Matt posted in Games, Wii on May 18th, 2006
E3 was really cool this year. There were a lot of great new titles to check out, and a lot of exciting new products. The product with the most buzz was Nintendo’s Wii. Unfortunately, many people didn’t get a chance to play it because there were REALLY long lines. Firstly, all the Wiis on the show floor were in a special room similar to the Nintendo DS previously. Luckily, it wasn’t like the Nintendo DS because everyone who waited in line got a chance to play if the were willing to wait in more lines once they got inside. (With the Nintendo DS, they showed everyone videos, and randomly chose a certain amount of people that could play the games) I heard accounts of people waiting 4 hours, but luckily I didn’t have to wait that long. So, enough introduction! What is it like?
Firstly, I think it’s important to realize that the Wii-mote has two basic features. There is the motion sensitivity, which allows you to tilt the controller on all three axes. It also has accelerometers, so it can detect relative movement. This behaves very similarly to the Playstation 3 controller, which I imagine more people got a chance to play. Interestingly, the nunchuk attachment also has these same motion sensitive capabilities. The other main function is like a souped up Super Scope 6. There is a bar that’s about 6 inches long that you stick onto your TV. This senses the direction you are pointing it as well as the distance you are from the TV. I talked to the Nintendo Representatives, and I didn’t get a straight answer on whether you can calibrate it or not, but it did NOT behave like a light gun even though the technology is similar. They showed a prototype Zapper shell for the controller, so you probably can set it up to work that way, but no games were using it as such. However it was calibrated, the positional functionality worked like a mouse. In every game that used it that way (Super Mario Galaxy, Red Steel, Metroid Prime, and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess), they showed you a cursor on your screen, and you move it around in order to select or shoot things. It seemed to detect not the absolute position that the controller is at, but rather where it is pointing, so pointing it in different directions moved the cursor rather than having to moving the entire controller around. I don’t know if you can calibrate it, but it had a very small range of where you could point it, which was sometimes frustrating especially for a game like Red Steel that relies on it for navigation. I enjoyed using the motion sensitivity functionality a lot more than the positioning for this reason.
So what unique features does the Wii-mote offer? Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz‘s minigames were the best examples of this. They had a wack-a-mole style game that allowed you to move the controller to the left and the right and forward and back in order to wack the moles level. I’m not sure how well this worked, but it seems like functionality that is unique to the way the Wii-mote works (sensing motion towards and away from the screen is something no light gun could do). The other one that was quite interesting was another Monkey Ball minigame that allowed you to throw darts. I didn’t play this one either, but it didn’t seem easy to control. It was a new experience though because it allowed you to hold the controller like a dart and throw it at the screen. I imagine it used both the motion sensing technology and the light gun positioning to enable this. This was the only example I saw where both functionality was used together, but I didn’t play it, so I don’t know how well it worked. All the darts that the person in front of me threw didn’t seem very accurate though. Maybe he was just bad at darts.
So, how were the games? Let me give you a break down.
Super Mario Galaxy
This was the title that I was most excited about. I am a huge fan of Super Mario 64. Super Mario Sunshine was a let down, but that may only be because my expectations were set so high by Super Mario 64. Finally, Nintendo was giving the Mario fans a new chapter in the ongoing Mario saga! Super Mario Galaxy graphically is similar to Super Mario Sunshine. It looks somewhat better, but not as impressive as the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. I’ve seen better looking Xbox 1 games, but the art style is very nice and colorful, which is a nice change of pace from the grey next gen games. But really, Super Mario Galaxy is not about the graphics. How did it play? The analog stick on the nunchuck controller moves Mario around and the A button allows you to jump. Shaking the Wii-mote does Mario’s spin attack. There is a cursor on the screen that you move around by pointing the controller. It is quite sensitive, but that may be adjustable. You have no camera control, which to me, is quite disappointing because especially for platformers, I like to have a lot of control over the camera in a platform game since you can adjust it to look in the direction you want to jump. The camera was okay, but far from ideal. The cursor let you interact with objects. If you held the trigger (the B button) you could pick up star shards and ring some bells. They had some sticky plants that you’d pull back on with the cursor and release to fling Mario. I don’t think it made good use of the controller at all. As far as punching, I’d much rather press a button than shake the controller. Shaking the controller requires a lot of motion and isn’t as responsive since it takes a few back and forth movements before it registers as a shake. The wii-mote functionality hardly seemed like an innovation in this game. Shaking instead of a button press seems gimmicky and worse for the player. Moving the cursor around highlighting things isn’t my idea of a good time. It seems like a game mechanic that might have been really cool when they first introduced a mouse, but we’ve all been using mice for so long that it wouldn’t thrill us anymore. Sure – the wii-mote is a new interface, but I don’t think the act of using it is such a joy that the mechanic itself can be void of any inherent fun like I feel selecting things is. I’m not trying to be down on the game. Maybe there’s a lot of other cool stuff in there. I can only judge it based on what they showed, and they didn’t show off anything all that impressive. Now, I’m not trying to say that Super Mario Galaxy won’t be an amazing game, but it seems to me that the wii-mote functionality was not used well in this title.
