If not free, would you’ve bought Wii Sports?

225_wii-sports-wallpaper.jpgWii Sports reached yet another milestone this week, surpassing 3 million copies sold in Japan.

It seems Wii sales figures are always in the headlines, so this figure really doesn’t seem too interesting initially. But realize in Japan, Wii Sports was not a free pack-in with the console.

In the Land of the Rising Sun, Wii Sports is sold separately for 4,800 yen, roughly 45 dollars. Consider that the Wii console has sold 6 million units in Japan; simple division provides that about 1 in 2 Japanese Wii owners has plucked down the cash for Wii Sports.

But would that happen in the States? Many American critics slammed Wii Sports for being too shallow, some going as far as to call it an “overly publicized demo” (EGM, Jan. 2007). So I decided to revisit Wii Sports and find out; would I have purchased the game at launch, or is Wii Sports’ charm wholly derived from its Western freeness?

It is perhaps worth mentioning what could be a disclaimer, depending on your levels of cynicism. I loved the idea of tracking of my fitness age when I first played Wii Sports, and I have continued to do so on a semi-daily basis since. Every three or four days, I play Wii Sports for roughly 7 or 8 minutes. I load the game, complete three mini-fitness tests, check out my newly calculated age and resulting charts, head back to the Wii Menu and go about my gaming business.

So granted, my Wii Sports disc certainly isn’t a dusty relic with which I relate only through memory, the type of situation from which most game revisits occur. But aside from those few minutes a week, I have not really dug into a Wii Sports play session since last year.

Until today, that is. As soon as I had finished my fitness age tests, I started playing tennis.

I was surprised to see my skill level for tennis; I still had “pro” status, not to mention a skill level of more than 1900. And after only a few swings of my racket, I immediately got my virtual tennis groove back. I beat the feisty CPU team of Sarah and Elisa, and then remembered I had gotten to the point in Wii Sports tennis that Sarah and Elisa were the only team left to play. No matter how many times I beat Sarah and Elisa, I would be forced to play them again next time.

My favorite Wii sport for single-player outings, though, is still baseball. Unlike in tennis, progressing against CPU-controlled teams is quite challenging, and scraping together enough runs to beat them through three innings is very rewarding. Motion-controlled pitching and batting is still ridiculously fun, too. Slamming a go-ahead home run in the bottom of the third inning with a quick swing of the Wii remote is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in a video game. For a moment, you really feel like a triumphant Gary Sheffield or Andy Van Slyke (I’m from Pittsburgh, deal with it). But for all its greatness, Wii Sports baseball also makes me yearn for a deeper baseball experience on Wii built from the same mechanics.

Mario Super Sluggers, I’m looking at you.

I also really enjoyed golf and bowling, the two slowest, most relaxing games in the package. They still provide a welcome contrast from the tense challenge of baseball and the fast-paced swinging of tennis. But in terms of their single-player versions, they are merely practice sessions for their excellent multiplayer modes.

Speaking of multiplayer, that is where Wii Sports still shines and, quite obviously, what it was primarily made for. Each of the included games, even the otherwise mediocre boxing, is an absolute blast with multiplayer. I invited some friends over for another Wii get-together to give the five Wii Sports games some multiplayer runs, and a play session I expected to be an hour or so long quickly extended itself into a three-hour Wii Sports marathon, circa Dec. 2006.

Despite the imitators that have come since, Wii Sports remains one of Wii’s best examples of motion control implementation. Swinging the Wii remote like a tennis racket, complete with spins and twists of the wrist for angled shots, still works beautifully. Pitching a baseball works well, too, and smacking homers still feels spectacular. Bowling is perhaps the best motion-controlled sport of the bunch, with spinning and speed all determined by the players’ release.

After revisiting Wii Sports, it is easy to see why so many games have struggled to emulate what it achieved. It just did it so damn well.

Most of what I’m writing is likely prior knowledge to most, as Wii Sports has been so well-chronicled over the last few years. But there is something inexplicably magical about playing Wii’s premier launch title. As a critic, I could slam Wii Sports for a list of standard grievances a mile long, but in the end, they just don’t seem to matter. One swing of the Wii remote is all it takes to understand.

Or in this case, remember.

But would I have bought this game? Would you have? Even playing through it again didn’t have me entirely convinced that I would be willing to spend 45 dollars on such a shallow package. But browsing my Wii message board afterward, I found countless posts from Wii Sports — a 55 fitness age from a friend here, a terrible +4 golfing high score from another there — that brought back a flood of memories from midnight-and-beyond bowling and tennis sessions with friends over the last few years…all from a “tech demo.”

For the countless laughs and dozens of good times it has provided, 45 dollars seems a steal for a game like Wii Sports. Free pack-in or otherwise, this is a game I would have owned either way.

But would you have bought Wii Sports?