The Wii Gaming Console from Nintendo
Most of you have heard about it. Some of you have seen it first hand. Just a few of you (the luckiest) have even managed to get one for yourselves. Yes, folks, I'm talking about the all new and hot Wii gaming console from Nintendo, a piece of equipment that will surely change the way you experience video-games, and perhaps even the way you see life itself.
Ok, I'm going a bit too far here, but I'll have to tell you right from the start that the Wii is like nothing you've seen before in the area of home-entertainment and video-games, and even though it's quite obviously the least powerful (from the point of view of hardware capabilities) of the three next-generation gaming consoles, it certainly is the most innovative, at least when it comes to gameplay.
And that's because the Wii has completely overhauled the concept of controller. Yes, its hardware specs may....well, suck (and they do, compared to those of the Xbox 360 and the PS3), but the wireless gyroscopic controller fully compensates the lack of processing and graphics horsepower. The Wii Remote (better known as Wiimote) is completely wireless, and provides the console with (more or less) precise information regarding the user's position in space, thus allowing him/her to control the games by both natural gestures and pressing some buttons. But I don't want to get all technical right from the start, so I'll get back to the technology behind this highly innovative control system a bit later, in the more hardware-oriented section of this review. For now, let's start our Wii tour with.....
A little bit of Wii history and statistics: From Revolution to Wii
As most of you probably know already, the Wii is the fifth video game console released by Nintendo in its long history. It's the successor to the Nintendo GameCube (and actually largely based on its predecessor's hardware components), and it was initially codenamed "Revolution", due to the fact that it promised to represent a revolution of the concept of gaming, a promise it actually made good on. However, due to several factors (mostly related to the difficulty of pronouncing the word "revolution" itself), on April 27, 2006, Nintendo announced the console's final name, Wii, a lot shorter and catchier than the initial one. Moreover, according to the company, the name "is simply Wii, not Nintendo Wii", with the official plural forms "Wii Systems" or "Wii Consoles", and one (of the many) explanations of the name is that the two lower-case "i" characters are meant to resemble two people standing side by side, representing players gathering together, as well as to represent the console's controllers.
Personally, I believe that the name is very well chosen, although it's pretty funny. Regardless of what you might think of the console, the name has a little something that makes it stick with you. It's probably the "ii"'s. Anyway, I've promised you some statistics as well, and here we are. According to Wikipedia (which we'll have to trust for this little piece of info), Nintendo sold around 1.135.000 units in Japan in only 1 month (from December 2, the official release date, until January 7), and probably another million or two in the rest of the world, being a lot more successful than another next-gen gaming console launched around the same date, Sony's PlayStation 3.
Enough figures and semantics for you? Well, in that case, let's move on to more serious stuff, namely...
Small form factor and a lot of white: the Wii aesthetics and design features
Yes, the first thing that one notices when setting his/her greedy, gaming-hungry eyes upon the Wii is a lot of white. Nintendo has chosen an all-white, iPodish look for its gaming console, which is fine, until you take a closer look at the device. The metallic finishing is not that exquisite (I wouldn't go as far as to call it cheap, but I really expected a bit more from a next-gen console), and the color makes it prone to getting all dirty and dusty, and exactly the same can be said about the controllers (also all-white). However, the console is so tiny (about the size of a large book) and inconspicuous that it probably won't draw the attention, and all the dirt-related issues won't be a problem.
What does pose a bit of the problem, though, is the poor quality of the hinges on the plastic panels that hide the 2 GameCube memory card slots and 4 GameCube controller connectors. While the aforementioned connectivity options are really quite useful, especially for the Nintendo fans who are upgrading from a GameCube to a Wii and want to keep some of the accessories, the fact that the hinges are so flimsy and can be so easily detached (not to say broken) is pretty bothersome, especially if you're not the "overprotective with your gear" type.
Guess I went only through the negative aspects up until now, so it's time to change the tone a bit. A great thing about the Wii is that it features all its main buttons (power, reset, eject) on the front side, as well as a tiny panel which hides 2 very important elements, the SD card slot and the Synch button, but we'll talk about them a little later. A....well, a not-so-great thing about the Wii is that it features 2 USB slots placed on the backside, in a less-than-accessible position, but since there aren't (yet) so many USB accessories for Nintendo's console, I guess we can let this go by and take a closer look to that innovative element the Wii brings to the gaming world, the controller, also knows as....
