Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nintendo Wii

Rating:  3 out of 5

Pros: A few nice console-exclusive titles, cheapest of the 7th gen systems
Cons: Most good cross-platform games never make it here, too many casual games


I remember when I was a little kid and my best friend got a Nintendo Entertainment System. Before then, my experience with video games consisted of playing Burger Time on the Intellivision II and Combat on an old Atari 2600. I remember sitting there and playing the Super Mario Bros pack-in game for hours and marveling at how much video games had changed with this new Nintendo console.

Since then, I've made sure to pick up every Nintendo home game console released in North America. I have loads of Nintendo and Super Nintendo games that I still enjoy playing to this day. We even had a Virtual Boy, but that came from a flea market or a yard sale or something for only a few dollars and the only game we had for it was Mario's Tennis. While I've got a Gameboy and a Gameboy Advance, I never bothered picking up a Nintendo DS yet (I'll crawl out from under my rock soon, I promise).

I didn't care as much for the Nintendo 64. While I collected a small number of games for the system, and it had a few good ones such as Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time and Super Smash Bros, I found the overall selection much less to my liking than the offerings on Sony's PlayStation. The same thing happened with the GameCube... I collected a few good games such as Zelda Wind Waker, Metroid Prime and Super Smash Bros Melee. Once again Sony's PlayStation 2 featured more games I was interested in, so my GameCube collection is somewhat lacking. I'll get to the Wii games in a bit.


The Wii weighs in at 2.7 pounds (1.2 kg) and measures 1.73 inches (44mm) tall, 6.18 inches (157mm) wide and 8.49 inches (215.4mm) deep when placed horizontally. This makes the Wii smaller than Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PS3, and all previous Nintendo home consoles. Mine is black, but it's also been released in red and white, with a blue edition forthcoming. It uses 18 watts of power when turned on, 1.3 watts in standby mode, and 9.6 watts in standby with the WiiConnect24 feature enabled.

It uses 12cm Wii Optical Discs, and is backward-compatible with the 8cm Nintendo GameCube Game Discs from it's predecessor. Unfortunately, the Wii is unable to play DVDs, let alone Blue Ray discs. It uses an IBM "Broadway" processor, about which few official details have been released. The processor is (unofficially) reported to be clocked at 729 MHz, but that's totally unconfirmed by Nintendo or IBM. It is obvious, however, that the computing power of the Wii is not even in the same league as the Xbox 360 and it's 3.2 GHz PowerPC Tri-Core Xenon processor or the 3.2 GHz Cell Broadband Engine of the PS3. The same hold true for the graphics processing unit, ATI's "Hollywood" chip. It, too, is unconfirmed but reportedly clocked at 243 MHz and is no comparison for the Xenos GPU in the 360 or the "Reality Synthesizer" GPU in the PS3.

The Wii features 88 MB of main system memory and 3MB of GPU frame-buffer and texture memory. It has 512MB of NAND flash memory built in for storage and game saves, which can be extended up to 32 GB with SD or SDHC memory cards. It requires a separate GameCube memory card for GameCube games however. In addition to it's dual GameCube memory card slots, it also features 4 GameCube controller ports behind a semi-hidden panel on the left of the device (on the top if using the vertical stand) to enable connection of GameCube controllers or peripheral devices. While there are various controller options for the Wii, GameCube games are unable to be played without an actual GameCube controller.

There are 2 USB 2.0 ports on the back of the machine, along with an air vent, a port for the sensor bar, and the AV Multi Out port. The AV port allows video to be output as composite (cable included), component, or S-Video, at a maximum resolution of 480p. It has built in 802.11b/g wireless internet support through a Mitsumi DWM-W004 module, and is optionally compatible with a USB to Ethernet adapter.

The sensor bar is an 8 inch (20cm) long bar that can be setup either above or below your television and allows the Remote to work with all sorts of different televisions and other displays. The cord is 11 foot 7 inches (353mm) long, allowing ample room to position it where you need it to be.

My black Nintendo Wii came with Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, a single controller, nunchuck and a Wii Motion Plus accessory. The newer black Wii bundle comes with Mario Kart and a Wii Wheel instead of the Wii Sports games, and it includes a Wii Remote Plus. This is simply a standard Wii Remote with the Wii Motion Plus built in to save the 1.5 inch bulk that would otherwise be added by the accessory, and allow you to plug in the Wii Wheel accessory without having to first remove the Wii Motion Plus.


