Friday, July 08, 2011


Wii Desert Island Games

Oh Wii. How did you get so old so soon? Five short years ago, people lined up around the block just to try out your magic wand. Motion gaming promised a world of new potential for the way we look at video games. Nintendo kept a shroud of secrecy over everything they did, with a smirk and a wink to dare us to guess what they were going to do next. For a while, it looked like the revolution Nintendo promised was going to change everything.

It's hard to think it's all going to end like this. Motion games turned out to be a flash in the pan. Nintendo's bag of tricks ran out about two years in. They may have won the market share, but they couldn't keep up the excitement for the long term. Now we're all moving on to Nintendo's next great hope -- a tablet controller.

But we'll always have the good times. For all of the squandered potential, wasn't it a fun ride? Maybe it was all worth it in the end. I know I came out of it with some games that I'll play for years to come.

The Wii Sports Games

You remember.

The first time you flicked your wrist up, and your character tossed a ball up.

The first time you brought it smashing down, and your character swatted it across the tennis court.

To me, that moment will always define the Wii. It was the moment when the game touched reality. The character you had created in your own image was mimicking your actions. It was such a small thing, and yet so perfect. Isn't it fun to do things instead of pressing buttons? Doesn't it make you feel alive?

Tennis and Bowling were the fast favorites. Baseball and Golf were all right. Boxing? Eh.

I don't play Wii Sports as much anymore, but it never fails to bring a smile to my face when I do. The sad fact is, nothing I've played since has managed to match that magic moment. Motion gaming has failed to gain any real traction beyond the arcadey minigame packs, and even then, there hasn't been a lot that feels this refined and natural.

Wii Sports Resort manages to sneak in under this heading, but just barely, on the strength of its Golf (superior to the original version) and Disc Golf.

Wii Fit Plus

I played Wii Fit daily for the three months following its release, and dropped about twenty pounds in the process. I'm sure there are better ways to get a workout than jogging in place and doing pushups, but Wii Fit has a leg up because it keeps you motivated. It turns weight loss into a game that you want to win. When you see your progress automatically charted day by day, it puts you in a frame of mind that you want to continue to do well.

Wii Fit Plus is the kind of sequel that replaces the original. Every single element of the first game is here, but they've added new ways of organizing your workouts and balance board games that really feel like games.

But the thing that really keeps me coming back to Wii Fit Plus is just... how good you feel after a workout. I also walk for exercise, and that's invigorating as well, but it doesn't really give you that full-body glow that Wii Fit Plus does. Take a spin through its workouts, and you'll use a little bit of everything in the process. That's something that no other video game can really do for you.

I don't play it as consistently as I did those first three months, but I still pull it out now and then. When I've fallen out of my exercise habit and I'm in the doldrums, it's always a great way to give my activity levels a kick start.

All of the Rock Band Games

My Rock Band instruments have never known the chill of the closet. They're always accessible, ready at a moment's notice should the need for a karaoke party arise.

Harmonix is one of the few developers that has taken the care necessary to keep the Wii version of their game as faithful as possible to the versions on other consoles (despite the hiccup of excluding song downloads from the first game), and for that I've rewarded them with devoted support. I've got the three games in the series proper as well as The Beatles variant, and a healthy horde of downloadable songs.

The market is increasingly apathetic toward music games, possibly because there's only so much you can do with "hit the color when it touches the line" style gameplay. But the appeal of Rock Band, to me, is less as a game where you're trying to score high and more, as I've said, as a karaoke machine. It's fun to participate in your favorite songs, even if your input method is as abstract as a guitar controller. They've really proven the concept of downloadable content -- sometimes the gameplay is already fine, and all you really want is more songs.

And the bottom line? When you come home after a hard day of work, there's nothing in the world more cathartic than pretending to be a drummer for a punk rock band.

Super Smash Brothers Brawl

And then sometimes you just want to sit down, grab a controller with a million buttons, and play a video game. And Super Smash Brothers Brawl covers a lot of bases.

It's an adventure game, a fighting game, a party game, a sandbox game, an arcade game. It's a Mario game, a Zelda game, a Metroid game, a Pokemon game. You can play it for minutes, you can play it for hours. It's fun with friends, it's fun by yourself. You can build your own levels, you can watch movies, you can collect trophies and geek out over Nintendo's history.

People complain about the lack of traditional games on the Wii? I say you only really need one good one.

New Super Mario Brothers Wii

Make that two.

You know why this game is so great. The level design is excellent. The Mario characters are a joy to control. The worlds are huge and crackle with personality. The game riffs on all of your favorite elements from the earlier games while making them feel fresh and new.

And it's multiplayer.

All other Mario games have been rendered obsolete by the sheer joy of the chaos that ensues when three or four players are trying to get through a level together, laughing and shouting and getting in each other's way. Single player just feels too lonely to bear after you've experienced it.

On the whole, I'd say that adds up to a pretty decent game system. It could've been more, but what it is is pretty decent.


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