words Alex Wiltshire
These are the things I took away from Nintendo’s first UK presentation of its Wii home console: a Tim Henman-endorsed tennis racket and ball, a pulled muscle in my left arm and an intense feeling of relief.
It’s nerve-wracking being a Nintendo fanboy. My favourite corporation is against the ropes. Brash Sony and brawny Microsoft have ousted it from its domination of the videogame fundament, and if Wii fails to sell well, Nintendo will probably never make console hardware again. And, for people like me, that would be a tragedy.
Fortunately, Nintendo’s idea for the Wii – or more specifically, its controller – sounds really good. Shaped like a TV remote, the Wii Remote can sense motion and its position in space. So instead of stabbing at buttons to stimulate in-game actions, with the Wii you’re meant to enact them: swinging a tennis racquet, swiping with a sword or chopping with a knife. In other words, it could offer a new way of playing games.
With all that freedom in movement, could the control feel accurate and responsive? Would players feel silly? Could Nintendo be talking a load of hot air?
The event was held at The Hospital (Dave Stewart’s arts venture) in London’s Covent Garden. Its interior had been done out to match Nintendo’s new hardware design style, a mixture of Apple and Naoto Fukasawa minimalism. But the mood was far from serene. Journalists, supervised by staff wearing white tennis gear, were flailing their arms around delightedly.
Heartened, I tried a golf game. A supervisor pressed a Wii Remote into my hand, insisting that the strap be looped around my wrist (presumably so I wouldn’t inadvertently fling it across the room in a spasm of excitement), and told me to assume a golfer’s stance. Then, gripping the remote as if it was a golf club handle, I simply played the game. It felt utterly self-evident: I took a few practice swings to figure out how hard I should take the shot, and in my first go got the ball onto the green. The remote was already pretty much forgotten in my hand, as I got on with screwing up putting the ball into the hole – my mistakes were nothing other than my fault.
My next game was baseball. Instead of careful control, this one was about timing. Taking a batter’s stance, I was given ten pitches to attempt to hit out of the ground with a wild flail. On the fifth pitch I got the knack, hitting homeruns with each subsequent ball. “Today’s record is seven homeruns,” said the supervisor conspiratorially. My competitive streak kicked in.
I played tennis against a PR, then target shooting, which involved pointing the remote at the screen, then Wario Ware, a series of random and surreal mini-games, and finally some orchestra conducting. In each case the Wii Remote felt, quite simply, right. It equally accommodated delicate motions for shooting, bombastic homerun hitting and precision forehand/backhand timing.
Nintendo’s hope with Wii is to attract new players, people turned off traditional video games by the abstractions and complexities of joypads. I’ve played video games for 20 years, and their conventions are burned into my synapses, so perhaps I’m not the best person to judge how these games will go down among more casual players. Certainly, the other journalists seemed to be enjoying themselves, and despite its radical nature, the Wii Remote never felt imbued with the shock of the new. In fact, it became transparent, a conduit that translated my experience of reality to a series of simple, entertaining games.
Nintendo understands how to make gameplay self-evident – easy to master, but with enough room for experimentation – and this is what sets it apart from other games manufacturers. The best Nintendo video games are as much toys as they are games. And this ethos has carried through to Wii. The basics were obvious, so I could get on with the fun of testing, even in the minutes I had to play each game.
Hopefully, by the time the Wii is released later this year, my arm will have stopped aching. In fact, I’m considering getting into some sort of training. And with a lifetime of low achievement in the world of physical sports behind me, that’s a real mark of my faith in that loveable old corporation.
Nintendo Wii is due for release later this year. The price has not been announced.