The Wii Remote, unlike traditional controllers, is held in one hand like a television remote control. The standard Wii Remote from Nintendo is 5.83 inches (148mm) long, 1.43 inches (36.2mm) wide and 1.21 inches (30.8m) tall. It features a power button at the top, a directional pad underneath and a big A button below that. Central to the remote face is a home button, with a Minus and Plus button to the left and the right of it respectively. Below that is a speaker, followed by the "1" and "2" buttons and then a series of 4 LEDs to indicate which player the remote is set up for.

There is a "B" trigger button on the bottom within reach of your index finger. Removing the battery cover from the bottom leaves you with room to install 2 "AA" batteries (included!), and uncovers a red synchronization button to sync the Wii Remote to the console. There is a small cutout below the battery cover to attach the wrist strap to the Wii Remote, and at the very bottom of the remote there is an external extension connector to connect accessories like the nunchuck or the Wii Classic Controller.

There's a silicone rubber jacket that slides over the remote to provide a minimal cushion in case it's dropped. It's also supposed to help grip the remote, but it's such a pain if you use the Wii a lot and have to replace batteries on a daily basis. Not that it's hard to remove, but you have to remove any accessories plugged in, pull the wrist strap through the slot in the back, pull the jacket off... if you have the Wii Motion Plus installed it's even more annoying, and I just haven't felt the need to bother with the jacket because of these things.

The remote has an optical sensor that tracks light from the sensor bar to figure out where it's pointing. This, combined with the accelerometer, provides the unique control system of the Wii. Some type of simple speaker is integrated into the remote, as well as a rumble ability. There's also a tiny little memory chip in the remote that allows you to store your Mii avatar to, for example, bring it to a friend's house and use your Mii on his Wii.


The Wii Menu is a grid of "channels" that allow you to do different things. The Disc Channel lets you load game discs, the Mii Channel lets you create a custom "Mii" avatar for use with some games, etc. There are channels available for many things, from browsing the internet with the Opera 9 web browser, to playing videos on Netflix to checking your local weather forecast.


The Wii has some spectacular games that are exclusive to the system. Monster Hunter Tri, Epic Mickey, Animal Crossing: City Folk, and Donkey Kong Country Returns to name a few. Combined with the usual Nintendo staples like New Super Mario Bros Wii, Super Smash Bros Brawl, Super Mario Galaxy and it's sequel, you've got some pretty substantial reasons to want a Wii.

For the PS3 we have a few games such as the Uncharted series, Infamous 2 and God of War 3. While they're all great titles, both the number and variety of quality exclusive titles is still lacking. Microsoft's Xbox 360 has some terrific exclusive titles like Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3, Fable 2, Saints Row and Project Gotham Racing. Much better variety of quality titles than the PS3, and a few more of them as well, I'd say the 360 is about on even footing with the Wii here.

Unfortunately, a vast majority of the outstanding non-exclusive titles are available for both the 360 and the PS3, but not the Wii. Final Fantasy XIII, Mass Effect 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Dragon Age: Origins... You'll see them on both of the other systems, and most of them on the PC as well.

The Wii is more suited to the casual gamer. They have gobs and gobs of casual games and party games. Standard party games are well represented like Wii Party, Mario Party 8 and Guilty Party, and then you have hybrids like Dokapon Kingdom that try to add some variety. Even the regular games like Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros Brawl and New Super Mario Bros Wii are going to be a lot of fun with a group of people.

There's a number of good RPGs such as Xenoblade Chronicles, Arc Rise Fantasia, Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Rune Factory: Frontier and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Sports games are also well represented, but the vast majority are smaller dumbed-down games of bowling, golf, tennis or similar. There are some notable major sports titles though, including Madden 12, NBA 2k12, MLB 2k11, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. Some of these may be the same across platforms, some may have totally different controls or inferior graphics on the Wii, while others yet may require additional peripherals such as the PlayStation Move or the Microsoft Kinect to be purchased in order for them to function on the 360 or PS3. Positives and negatives here.

The Wii does have many classic games available through their Virtual Console, a separate part of the Wii Shop Channel. These can be purchased with "Wii Points"", which cost around $10 per 1000 points. The games cost anywhere from a few hundred points each to over 1000, so expect to pay between $5 and $15 per game. There are many games from the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, etc. It's a little expensive for my taste, but there's a few games I want to play that I haven't located or picked up yet for some of those old systems, so I may get a few one of these days.

Final Thoughts

Overall the Wii is a great system, but it suffers greatly from the giant flood of terrible casual game collections. If 90% of the titles look like they belong on Facebook instead of on a home game console, you really need to rethink your gaming platform.

Thankfully the other 10% of the games are good, and there's some terrific console-exclusive titles. Since the Wii is cheaper than either of it's direct competitors, it's worth buying for the good games alone - but only if you have money to burn or if you don't already have an Xbox 360 or a PS3.

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