A Wii-markable little device

2007-12-17 00:00

Nintendo’s Wii (pronounced wee) has been met with excitement and enormous hype in the international video gaming market, which it shares with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s Playstation 3. However, as my stint with it showed, it’s not just young male video gamers who’ll find something to get excited about in the Wii. Plenty of other people can get on board with this unique little machine.

Setup for the Wii was initially intimidating. The console comes with what appear to be dozens of gewgaws and gadgets. However, a closer look and a minute with the setup guide, and the problems disappeared. The TV connectors are colour coded (as they should be), and the other connections are all obvious. Match plug shape to plug point, and you’re off.

The Wii comes with a console stand, a five-in-one sports game bundle (Wii Sports) and the legendary Wii-mote.

The key feature of the Wii, and the main reason for its success, is this unique controller. Move the wireless Wii-mote and the game recognises the movement and replicates it onscreen.

So, someone playing Wii tennis would swing the Wii-mote and the tennis racquet onscreen would move as if they were holding the tennis racquet. Boxing? Grab the secondary controller and begin punching away with the controls grasped in your fists. The boxer onscreen will replicate your movements. Put up your mitts to block, swing them to the side to dodge incoming blows — the Wii replicates your movements with remarkable efficiency and accuracy.

This intuitive and accessible movement is the key reason that the Wii should appeal to less traditional demographics than the normal gamers market. That’s not to say that hardcore gamers won’t enjoy the Wii — but it should also appeal to a broader group of people, who don’t necessarily play video games as much, or have never played video games before.

The Wii is clearly designed to be user friendly and unintimidating. The menus are easy and simple. Big, rounded buttons clearly show the options, no matter what the user is doing. In keeping with this, load times are fast and transitions are smooth and fluid. I can say with confidence that computer literacy is completely unnecessary to enjoy the Wii.

Gamers that played with the Wii universally praised it. Duncan Hodges (24) said that it took him back to the fun games of his childhood, while Hilton Smith (24) noted that it was fun and intuitive, and particularly good for playing with at parties.

One of the interesting points about the new controller is that it doesn’t just make the Wii accessible to a new market: it provides hardened gamers with a way to enjoy new games. As Nathan Mitchell (21) put it:

“Considering my intense dislike of sports, and the fact that all I had to play was Wii Sports, the fact that I enjoyed playing it so much makes me wonder how playing any other games on it could possibly make [gaming] any more awesome. Especially considering other games contain zombies, and, as we all know, zombies have the innate ability to raise the awesome-factor of any scenario by at least six points.”

Non-gamers gave mixed reviews. Varsha Lalla (20) was unenthusiastic, arguing that the Wii was “just another way to stay unfit”.

John Inglis (52), however, was particularly taken with the Wii thanks to the controller. “The way it corresponds with the movement on the screen is remarkable,” he said.

Marie Odendaal (56) also praised the Wii, saying that the energetic games and lack of violence were particularly enjoyable, by contrast with most video games.

The added features of the Wii gave it greater appeal to almost all the non-gamers who used them.

The Wii comes with two particular additional features: the Mii creator and the picture channel. The Mii creator allows players to customise their in-game characters completely, and move them from Wii to Wii via the remote. The picture channel can read image and movie files off secure digital cards from digital cameras and cellphones, and allows the user to store and view them on the Wii.

The biggest problem with the Wii is its local price tag. Retailing at approximately R2 900, this hefty cost is likely to deter gamers (who could just buy an X-Box Core at the same price), while non-gamers are unlikely to see the utility in purchasing an entertainment device at that cost.

As a lightweight, slightly gimmicky console, the Wii definitely needs to be priced lower than its arch rival, the Xbox 360, and ideally low enough to attract interest from people who wouldn’t normally sink money into a console game.

In summary, the Wii is fun, original and completely non-threatening. The main problem is the price tag, which could end up hurting this rather quirky console.

• The Nintendo Wii retails at about R2 900, and can be found at CNA, Musica, Look & Listen, Toys ‘R’ Us and Reggies.

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