GET YOUR GAME ON
The Wii revolution
The Nintendo Wii's crazy controller has exuberant players flailing about
In 2004, when Nintendo announced plans for a new gaming console to compete with Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's XBox, the Japanese company used the code name "Revolution" when talking about the machine.
The console is now known as the Wii, but hard-core players and nongamers alike use the word "revolutionary" when describing the new style of gameplay it facilitates. Almost 500,000 Wii were sold in the United States in the two weeks after its Nov. 19 release -- with 325,000 sold in Europe during the 48 hours following its Dec. 8 release there -- making it one of the most popular gifts worldwide this holiday season.
WEIGHING IN at less than 5 pounds, the Wii arrives in a compact box that provides everything needed to start playing immediately.
Both the machine itself and accompanying Wii Remote seem to take design cues from Apple Computer; lying on its side, the Wii sort of looks like a Mac Mini, and the remote resembles an oversized first-generation iPod Shuffle. Also included is a Nunchuck, an attachment that plugs into the bottom of the remote.
Plug in an A/V cable, power adapter and sensor bar, and you're ready to go. Initial setup is quick and simple, and if you have a wireless Internet connection, Nintendo's WiiConnect24 service is available to provide system upgrades as well as online messaging and downloadable games. The Wii is also backward-compatible with the Nintendo Gamecube, allowing gamers to use previous-generation game discs and controllers without an adapter.
The Wii Remote takes a few minutes to get used to, especially for those accustomed to a traditional hand-held controller. It's used as a pointing device to navigate menus, and is manipulated a number of different ways during actual gameplay. You can swing it like a baseball bat when playing "Wii Sports," or like a sword in "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" and "Red Steel."
As the quarterback in "Madden 2007," you can hike a football and throw a pass by waving your hands. "Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam" uses the Wii Remote to control a skateboard and do tricks, while "Trauma Center: Second Opinion" lets players assume the role of surgeon in a virtual operating room.
That physical interaction is what attracts people to the Wii, as does the variety of titles already available. And because up to four remotes can connect at the same time, gameplay becomes a visual spectacle for both those involved and others who are watching.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Trevor Kodama, left, and Sharon Fukayama try their hands at a boxing game on the Nintendo Wii.
DESCRIBING HERSELF as a "life-long Nintendo fan," Ala Moana resident Sharon Fukayama has played with every Nintendo game console since the original NES debuted in 1985. In addition to her Wii, Fukayama also owns a Gamecube and Nintendo DS.
Don't get too carried away
The Nintendo Wii's motion-sensitive controller is a groundbreaking advance in video gaming -- but it's also broken a few television sets and caused the occasional flesh wound.
In recent weeks, the Web has been alight with reports of excited gamers losing their grip on the controller or smacking their arms into objects as they swing their wireless controllers like swords, baseballs or golf clubs.
After issuing a general "calm down" to its customers a week ago, Nintendo Co. responded by quietly beefing up the controller's fabric wrist strap.
Then, on Friday, a recall was issued to replace 3.2 million straps for the controllers.
"What it says is, this thing is so fun that people get carried away," said Adrian Ho of the advertising agency Fallon Worldwide.
Jaana Baker of Seattle launched her controller right into her 37-inch TV during a particularly spirited round of Wii bowling.
"It was like a loud crack," she said, recalling the moment the "Wiimote" glanced off her coffee table, snapped its wrist strap and hurtled into her TV. "It was kind of surreal, actually. I thought I was dreaming at first."
The 24-year old falls squarely in the demographic the console is trying to reach; she's not a hard-core gamer, but enjoys titles that provide casual fun and allow her to spend time with friends.
"I like watching other people play," she said. "I can't always do all of the fancy tricks with the controllers."
With the Wii, mashing buttons is replaced with flailing arms. Fukayama demonstrates this when she squares off against buddy Trevor Kodama in the boxing game on "Wii Sports," which comes with the console.
Holding the Wii Remote in one hand and Nunchuck in the other, she throws jabs and hooks that Kodama fails to dodge. Fukayama drops him twice before Kodama insists they play something else.
"My arms are tired," she laughed. "I'm actually breaking a sweat!"
"Wii Sports" also features tennis, baseball, bowling and golf. We played tennis next, the three of us swinging our remotes wildly and trying not to hit each other. You can't control the positioning of individual players in the game, but the ability to switch between a volley and a backswing does provide enjoyment (and a good workout for your arm).
Gameplay wasn't very realistic when we played baseball, as users can control only pitching and hitting, while the Wii decides what is a hit or a home run. But despite its shortcomings, pretending to stand in the batter's box and take some swings was entertaining because of all the smack-talking going on in the room.
BOWLING is probably the best of the five "Wii Sports" games, with players able to control both the speed of the ball and the way it spins.
The hardest part is trying to stay in line with the sensor bar so that it picks up signals sent by the remote. Since it was placed under Fukayama's television, I had to bend down slightly in order to get lined up properly. The slightest twitch of the hand would make the on-screen bowling ball wobble and veer off course.
Fukayama, on the other hand, was calm and collected, throwing strike after strike in the virtual bowling alley. Although the Wii only paid attention to her arm movement, she earned style points for trailing her back leg like a pro during her follow-through.
Another game Fukayama praised was "Rayman Raving Rabbids," which freaked her out when she originally played it.
"When I first started, I didn't like it because the bunnies weren't cute," she said. "But after experiencing it, I found the game was actually really fun."
In the game, alien rabbits have invaded the planet and taken you hostage. More than five dozen minigames have players swinging their arms in a variety of ways, often in hilarious fashion. Fukayama took part in a cow-tossing competition in one minigame, then milked a cow in another.
While the Wii's graphics don't compare with those of the Playstation 3 and XBox 360, casual players will find themselves overlooking that detail in favor of the overall experience. Fukayama compared it to when "Super Mario Kart" was popular on the Nintendo 64, and how her friends would crowd around the machine to cheer each other on.
"I'm not really a graphics person," Fukayama said. "I like the Wii because the games are cute and fun to play."
The Wii is in limited supply, but most Oahu stores say they expect deliveries through the holiday season. Your best bet is to check frequently at stores such as Game Stop, Toys n' Joys, Best Buy, Circuit City and Comp USA.