Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Wii at E3

I've played the Wii, and now I realize what this console really is. It's not a virtual reality machine -- it's a Nintendo DS for your living room.

Really, it all makes sense now -- the stupid name, the remote control, the ridiculous lofty philosophy. If you imagine someone at Nintendo saying, "This stylus interface is pretty cool. Can we do this on our next console?" then the remote control isn't just innovative, it's the only logical choice.

Descriptions of the frenzy at the Nintendo booth are accurate. On the first day, we suffered a two hour wait outside the pavilion, followed by another half hour once we were inside, followed by a series of mini-lines for each of the demo stations.

They must have anticipated our anticipation, because during the first portion of our journey, key checkpoints were narrated by Nintendo spokespeople on vertical plasma screens, answering questions directly from the people in line. As a surreal bonus, the last of these guys was the guy who does the voice of Mario.

Once inside, the lines for the individual demo stations seemed to be exponentionally longer the more anticipated the game was. As such, my hands-on experience is limited to the games I was willing to wait in line for: WiiSports, WarioWare, Tony Hawk Downhill Jam, and Project H.A.M.M.E.R. (I stood briefly in line for Super Mario Galaxy until I realized the demos lasted ten minutes, and I still had four people in front of me.)

The WiiSports games offer a "virtual reality" of sorts, but it's really more accurate to call them "activities." In WiiSports: Tennis, swinging the remote makes your avatar swing his tennis racket, but running from side to side doesn't do anything; your character goes automatically to wherever the ball is. WiiSports: Baseball is little more than home run derby. Of course, it's likely that these are just stripped-down E3 demo versions, so maybe with the full game we'll get more.

My favorite of the WiiSports games was WiiSports: Airplane, which was very reminiscent of Pilotwings. With this one, you held the remote like it was the airplane, and made the plane dive, turn, climb by doing the same to the controller.

WarioWare: Smooth Moves is pure manic joy, just like all the other WarioWare games. Of all the Wii games, this one probably exhibits the most controller versatility, simply because you have no idea what the game is going to make you do.

Project H.A.M.M.E.R. was the only normal game I got to play (normal in the sense of being a standard 3rd-person action game), and while the game was only mildly interesting, what I'm fascinated by is how the remote will be used in these types of games -- not as a way to simulate reality, but to replace button-pushing with gestures.

These normal games (a category into which I would also place such games as Super Mario Galaxy and Legend of Zelda) use the "nunchuk" setup, with that analog pod in your left hand and the remote in your right. You'll still move the character around with an analog stick -- that's what the nunchuk pod in your left hand is for -- and with your right hand, you'll make your character do things by performing gestures with the remote. Swing the remote like a hammer to attack. Flick the remote forward to pass the ball.

If you think about it, this is no different from the control scheme we're all used to, except that gestures are a lot more intuitive than buttons.

That's what makes me say the Wii is a Nintendo DS for your living room. It's not going to change the world. It's not a completely new way to play games. It's just a better way.

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