The Wiimote (+ Nunchuck)
The Wii remote, or Wiimote as it is known in the "gaming slang", is Wii's wireless gaming controller. It's smaller, yet a bit bulkier than an ordinary TV remote, and features 4 main buttons (one of them, the "B", on the backside), as well as a small cross-stick and 3 "secondary" buttons (including here a Power button, for switching on the console from a distance). The overall shape is surprisingly aerodynamic, and fits a normal hand perfectly (though big-handed people might have some serious problems using it). The buttons are placed a bit too far apart, but from what I've seen, that's not really a problem, since the software is quite well-designed and the learning curve for using the Wiimote is quite steep. Actually, I wouldn't even call it a curve, since you kinda get the hang of it almost instantly.
The Wiimote features on its bottom side a proprietary connector used for attaching various possible accessories, out of which the most important is the Nunchuck that features an accelerometer and a traditional analog stick with two trigger buttons, being extremely important in some games (Like Zelda or the "Boxing" section of the Wii Sports package). It also sports a safety strap to be placed around the wrist, which connects trough a very thin wire to the Wiimote, so thin that it's very easy to tear (especially if you're a stronger person).
I guess that was quite enough "design and aesthetics" talk, let's go now to more tangible elements, namely the.......
Wii hardware specifications and Wii remote technology
As promised in the beginning of the article, here's the hardware-oriented section of the review, and I'll start by listing all the hardware and physical specs.
- dimensions: 44 mm x 157 mm x 215.4 mm;
- weight: 1.2 kg;
- CPU: IBM PowerPC based "Broadway" processor, 729 MHz;
- GPU: ATI Hollywood processor, 243 MHz;
- memory: 24MB "main" 1T-SRAM, 64 MB "external" GDDR3 SDRAM, 3 MB GPU texture memory;
- storage memory: 512 MB internal NAND flash;
- 1 x SD memory card slot (up to 2 GB compatibility);
- 2 x USB 2.0 ports;
- 1 x Sensor Bar port;
- 1 x accessory port on the bottom of the Wii Remote;
- 4 x Nintendo GameCube controller ports;
- 2 x Nintendo GameCube memory card ports;
- Mitsumi DWM-W004 WiFi 802.11b wireless module;
- compatible with optional USB 2.0 to Ethernet LAN adaptor;
- up to 480p (PAL/NTSC) or 576i (PAL/SECAM), standard 4:3 and 16:9 anamorphic widescreen;
- video out: component (including Progressive scan), RGB SCART (PAL only), S-Video (NTSC only), composite output, or
- audio: stereo - Dolby Pro Logic II, Wiimote features it's own built-in speaker.
Not quite impressive, is it now? The list of technical specs reminds us a lot of the GameCube (actually, one of my more hardware-wise colleagues called it a "pimped up Gamecube" with a few extra gimmicks). And the most important of those gimmicks is, as mentioned before, the wireless Wiimote, Wii's one-handed controller.
The Wiimote uses a combination of accelerometers and infrared detection (from an array of LEDs inside the Sensor Bar, which is generally placed nearby the TV connected to the Wii) to sense its position in a three-dimensional space. The Sensor Bar actually pulses infrared light, which a camera on the Wiimote then picks up and uses alongside accelerometer measurements to gauge movement, after which the Wiimote sends back the info to the console via Bluetooth. The Wiimote also has some other pretty interesting features, as for example an internal speaker, 4KB of non-volatile memory (for saving various user settings), and something Nintendo proudly calls "force feedback" (actually some vibrations, it doesn't even come close to the PS2 controller force feedback system).
Connectivity is another very interesting aspect of the Wii. As you were able to see for yourselves, Nintendo's console sports a Mitsumi DWM-W004 WiFi 802.11b wireless module that allows the user to connect to the Internet via a WiFi connection and even communicate and connect with other Wii systems through a self-generated wireless LAN, enabling local wireless multiplayer action on different television sets. Pretty cool, isn’t it? Especially if you've got lots of Wii owners around you. Moreover, if you don't happen to have a WiFi network in your area, you can always use an Ethernet-To-USB adapter.
You've seen the tech, now it's time to witness....
The setup is extremely easy. Just plug-in all the cables where they're supposed to go, place the Sensor Bar in a position where it has a direct line of sight with the Wiimote, and you're good to go. The most "difficult" part of the setup was making our second Wiimote work, when we had to press the two Synch buttons on the console and on the remote.
