Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Wii Play

I've been doing the Wii wrong.

I'm starting to get the feeling that there's an underlying purpose to the Wii that transcends the typical exercise of buying a box, connecting it to your TV, and stacking random software on top of it.

I mean, certainly I've had a good experience doing that. I own a lot of "extracurricular" Wii software. Not a lot of it is great, but it's nice to have Cooking Mama and Harvey Birdman on hand when I get the itch. Regrets? I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention.

But the longer I've followed the Wii, the more it's become clear to me -- this console is a puzzle that is meant to be put together piece by piece. If you try to skip a step, you may miss out on something important.

The first thing I did wrong with my Wii is that I didn't wait in line at 3AM to pick it up from a brick and mortar store. I bought my Wii in a bundle from Walmart's online store. As a result, I missed out on that most important first step in Wii ownership -- the blessed good fortune of being one of the lucky souls who could walk out of the store with a box full of magic.

The second thing I did wrong was to skip out on Wii Play. I did this because I read the reviews of the game and decided to just get an extra remote on its own.

Required Courses

Nintendo's put together a rather tidy, elegant curriculum for the first two years of the life of its console:

Wii Sports
Wii Play
Link's Crossbow Training
Mario Kart
Wii Fit

There. Five games that every Wii owner should have in their library to get the "core" experience. Sports is a pack-in, and probably the perfect choice to give people that all-important first impression of the console. Each piece of software after that is essentially a trojan horse, sneaking new equipment into your Wii setup. It's a great strategy; with the exception of the Zapper, the software is always fronted as the highlight of the package, with the hardware as a novel "bonus". And with the exception of Wii Fit, they're all sold at normal retail price or below, which makes them appear to be really great deals.

Wii Play, then, is sort of the odd man out. After all, the Wii already comes with a remote; they're not exactly giving you a new toy to play with here. Wii Sports is already a multiplayer game for the whole family that effectively introduces us to what the remote can do. So it doesn't seem obvious why Wii Play should be considered a requirement for Wii owners.

At least, not at first.

Look at the games on this disc. There are two Ponglikes, a shooting gallery game, a racing game, a game where you have to move and shoot at the same time -- all concepts that will be instantly familiar to people who have been playing video games constantly for the last twenty years.

Ah, but for the people who haven't?

Wii Play is, first of all, "Video Game Age: Train Your Brain to Play Video Games in Minutes a Day!" It's a set of training wheels for people who don't have a large "gaming vocabulary" and who need a little patient leading when it comes to the strange and fascinating world of things that move on the screen when you push the buttons. By sneaking it into our homes as a game that comes with a free controller, Nintendo is trying to get newbies who bought the system for Wii Sports to give some other stuff a try. Did you like the target shooting game? Maybe you should try Link's Crossbow Training! From there, maybe a first-person shooter! How about Charge!? Well, maybe you'd like to try this Mario Kart thing we have. And so on.

But a lot of people don't really appreciate the fact that this is a game designed to get people playing together.

The free controller is obviously a major part of that strategy, but there are some more subtle forces at work here. For example, the game isn't any fun whatsoever to play by yourself. It just isn't! A lot of the games are just plain pointless if you're the only person in the room. But it takes on a completely different life when you're playing two-player. Target shooting is a lot of fun when you're competing against an intelligent being standing directly next to you. Billiards is fun. Laser hockey is fun.

The game has been criticized for being short and shallow, but I don't see it as a problem. Whether this was an intentional design choice or not, it makes the game into more of a social activity rather than a purely competitive one. It's like a board game or a card game -- it's less about winning and losing, and more about having fun together.

Quite an odd thing to do in an industry that's all about creating experiences that isolate you and try to replace your world with an electronic fabrication.

So Much For That

It's interesting to look at Wii Play as it fits into Nintendo's overall strategy, but honestly, I don't play it a lot. It sucks to play it by yourself, and I have much more interesting multiplayer games to play. Much like Duck Hunt, it's the sort of game that everyone owns even though it's not that great. And if you skip it, you're just... missing out on this whole chunk of what it is to own a Wii.

If you want another remote, you might as well get the disc for ten bucks just to try it. And once you have it, you might as well keep it.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?