Gaming Console Round-up III

In my last few posts on the subject, I took a look at the XBOX 360 and the PS3.   This post will focus on the Nintendo Wii.

I've been playing computer games since I was a wee lad.  Since the days of Zork and Baseball on the TRS-80, game development has focused primarily on graphics, audio, and gameplay ... and often in that order.  It's mind boggling to me that you can play a game like hockey or football that looks, to the casual observer, like the real deal.

Not surprisingly, then, console evolution has focused around the technology that can bring the better graphics and sound -- better CPUs, better graphic processors, more RAM.  As for gameplay -- well, that formula really hasn't changed in a long time. 

And that's what makes the Wii interesting.  It took the idea of gameplay in a different direction, focused primarily on the motion controller and unique input devices ranging from Wii Fit to steering wheels.

The first time you play with a Wii, it's like a breath of fresh air because it is _interesting_.   When I got the console, I also picked up Tiger Woods golf, and it's unique to play a golf game by swinging your arm instead of using a controller.  Likewise, bowling is interesting because it's similar to bowling in real life -- a game without this type of motion would be too boring. 

Again, this is what makes the Wii so interesting.  If you've never played one before, you've likely heard the hype and so the experience will be a bit more expected when you pick up a controller for the first time.  And just to show I'm not talking as a shill without really owning these things, the picture here is from my "media cabinet" ... all three consoles, as they exist today in my home.

And this, my friends, is where the experience ends.  Play a round of golf with Tiger, bowl a 240, etc., and then you'll be done.   I'm going to sound harsh here, but I feel that while the Wii is innovative and _interesting_ (there's that word again), it is completely and utterly overhyped and I wouldn't even truly consider it a gaming console per-se -- perhaps an "game device" would be more accurate.

The bottom line is that the motion sensing controls, while innovative, don't carry the system.  Here's why:

First, while I agree that graphics and sound are less important when compared to gameplay, there's clearly a line somewhere otherwise we'd all still be playing Zork.  The Wii has a max output of 480p ... and it looks pretty poor most of the time.  (The best I can do, after tinkering, is run component out of the Wii into the Pioneer VSX-1018AH-K and it's upscaled via a fairly decent Faroudja scaler to a Mitsubishi 73" TV.)  While my mom/aunt/grandma may not think it looks that bad, flip over to a blu-ray concert like Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds at 1080P, mastered for hi-def in terms of both video and audio, then flip back to the Wii.  You will begin weeping.

The video and graphics, at least on my equipment and to my eyes and ears, is a constant reminder of how far our technology has progressed in everything else.  While my gaming collection contains Tiger Woods and the included Wii Sports, I don't see it growing beyond that.  When the motion controller works well, it's a lot of fun.  But when it doesn't, it's frustrating and takes you out of the moment.  These factors make the experience just not that engrossing.   It reminds me of when I first tried a VR-based game, where you'd don the helmet and suit, and step into a cage.

The online component is about what you'd expect, but because there is no hard drive and the Wii's DVD player cannot play DVD movies, there's not a lot of compelling roles the Wii can fill.

While the game library has filled out nicely, there's pretty much no chance a cross-platform game would be better on the Wii.  When you narrow down the collection of exclusive games on the Wii and cross reference their review scores on Metacritic, I'm not really sure how anyone couldn't agree that the system isn't overhyped. 

The Wii is attractively priced so that's a plus, and it's a bit better suited for kids given the Nintendo brand.  But otherwise, color me (in glorious 480p resolution) unimpressed.

Comments (1) -

3/9/2009 6:38:11 PM #

I agree with what you are saying about low graphics and no hard drive space as two major drawbacks to the wii console. However, if you look at those negatives in a different light you could conclude that someone with a non-HDtv would be more likely to purchase the wii because they can actually play it and read all the on screen text clearly. No hard drive options make it really easy for the non-consumer to pick out a wii as a gift (if they find one for sale). If you compare that to a lineup of 360's with different specs it's much easier for someone when there is only one option.

Both of those points really are "reaching" but it's the stuff one may not normally consider.

I feel that the wii maybe wasn't planned to appeal to a different gaming crowd, but it does. I have many friends who look at a dual joystick FPS when playing for the first time, and almost instantly get turned off because of the complex controls.  With my wii, anyone who stops by the house can join into a game almost instantly without the learning curve.

The true potential of the system comes out when you mod it. You may as well call it a "nostalgia box" after that, because it's a great emulator platform and media center. I'm not a supporter of software piracy but I am enjoying the ability to play English PAL games on my system. Some games have no plans to come to the US shores so it's the only way you can play them.

I used to be a much bigger gamer than I am now. So maybe I am growing old, too busy with work, or both.  But three years ago I was on your side of the argument and now I see it differently. See you @ the next guild meeting.

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