.

BFOF Rating: * * * * *