The Wii – an introduction

Nintendo WiiWii Sports Resort for the Wii is the first videogame  to receive a Major Fun award. Despite frequent urgings from some of our veteran Games Tasters, we’ve maintained a deliberately narrow focus on board and table games and puzzles that are easy to learn, generally take less than a half-hour to play, and, most importantly, invite laughter. There are few enough people who recognize the importance of such games, so we accepted it as our obligation to remain one of that particular few.

The Wii is a recent evolution of those computer-like machines that attach to your TV, first introduced in the 70s by Magnavox and Atari. Like the earlier machines, the Wii, introduced in late 2006, also attaches to your TV and accepts a variety of different controllers and special game discs. Its wireless, motion-sensing controllers, which allows players to interact much more physically with a wide range of games and activities, proved to be a significant evolution of game technology, especially for people who spend the majority of their time sitting (in front of a computer or TV), which covers most of our population. Even though you may only use the hand controller (though new kinds of physical controllers are introduced every year), your whole body follows. By engaging mind and body, the Wii invites a much healthier, more physically and mentally restoring kind of play. And, surprisingly, this proves true for a remarkably wide range of ages, the Wii becoming almost as ubiquitous in the senior center as it is in the youth center.

Since its introduction, the Wii has continued to evolve. The controllers further connect the player to the game by vibrating and making their own sounds as the player’s cursor moves about the playscape. They have become more responsive to a wider variety of physical motions. The console can connect to the Internet, wirelessly – further extending the capabilities of the machine and allowing players to interact remotely.

The current version is significantly fun – so inviting, so easy to set up and learn, so mentally, socially and physically engaging, that we were forced to accept that our consistent focus on games of the non-virtual kind was doing no one a service. Because it’s so entertaining, to play as well as to watch other people play, and so easy to understand, it can just as easily involve the whole family. Because it’s so attractive, it can become a welcome addition to any party – game, dance, food, for family and friends.

The package includes everything you need to play (except your Wifi station and TV): the console (in black or white), a Wii RemoteTM controller with a Wii Motion-PlusTM accessory, a NunchukTM controller, and two “games” – Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort.

For anyone new to the system (like we were), the technology is so impressive that it becomes difficult to suppress the giggles of awe long enough to appreciate the games themselves. But the games are the thing, so to speak, and of the two games included in the system, Wii Sports Resort is the one thing that led us not only to giving the system a Major Fun award, but to introducing a whole new category of games to our Major Fun repertoire.

To begin playing, you create your own Mii, an avatar that, despite the easy, menu-driven input, you can make look remarkably like yourself. For children especially, this interaction is so engaging that they can spend a half-hour or more creating their avatar in their own image. Once completed, the virtual stand-in can demonstrate its ever-increasing prowess in each of the 12 sport-like games. Wii Sports Resort introduces a veritable slew of sport-like activities to choose from, many of which can be played by as many as 4 players.

We highly recommend that you begin with a game called Island Flyover. It’s the easiest game to understand and play, the interface the most intuitive. You hold the Wii Remote very much like did when you were a kid, flying your hand outside the open window of a speeding car. As you fly over Wii Island, you encounter all the various environments used in other games in the Sports Resort package. Ambient sounds apparently coming from the landscape invite further exploration. Eventually, you discover targets which you attempt to fly through for score. You can, of course, ignore the targets, and just fly around for the sheer thrill of it all, twisting and turning your virtual plane, smashing into things only to be reborn, dangling from a parachute. The following video, courtesy of someone who actually calls him- or herself SonicPinhead, captures the game perfectly:

This is only one of three flying activities included in the Air Sports section (there’s also sky-diving and parachute jumping), and Air Sports is only one of 12 different sport-like games – each providing an engaging, yet light-hearted challenge, each appealing to children (as young as 3) and adults (older even than I am).

When you play a new game, you are taught how to play, either before the game in a special practice session, or during the game. In either event, the instructions are always clear, and never too complex. You learn how to do one thing, and then, when the time is right, introduced to yet another thing you can do. The individual games are all structured to invite repeated play. Every time you play one through, another variation becomes accessible. This gives you more and more choices (up to a certain limit for each game). Your progress is tracked, so that you can compete with, or simply admire yourself. When you achieve a perfect score or something of similar ilk, you get a special “stamp,” further validating your self-esteem. Curriculum development and text book authors could learn a great deal by studying the pedagogical architecture of the Wii.

In many ways, the opportunity to choose from so many different games, variations and levels of difficulty lends itself to exactly the kind of play experience I have so long championed – because the players determine what games are “good enough” for them to play again and again, rather than the games determining whether the player is good enough to play, the game remains an invitation to fun rather some arbitrary measure of your “excellence.”

We had a difficult time determining which game was our favorite – so difficult that we were ultimately forced to accept that the extensive variety of games appealed to an equally extensive variety of moods. Some times, especially after a day of less-than-fulfilling social interaction, the “Showdown” game (the third in the Swordplay game series, Showdown is revealed only after you’ve played Duel and Speed Slice) proves to be almost ecstatically fun. Basically, you get to hack your way through an increasing number of computer-generated opponents, who, after all, are trying to do the same to you. I know, I know, it seems, shall we say, violent, but it’s violence of a very cartoon-like kind, abstract, and bloodless. Other times, the graceful flow of Frisbee Golf (the third in the Frisbee series) provides unparalleled release.

The package also includes Wii Sports. A brief comparison between the two games, both technically excellent, illustrates perfectly how the system has evolved. Simply put, it has become much more playful; the narrative much funnier, the fun much more major.

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