Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wii could care less

My aunt spends a lot of time entertaining her grandkids, so she has a lot of toys at her house, and sometimes she buys (or successfully talks my mother into buying) toys she finds especially "neat" or "fun" for my mother. So while we were visiting my mom and aunt, my kids and I got to spend some time playing with the console whose name I still can't use without my inner child giggling hysterically: the Wii.

My 8-year-old son is at that stage where he wants anything, just because it is remotely "neat" or "fun" or well-advertised on TV. (Case in point: he was trying to convince us how much our lives would be improved by a certain kitchen gadget after he stayed up after his bedtime watching an infomercial the other night.) So when he says he wants one, I have to take this recommendation with a heavy dose of salt. Now, it is true that my boys are spending quite a bit of time playing it, but considering it's really the only thing they have to do while my wife and I help my mother get some of her home improvement projects done while we're here, it's pretty much the default activity.

I suppose it should be noted that my mother is not a gamer, by any stretch of the imagination. So it should come as no surprise that the only games we have available are Wii Sports and Wii Play, and by her own admission, the only reason she has Wii Play is because she wanted a second controller, and for the same price, Wii Play is a controller and a game.

So, what is my general impression of the system and these two games?


There just wasn't anything really exciting. I started to understand comments like "two GameCubes duct-taped together". Actually, I'm more reminded of that scene in Back to the Future 2, where the kids deride the arcade cabinet as being a "baby's toy". Although I did see one instance of what other people have witnessed: my mom, the non-gamer, did actually play, enjoy, and win a game of bowling against me and my son.

The system doesn't really draw me to it, though. I don't want to go and play it, and when I do, the moment is really fleeting. I don't get immersed in the gaming experience like I do playing a 360 game.

As far as the major gimmick, the "Wiimote", I didn't care for it. There is definitely something to be said for a literal "point and click", especially when it comes to aiming. But some things were more difficult. If that sensor bar wasn't right at the front edge of the TV, or if someone walked in front of it, it was rather useless. Not to mention jittery. Although on the one hand, it felt like I had more "instant" control over where I was aiming, on the other hand, it felt like I lacked precision, as I couldn't hold the stupid thing steady with a tripod. And that doesn't even get into trying to maintain precision while using the rest of the buttons (re: the tank game, where one must aim with the Wiimote while moving one's tank with the cross pad and firing with the trigger).

Motion sensing was a little better, although somewhat frustrating. I don't know if it was a function of the game or the Wiimote itself, but it seemed that small movements wouldn't register correctly, so I had to exaggerate. Also, movements had to be "set up". Case in point: I couldn't take a couple practice swings in golf in rapid succession; I had to pull my arms back, pause, wait for my Mii to wind up, and then make my swing. Also, as far as golf was concerned, I had to swing the Wiimote in an arc that was perfectly perpendicular to the ground. If I didn't bend directly over it, thus having my arc at any kind of non-90° angle, it either wouldn't register the swing, or would be extremely unpredictable in the strength it did register (instead of just rather unpredictable, which it was most of the time — why could I make the same practice swing 5 times, have it register at one strength, and make the same swing a sixth time, and have it register at something completely different?).

Although there is something to be said for actually swinging like a bat or tennis racket, those motions — and more especially the motions for bowling, pitching, and golfing — are very tiring (at least for an old guy like me — not so much for my kids at that age).

Unfortunately, neither my mom's nor my aunt's systems are connected to the internet, so I was unable to investigate how that works, which is a shame. How much is missing from the "dashboard"?

I'm sure that this experience is directly related to the discs I had available. What would I think of the Wii in the home of a gamer, where it is well-fed with a healthy diet of new, varied, immersive games, connected to a stable lifeline of internet connectivity?

I don't know, but what I did see, compared with what I already have with the 360, made it really hard for me to care.

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