Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I, For One, Welcome Our New Wii Overlords

I've been neglecting the old blog for a number of reasons. But the most important reason is also the most obvious: I got a Wii two weeks ago. And for two weeks, I've been in that magical place in my heart where it's more fun to play games than it is to talk about them.

I've had impressions, thoughts, and reactions bubbling and stewing in my brain. There's a question that's been nagging at me for a while now. I've brought it up a few times here at Electric Dilintia. The question is, why do we need a new generation of video game consoles? And I think that the Wii has given enough of an answer to justify its existence.

Total Immersion

I know that I'm going to be playing Wii Sports forever. This isn't a suspicion, this isn't an initial reaction, this is a simple, pure truth. Let me tell you why I'm so sure of this.

When I first hooked up a pair of maracas to my Dreamcast, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd heard good things about rhythm games before, but I'd never played one myself. But once I got the knack for it, I played it until my arms were sore. The next day, I played it again. I built up my stamina. I played it until I could get through the whole songlist in one sitting. I played it until I sweat. And I never stopped playing until that fateful day when my maraca went dead on me.

Games that involve physical activity are simply more fun than games where you sit down and poke buttons. When you're actually doing the things that take place in the game -- swinging a baseball bat or a tennis racket, throwing a bowling ball -- it's a whole other level of visceral satisfaction. You go from being a spectator to being a participant.

I was worried about the Wii remote. I was worried that the mechanisms in place -- angle/motion detection coupled with a pointer -- wouldn't be sufficient to register the player's real-world actions for translation into gameplay actions. My worries were completely unfounded. Yes, concessions were made. There are ways to "cheat" the system. The important thing is, it can be played the way it was meant to be played, and it works. It works elegantly and beautifully.

Suddenly, 1:1 movement translation isn't important to me. It doesn't matter so much if the remote is capable of translating my movements directly into a game character's movements in real time (even though, from examples like Wii Baseball, the system is clearly up to the task!). The important thing is that it feels real.

I never got tired of Samba de Amigo. I will never get tired of Wii Sports. The controllers don't cost $80 apiece. They aren't awkward to assemble, disassemble, and store. They're completely wireless. And, hopefully, they won't break after two years of use.


Adding to the idea of immersion are the Miis. I've fallen in love with these simplistic, cartoony characters whose body configuration seems to adapt to whatever the situation calls for. User-created content is always cool -- it's part of the reason games like The Sims and Animal Crossing are so addictive. It's like creating a world for yourself.

I started with an avatar for myself. Then family. Then friends and co-workers. Then some cartoon characters I used to draw. It pleased me to watch the generic Miis on my baseball team replaced one by one by the familiar characters of my own creation.

My only concern about the Mii Channel is that the Mii avatars may not get enough use, especially in third-party games. I love using my Miis to the point that I would consider it a selling point, or even a deal-breaker, when it comes to buying a new video game. To wit: the next Animal Crossing damn well better let you use a Mii avatar. Damn well better.

Intelligent Television

When the Intellivision went on sale in 1979, the motto behind it was "Intelligent Television". No mere game console, it promised to be the center of a larger experience, a machine that not only played games, but offered the functionality of a home computer with the comfort and familiarity of the television set.

Promises were broken, gears were shifted, markets crashed, blah blah blah.

But it was a neat idea, almost three decades ahead of its time. And now we have the Wii.

And it's not just a game console.

I have to admit, I'm in love with the interface. Abstracting the Wii's various functions into television channels, to complement the "TV Remote" look and feel of the controller, was a stroke of sheer groovy. It reminds me (and you're welcome to laugh) of Pokemon Channel. It's as if they took Pokemon Channel and turned it into a whole game console. Pokemon Channel, the game that somehow wormed its way into my heart despite its lack of any quality whatsoever. Only now, it's good.

I find it not just nifty, but actually useful. I've been checking the weather regularly, just because I can. I've browsed the news once or twice, but I'd rather do that from my computer. Everybody Votes is surprisingly addictive.

But the big hitters here are the Photo Channel and the Internet Channel. The Photo Channel is the Game Boy Camera and Mario Paint wrapped up in one package. I love the fact that I can take the family's vacation pictures and see them in slideshow format on the television with shockingly little fuss. The "puzzle" mode is more fun than it has any right to be, as is competitive doodling -- two players attacking a picture at the same time.

I don't like how most websites come out on the web browser, but it's awesome to have the power to dial up Flash animations whenever I want. There's nothing quite like crashing on the sofa for half an hour and bringing up endless Homestar Runner cartoons.

Virtual Console

There's a lot of criticism over the Virtual Console, and I have to admit, a lot of it is well-deserved. The system in place makes you wonder exactly what it is that you're buying. Strictly speaking, you're buying points. Nintendo (or... whoever?) gets money every time you buy points, whether you use them or not. Then you take this imaginary money, and you use it to buy... what? A license to download a piece of software as many times as you like, but only to a particular Wii console? So what happens if your Wii breaks? What happens when the next generation of game consoles comes out? What happens if the Wii Store network is discontinued, and you don't have a backup of the software you "bought"? Why is each game its own channel?

These are all valid concerns. However, they're all trumped by the fact that I own a game console that lets me switch between Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario 64 from the comfort of my couch. No extra shelf space taken up, no cartridges to switch out, no power buttons to toggle, no daisy chain of input cords. I can even play wirelessly if I want to bust out the old Wavebird.

I'm only somewhat surprised that I already own (as in, I could rummage around and find a physical copy somewhere in my house) five of the seven Virtual Console games that I bought. I got Ecco the Dolphin mostly to please my sister, and Toe Jam & Earl based on fond memories of renting it when I was younger. I don't plan on repurchasing every game I've ever owned just for the convenience of having it on Virtual Console -- I didn't enjoy, for example, Mario Kart 64 enough that I'll drop ten bucks to have it on my Wii -- but on the other hand, it seems like most of the games I missed out on in my youth were less to do with an inability to acquire them and more to do with a total lack of interest.

Of course, any or all of the things that I like about the Wii could have been implemented on one of the existing game consoles. (And a lot of them probably were on the X-Box, damned if I can be bothered to check.) But if they were add-ons, then their usefulness would be limited only to the people who bought them. By making them part of the console itself, you not only increase the usefulness of the features to 100% of the user base, but you make a console that has a philosophy behind its design.

So in the end, I'm glad I got my Wii. It's gotten me excited about video games again in a way that I didn't think I could. Good stuff.


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