Wii's interface is organized in a very interesting and highly intuitive manner, much like a TV set. Thus, its various functions are called "channels", and we've got the Disc Channel, Mii Channel, Photo Channel, Wii Shop Channel, Forecast Channel, News Channel and the Opera-powered Internet Channel. A simple click on the respective channels will activate their functions. Unfortunately, due to certain technical difficulties, we weren't able to test the Wii's Internet capabilities (including the impressive Virtual Console Channel, that allows the users to purchase old Nintendo games and run them on the Wii), at least not for know, so I can tell you only how the Disc Channel, Mii Channel and Photo Channel work.
Thus, the Disc Channel is obviously used for accessing the contents of the disc inserted in the Wii (which can be either a 12cm Wii Optical Disc or a Nintendo GameCube Game Disc). The Photo Channel is used for viewing pictures from an SD card inserted in the Wii's SD slot, or even viewing photos from a Bluetooth-capable handheld device (for example, a cell-phone). The Mii Channel allows users to create their own Wii avatars, or "Miis", which can be later on used in games or even transferred to other Wii consoles via the Wiimote. This is a really cool feature, and it explains the presence of the 4Kb of memory in the remote. All you need to do is get yourself a Wiimote, customize a Mii, and take it everywhere with you.
This is the area where the Wii literally kicks ass, because it literally takes gaming, a traditionally virtual experience, to the real world. The Wiimote works great in "reading" the gamer's movements and transferring them to the TV. It's actually quite an eerie, yet somehow wonderful experience to see how the systems actually respond quite promptly to your commands. I've been able to play "Wii Sports", a suite of games that really demonstrate the wireless capabilities of the Wiimote, "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess", an action/adventure game from the Zelda series (and also one of the main selling points of the Wii), and some mini-games from the Wii Play disc that came with the second Wiimote.
I especially enjoyed Wii Sports (Tennis and Bowling were my favorites by far), exactly for the reasons stated above. The translation of real movements into virtual ones is almost flawless, and one really feels special to be able to play some tennis against a real opponent, in real life, but in front of a TV screen. I worked up quite a sweat while playing some baseball or golf (yeah, I admit it, it's been quite a while since I last visited a gym), and that really makes me think that the Wii could have some pretty healthy effects on gamers (which, as we all know, don't lead the healthiest lives).
However, despite the fact that the Wii is a lot of fun, it could also prove to be quite dangerous in a number of situations. The fact that the player has to move his/her hands quite a lot in the game, while at the same time holding a pretty tough object, makes the Wii a pretty dangerous weapon. There have been some reported cases of people getting hit in the face by their Wii-crazed relatives, or of people who have smashed their TV sets when they've lost the grip on their Wiimote. And I've been able to witness this problem first hand, since my colleagues and I almost turned a friendly tennis game into a blood bath. Fortunately, it was an "almost".
That's why Nintendo is shipping the Wiimote with the adjustable strap I've told you about earlier, even if sometimes the strap itself torn and the controller simply flew away, doing a lot of damage in its path.
Nintendo Wii Roundup
What's Cool: The gaming experience it provides, the very innovative Wiimote + nunchuck control system, the highly intuitive interface. Very good connectivity options, Internet access and browsing capabilities, backwards compatibility with GameCube games and the possibility of playing even earlier games via the Virtual Console. However, in the end, it's the great gameplay and gaming experience it provides that are certainly the most important things the Wii has to offer. For this reason, I'll give it a 94% In.
What's no so Cool: The lack of computing horsepower. The fact that the Wii is not capable of DVD playback (although it will probably do so in a future version). The flimsy strap on the Wiimote (although this issue has already been solved by Nintendo). The unimpressive external look. The lack of a direct Ethernet connection. The possible hazards the players might experience if they're not careful enough. That's the reason why I consider the Wii gaming console from Nintendo to be 6% Out.
The Wii is....well, something else. It provides a new and highly innovative approach to the concept of console gaming, and all with the help of a tiny device called the Wiimote. If it weren't for the Wiimote and the Sensor Bar, the Wii would have been simply a bit more powerful version of the Gamecube, and would have probably winded up just another gaming console in the dusty drawer of failures. However, the control system and the gaming experience the Wii offers have changed all that, and Nintendo's new console has really become a very serious contender in the next-generation console's war. And if you really want it, and you happen to live in Romania, you can pre-order/order the Wii at TNT Games.
What's Inside The Box
- Nintendo Wii console;
- console stand;
- Wii Remote Controller;
- Nunchuck controller;
- sensor bar;
- AC adapter;
- AV cable;
- Wii Sports (Baseball, Tennis, Golf, Bowling & Boxing).