It must have been just over a decade since I bought the only Games Console I’ve ever owned – the ill fated Atari Jaguar. It is about time a new one arrived that grabbed my attention. PlayStations, XBoxes, GameCubes, Dreamcasts and others have all come (and most gone) in the intervening time. None tempted me. Now one has and I’m not absolutely sure why. It is the Nintendo Wii.
Yes, that’s a very silly name. I joked about it for a good couple of weeks after the announcement that the final name for this new console wasn’t to be the, rather good, development name of Revolution but instead Wii. I would still be joking about it now if it weren’t quite so, er, stale a joke. I don’t think the Japanese realised the urinary connotations, perhaps it’s a more British than American thing so was a little more obscure to them. Who knows. Reports of embarrassment on the part of the tiny UK Nintendo office added to the amusement factor, that’s for sure!
So, besides the memorably silly name, what takes the Wii (okay, I’m not past the wee jokes!) beyond those others? The graphics? The processor speed(s)? The media (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray/HD-DVD) playback? No. If I want HiDef graphics I can get that on my PC. If I want incredible processor speeds I can get that on my PC. If I want media playback I can get that on my PC or, more usually, on a dedicated player. I’ve got a huge stack of PC games. Quite a few of which have had little or, in some cases, no play time at all. PC games are usually involved, designed for you to be sitting no more than 2 foot from a computer screen and have complex interfaces that rely on keyboards and mice. They’re great but installing the game, learning how to play it, finding the time for a proper gaming session and then not finding another need for the precious hard disk space is all tough. It can be done and the rewards are there, for the most part, but it’s not the only type of gaming out there.
So, the Wii hasn’t got the graphics of an XBox 360, a PlayStation 3 or a modern PC. It doesn’t have the sheer processing power of those either. So, back to my question, what is it that attracts me to the Wii? Certainly not the odour! No, it’s the sense of fun that is lingering around it. Nintendo haven’t even tried to compete with the 360 or the PS3 in terms of computing power. Perhaps they simply couldn’t afford to compete and have tried to make a virtue out of holding the specs back? Worldwide their last console, the GameCube, certainly came third in the market, although if you believe the sales figures on Wikipedia, it wasn’t that far behind the original XBox, certainly not as much as my UK perception would have it. Whatever the reason, design or necessity, the Wii simply cannot compete in the visual ‘wow’ stakes, unlike the other two it doesn’t even support HD. It is smaller, cheaper to run and, perhaps crucially, cheaper to buy. The initial UK price is £179, a bit pricier than initially expected but still a lot cheaper than the 360 (about £299 for the full console, £199 for the starter version but you’ll almost certainly need to buy hardware add-ons to effectively use it) and the PS3 is expected somewhere in the £450 range!
Okay, so it’s the cheapest of the new consoles. Why do I care? Well, I don’t care about the price, other than the hope it will give the console a good userbase, creating a virtuous circle of console owners bringing more games titles bringing more console owners, etc. Given I’ve not shown any interest in consoles for over a decade the price obviously isn’t directly a factor. Price doesn’t make the Wii fun. No. The fun starts with the controller. It’s like a wand. A wand you can wave around to play with your Wii. It’s wireless but that’s not unusual with this new generation of consoles. It’s the waving about part that is the revolution. It has full motion sensing. You can slice through the air with it as if it were a sword and watch your onscreen character do the same. You can use it like a bat to play virtual tennis or rounders. You can point it at on screen enemies and use it like a Star Trek style phaser. You can hold it sideways and use it like an untethered steering wheel. You can even conduct a virtual orchestra with it. What’s more you can plug other devices into it, or it into other devices. With the console you get what they call a Nunchuk, a bulbous controller that you hold in your other hand and connects to the ‘WiiMote’ (as they call it, looking a bit like long thin remote control) by a wire. This nunchuk also has movement sensors (although not as sophisticated) so you can use it to block attacks by bringing your (in my case) left hand up. You can use it to move your character around, keeping your other hand free to interact with the environment. Another WiiMote attachment that is proposed is the zapper adapter. This is probably going to be little more than a plastic gun shell where you slot the WiiMote into the dangerous end and use it like a glorified light gun of old. There’s also a traditional PlayStation-like controller available that connects to the WiiMote but that is intended mainly for playing the back catalogue of GameCube games (the Wii is fully backwards compatible).
So that’s it. The controller. That’s where is all starts. The WiiMote and Nunchuk are the only controllers that come prepackaged with the Wii, so that’s all the game creators can be sure the customer has. This is a paradigm shift in game playing. The other two consoles, the XBox 360 and Sony PS3, are just slightly faster and flasher versions of the same old gaming we’ve had for a decade, further back I’m sure. What gameplay advance does either of these give me that I didn’t have on the Jaguar. Online gaming but even that was available on the Jaguar if you knew where to look, primitive but then so were the graphics by todays standards. The Wii is something new. Maybe it will be a gimmick. I really don’t think so but you can never know for sure. The buzz is there. Will it win this next generation console war? Almost certainly not but that doesn’t matter, no to me anyway. Assuming my preorder is honoured, I’ll be there on the 8th of December to take a Wii and see if I can interest anyone in head to head (or, rather, side to side!) virtual tennis! If it’s as much fun as I hope then it should be a good Christmas break!