Wario Ware: Smooth Moves
I can’t say much because I only played this for about a minute total. A picture that indicates the correct way to hold controller appears before the minigame. The minigame is a small gesture. One was flipping some vegetables in a pan. You move the controller up and down. That’s it. Another was running, so you moved your hand back and forth. That’s it. Now, I’ve only played about 5 minutes of the other WarioWare titles, so I may not really understand what they are all about, but I didn’t really get what was supposed to be fun about this title. I was thinking this title would be a must buy, but after playing it, I think I may hold off until I can play it for longer and understand what it’s all about.
I love Sonic. Although Sonic Heroes wasn’t all that great of a game, and I steered clear of Shadow the Hedgehog, I’m anxiously awaiting the next generation incarnations of my favorite blue hedgehog. The controls were a bit wonky in the PS3/Xbox 360 Sonic game, but I imagine they will smooth it out, so I’m still really looking forward to it. This game however, seemed too simple. Sonic runs on a fixed path. You can move to the left side and right side of the path and forward and backwards by tilting the controller. Sonic can also jump. One one hand, I liked it a lot because it conveyed the sense of speed. The other 3D Sonic games have the really fast parts, and then the slower normal platforming parts. This was almost all speed aside from a part where you inched along a wall. My problem with it is that the limited control makes it a bit dull. It’s not even like a racing game because you don’t control Sonic turning – he does that automatically. You just have a certain amount of space to the left and right of Sonic that you can move to avoid obstacles. All in all, this wasn’t too exciting.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
I already discussed some of the interesting minigames above. I didn’t play them though. Instead, I chose to play the standard Monkey Ball game. It worked quite well as you can imagine except I have rather shaky hands and the screen shook to match that, which was rough on my eyes. Hopefully, they can put a dead zone in order not to hurt my eyesight. It may be more challenging that the other games (and the other games were EXTREMELY challenging) just because I think a thumbstick is more precise when you get used to it. The wii-mote is difficult to level off when necessary because you don’t know where level is. But, if they decreased the difficulty, this may be the best game in the series. (Hopefully, they keep up with the insane plots involving Dr. Bad-boon. The story was so hilarious that I think it was my favorite part of Monkey Ball 2)
This one seemed similar to Metroid Prime, but it has sword-fighting, so it seemed like it was a better choice to wait for. This game was quite difficult to play. A young Japanese woman who worked in the games industry had a heck of a lot of trouble trying to move around. The remote was VERY sensitive to movement. I was hoping for a light gun game where you could move your character around with the analog stick, but instead, small movements of the remote moved your cursor around the screen and if you moved your cursor to the edge of the screen, it would change the direction the character was looking. That was pretty tricky by itself, but on top of that, if you pointed too far in a direction, the sensor bar would no longer register that you were pointing at the screen, so the cursor would stay where it was (usually at an edge) and your character would start spinning. This happened to the poor woman who was in front of me in line quite frequently. I was also disappointed with the sword fighting. You don’t really have control over your sword. You can swing your sword wildly, but it won’t register at all. This is unfortunate because ideally for a sword fighting game, the sword will match the wii-mote. This would make gameplay more difficult to tune because it’s hard to prevent someone from kicking butt by waving the sword wildly (like I did in the arcade sword fighting game. I can’t remember what it was called, but they matched up the sword to where you were pointing the handle, which worked a lot better in my opinion) , but it would feel like you are in control of the sword rather than just doing gestures that initiate a canned sequence.
