Saturday, January 13, 2007
Finally, here are my impressions of the Wii and some key titles after owning the console for just over a month. While this is undoubtedly not the first review you have read, I hope to offer some new insight. There are also some in-depth impressions of WarioWare and Wii Play, which have not yet been released in the US, I believe.
Wii Hardware and general remarks
As you know, I was able to play Wii as early as April and many more times leading up to launch. But it was not until I actually received our test console in the newsroom and then bought my own a few days on that I got a real understanding of Nintendo´s new console.
Let us start with the system menus. I absolutely love browsing them. Those little jerks from the Wiimote when navigating across selection fields are amazing and illustrate how desperately motion sensitivity and rumble feedback need one another - undoubtedly the PS3 will offer a far less immersive experience on this count alone.
Also, the speaker in the Wiimote proves to be a revolutionary and innovative feature. The first time I really noticed it was in Red Steel, reloading the Uzi. In Tennis, the ´twock´ that you hear feels so natural that I never consciously noticed it until now. But regardless of whether it is implemented in a more subtle way or whether it is obvious, this feature really helps to further immerse the player in the game.
The key ingredient of the Wii experience is the control mechanism being so intuitive. Basically, the Wiimote does reset twenty years of videogame controls to create a level playing field. Suddenly, my mum can beat me at bowling, because she can draw on her experience of having been bowling in real life. It does not matter that she has never played a videogame before. Players need not learn any ´unnatural´ movements (like pressing three buttons while moving both analogue sticks against one another). You really just pick it up and do what comes natural.
While online gameplay is sorely missed for the moment, the online functionality that we already have is fun, different and promising. If only Nintendo opts for console-specific friend codes, the Wii will surely have a chance of selling the most consoles this generation. It is a truly revolutionary system with some compelling games and functions.
By now, I own around a dozen games, some of which I will go into detail here.
I would never have expected a pack-in title to offer this much depth. Calling this a collection of mini-games does not do this game justice at all. While owning a pretty large selection of software titles already (around a dozen by now), I still find myself playing Sports the most.
Starting my career as a bit of a crack at tennis, I have since come to love every single one of the five games on offer. At first, I believed boxing to be a bit boring, but it also turns out to be quite challenging with ducking and defending motions so well implemented. Baseball is a sport that is of virtually no interest to Europeans and still it is great fun.
Perfecting each sport is quite a challenge and the player discovers amazing depth of gameplay, be it special serves in tennis or the right way to get a strike in bowling. Consider the following scoreboard from my family Christmas session.
My girlfriend leads the chart with a whopping 212 points after scoring seven strikes (three of which were doubles) and three spares. I came in a humble second with six strikes. And here is me scoring six strikes in a row just two weeks afterwards.
What I am trying to illustrate here is the long-term playability of the game, which is quite impressive. You really do become much better over time and I am still improving every day.
Wii Sports is, quite literally, a must-have title. But even if it was not, it would be (if you are still with me, here). Put differently, no wonder the Japanese are buying it at a rate that puts Zelda to shame.
The big disappointment of Wii Play is that it only supports up to two players. While that makes some sense as far as table tennis is concerned, it does not for most of the other games. Other than that, it is a must-have (especially considering that it only sets you back $10).
Clear highlights are pool and laser hockey. Table tennis is also a great game, but is quite hard to learn. Something like ´Find Mii´ may look like a childish and simple idea, but turns out fun and highly addictive. ´Tanks´ is both great fun and uncannily well designed. I already have silver or gold medals in each one of the mini-games and am still quite ambitious.
It is important to note, however, that Wii Play does not have the gameplay depth of Wii Sports. Play really is just a collection of mini-games, albeit a good one.
Zelda: Twilight Princess
So much has already been said about this game and I do not see the need to repeat all the rave reviews. I have missed a thorough appraisal of the game´s art direction and graphics, however, which are both outstanding. It is the best example that a low polygon count can be balanced out with beautiful textures and lighting maps, as well as simply stunning animation. Obviously, this is a must-have. It may even be called one of the most immersive games of this decade.
