Infendo review: Nintendo Wii out of the box

I picked up a Wii yesterday (Thanks, Mark!) after one lone GameStop got a small, freak shipment in. Here are my overall thoughts on the console after some initial playtime.

Nintendo did a better job launching Wii than they did the DS, at least in terms of initial games and novel controls. If that’s not a sign of what Nintendo can potentially do with Wii, I don’t know what is. But the new console still has a lot of answering to do, at least with hardcore gamers.

Presentation. The first thing that struck me after booting up the console was the interface. I was worried how the Wii remote would navigate on screen, but the use of rumble and Genie-like magnification on item rollover is stellar. It’s fun just to move the pointer around on screen. The menu is simple and clean, so much in fact you actually want to press things. Great usability here.

Games. The only games I’ve played so far are Wii Sports, Madden, and Call of Duty 3. Zelda coming soon. Though not perfect, Wii Sports is a blast. And while not the deepest title, don’t let “shallow” reviews fool you into thinking you’ll be done with this game quick like. It will have you coming back for a long-time, especially with the training features that offer quick mini-games for each of the five sports. I think Nintendo nailed it with this pack-in, particularly with bowling, tennis, and golf in that order. It is fun, eases players into a motion-sensing world, and does a great job at wetting your pallet for more depth. Madden 07 was the second game I played and one I feel proves Wii controls aren’t merely a novel gimmick that will soon wear off. After playing with what EA calls FreeMotion controls, I don’t want to go back playing football games like I did before using only buttons. It is that immersive and adds a level of freshness needed years ago to the sports genre, despite Wii’s lackluster graphics. I also played Call of Duty 3 for a bit, but haven’t gotten that far in. I’ve liked what I’ve played so far, but I’m not sold yet if the game utilizes a better way to handle first-person shooters. At least not yet. We shall see.

Technicalities. Let’s call a spade a spade here: Wii’s graphics in terms of realism are nothing special, but they get the job done. I quickly realized, however, that developers need to focus on artistic qualities (think Zelda) of visual design to differentiate the console’s graphics if Nintendo wishes to compete alongside the 360 and PS3 which it will have to do for long-time gamers. While that might be a problem for ports, hopefully ported controls can make up for any differences. I do feel the machine is a bit slow while loading games and certain Wii channels, but maybe that’s because I’m so used to the almost non-existent load times of both the DS and GameCube. It’s not bothersome, just something I noticed. The Wii remote speaker, when turned down a bit, offers a surprisingly nice touch to gameplay. Not a killer app but a great value-add none-the-less. The console’s menu music is great too in a Napoleon Dynamite sort of way. It should have your feet tapping as you navigate to your desired channel.

Final thoughts. Overall, I’m am very excited to own a Wii. Either I’ve sold out and become a full-time “casual gamer” or Nintendo is on to something for everyone here. The Wii still has to prove itself in several areas, however, especially to hardcore gamers Zelda withstanding. The console is fun, but can it handle the drama? What about non-upper body motions like soccer… err I me football? Will its initial appeal last? Is it just a party system? Still questions to be answered, but after my first day with the system, I’m very confident of its potential.