All in all, I’d say Super Monkey Ball had the best usage of the controller. I was disappointed with the positioning functionality for the controller. The sensitivity was jacked way up, and it was only used for a mouse-like interface, but it was more awkward than a mouse. If a mouse is the best use they can think of for it, then they should just use a mouse since I imagine everyone is already quite adept at using one. Now, despite its goofy name, I’m excited about Wii, but I was a bit let down with the games I played. I don’t think they worked all that well. Many have said I should have tried ExciteTruck. Red Steel was right next to it, so I got to watch it a lot. The physics seemed absolutely ludicrous, which might get frustrating because I imagine it’s difficult to figure out how the vehicle is going to behave. The other problem I see with it is that unlike a physical steering wheel, there’s no way to tell when you are at your maximum and minimum steering points. Maybe you can get used to it, but for next-gen driving I think the real winner is going to be Microsoft when they come out with their force feedback steering wheel for 360. I have the PC force feedback steering wheel, and it is amazing! It really feels like you are driving a car (except the pedals which have no force feedback, but that’s not as important). I also didn’t get to try out Zelda, which I am excited about, but a friend told me he’d rather play it with the regular controller. I’m still going to buy the Wii version because I’m interested in how games play on Wii (and hopefully it has better graphics), but I may regret that decision. (Or be thankful!) Still, I think they’ll be some interesting titles that will be a lot of fun on the Wii. It seems best suited for party games, so I can’t wait for Mario Party 8. I am disappointed with the first generation of titles especially after how much hype it’s been getting.
But, regardless of how much I’ll like the Wii, I keep thinking about Nintendo’s mission statement about getting everyone (or at least a portion) who is not a gamer interested in playing games. I really don’t think they’ll achieve this – at least not in the US. (Maybe in Japan because the reception to the DS has been amazing, so it could be Nintendo has their finger right on the pulse of the Japanese consumer) When they talk about targeting non gamers, I keep thinking about my mother. My mother doesn’t play video games. She won’t even play the video games I make. She doesn’t play PC card games, or web games. I once got her to play Samba de Amigo (which is probably has some general appeal outside of hardcore gamers), but she enjoyed watching it more than playing and never really got the hang of it. She seems like the type of person that Nintendo is trying to reach with their Wii. Honestly, I think the features of the Wii-mote are what make it tough for non-gamers. Sure, it has a lot of cool stuff you can do, but there’s no standard way of controlling it. You have to hold it in different positions, different gestures do different things, and every game can come up with a completely new way to use it. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it definitely makes it more complicated. I think I could get my mother to play an NES game, which has a d-pad and two buttons, but if I’m trying to explain to her how to play Red Steel and that she has to shake the left analog stick attachment to open doors, she’s probably going to lose interest. Now, Red Steel may be a game that caters to the more hardcore audience, but it seems to me that a lot of controls are arbitrarily mapped to gestures, which only makes it more confusing in my opinion. You have to shake the wii-mote to punch in Super Mario Galaxy. Why not just press a button? If people have to basically “re-learn” how to use the controller with every game, that’s intimidating and confusing. Even WarioWare might be hard for someone new to games to get into because every minigame has a completely different way to hold the controller. Sure they could get used to it, just like my mom could get used to a Dualshock controller, but will they invest the time into it if it doesn’t come to them naturally? Probably not.
I think if we really want to bring in nongamers, Wii isn’t the correct approach. I think we need to simplify control schemes instead of complicating them. Sure, Wii has less buttons and sticks, but instead it has more complicated ways of interfacing that vary for each game. If we look back to the Atari and NES days, games had a very simple interface. You could explain to someone how to play it in 15 seconds. Learning how to control the character may take some time, but learning the interface was easy. The DS has been successful because non-gamers know how to write, and all of the games that appeal to them (Brain Age, Nintendogs) use pretty much the touch screen exclusively. This may sound like a bad example, but I think Gears of War is a step in a much better direction. The interface has been simplified through context sensitivity, so less buttons are actually used. If the camera control isn’t necessary (which I imagine it is, but just for the sake of argument), the interface might be as simple as a Super Nintendo game. Sure, Gears of War is still catering to the hardcore audience, but what if a PS3/Xbox 360 game was released that only used the analog stick and one button? If this game were fun, then I think it could get some non-gamers interested. Sure, maybe it wouldn’t convert as many non-gamers as the DS has in Japan. I have a feeling non-gamers might get frustrated with the steep learning curve that some Wii games offer to both seasoned game veterans and newbs alike, so I’m guessing it’d be an improvement.
I’m not trying to be overly negative about Wii. I’m getting one at launch, and I think they’ll be some interesting games for it. I don’t think it’ll revolutionize gaming and many games will be gimmicky, but I think it’ll give enough entertainment, so I’ll feel like I got my money’s worth. Even if it never achieves it’s potential, at least the console war won’t have three similar boxes this time, so thank you Nintendo for keeping things interesting!