Red Steel is a game that has split the punters like no other game I have seen before. I believe to have seen ratings as low as 45% and the top marks were around the mid-nineties.
Incidentally, I started thinking the game was trash, after encountering a major bug right at the beginning. I backed myself into a niche and could not get out again. Did you notice the ´restart from last savepoint´ option in the menu? A flawless game could do away with such an option - and Red Steel cannot. Also, the cutscenes are an insult. The general idea behind them (still artwork shot with a moving camera) is not bad in itself. The execution is horrible, though.
After playing through a third of the game, however, there were no other such bugs. I have also come to appreciate the depth of gameplay. Learning katana skills is great fun and works well. The destructible environments are... well, really destructible. And the art direction is also pretty good. It oozes style and shows off some very nice level design. And, again, a low poly count is compensated by good textures and nice lighting maps. The explosions, for one, are spectacular. On a by-note, the music is great, ranging from powerful, almost meditative oriental chants to Japanese girlie pop.
I also really like the controls. I already thought they had nailed it when playing it back in April last year. And my opinion has not changed since then. I understand not everyone feels this way, but it works great for me. My hit rate is above 30% for some levels and I find the gameplay very fair and rewarding.
So while this game does have its flaws, I still rate it a must-have. Best FPS to date (and will be until Metroid comes out, for sure).
This is the looker of the launch line-up (though Europe is still to get it). I played this at a preview event in early December on a huge plasma set and the graphics were amazing. Nice blur effects for the nitro boosts, especially. Controls are nice, steering wheel add-on recommended. Another must-have in my book.
WarioWare: Smooth Moves
Having received an advanced copy of the game two days ago, I have already played through most of it. It is slightly different to the previous installments in that individual minigames are only playable for three levels, rather than a series in themselves. At the same time, there are special minigames that do not appear in the actual game but pop up once a level is completed. A good example is the table tennis tower (think Breakout and Pong), which is amazingly addictive.
My fear is that the game is hopelessly short. But it does make great use of the controller and is tremendous fun. It also seems that playing through it once unlocks a multiplayer mode. In that case, this is another must-have.
Far Cry Vengeance
While I love the menus and cut-scenes, the in-game graphics are, at times, simply insulting. Shadows of trees and bushes are often composed of gigantic pixels with no anti-aliasing.
The control scheme is bearable but falls short of better implementations as in Red Steel. We all knew that the console would get its share of cheap ports and this is one. I am glad to have received my test copy but rate this as ´non-buy´.
Conclusion: Nintendo´s intentions materialize
Wii Sports consistently attracts colleagues and friends of mine that have never played videogames before, just like Nintendo intended. I have just spoken to a middle-aged security guy here at RTL who I played a quick game with about a month ago. He bought the console two weeks later. What is more, he bought only the standard bundle with no extra controller and no extra game and he is happy with it. Of course, he plans on getting the controller and Wii Play bundle soon, but I believe it is perhaps the most crucial feature about the Wii that the $250 console bundle is sufficient for people to take home and have weeks of fun with. This sets Wii apart from any other console on the market.
Incidentally, said security guard repeatedly commented on the great graphics of the console. And this, again, is Nintendo´s maths adding up. Is there really such a great difference between, say, ´Motorstorm´ and ´ExciteTruck´ on a standard television? Is ´Metroid Prime 3´ not set to be a similar visual feast as ´Halo 3´, again on an SD set? Whatever your opinion on this matter, I definitely do not think that we have been shortchanged on graphics. I look at a number of games and say ´wow´.
The most compelling argument, however, is that the controller is amazingly intuitive and, as a result, games are so much more immersive when played on the Wii. I have yet to meet a person that can resist trying out the Wii. And I have yet to meet a person that does not consider getting one for themselves. All in all, it seems that Nintendo´s intentions for the Wii are materializing. I, for one, have never played a console this often.