Nintendo Wii Game Console
Nintendo's follow-up to their popular GameCube—number three in the Big Three consoles of the previous generation—is the Wii (pronounced "we"), which represents a very different approach from SCEA's and Microsoft's next-gen gaming offerings. The humble Wii de-emphasizes the absolute latest and greatest in graphics and game audio, supporting a maximum video resolution of only 480p, in EDTV mode. Instead, it offers innovation in game design and control. And you can buy two of these Wii consoles for the price of the stripped-down PlayStation 3 model.
This thing is compact. If it were any smaller, I might mistake it for a portable device, the realm where Nintendo is the undisputed king. Still, it was a bit of a chore to integrate the Wii with my stack, as this is one of the last remaining analog-only source components in my home theater. I have four other video-game systems set up, their audio switched via a Joytech AV Control Center 2 to one optical input on my receiver. I recently pulled out the two-channel analog GameCube in order to make room for the Wii, since the latter is backwards-compatible with both games and controllers.
The Nintendo Wii performs Dolby Pro Logic II encoding in its hardware, although mandatory software support for Wii games is not a part of the official spec. Audio automatically defaults to stereo, but Nintendo also offers a mono mix-down, and a simple click upgrades you to a high-quality faux surround. Although a composite video cable is included, I used the optional component video cables ($30) to achieve the aforementioned 480p, and the Wii offered a 16:9 display preference during the initial start-up. Make no mistake—the diminutive, affordable Wii packs the goods under the hood, notably an IBM PowerPC–based Broadway CPU clocked at 729 megahertz and an ATI Hollywood graphics processor.
From the very start, the friendly icons and tones cut across all age and gender lines. This is clearly a system for everyone. The available features are organized by channels. Even before you start playing, you can create a Mii, a digital doppelgänger in your own likeness that can appear on screen in certain games, as well as mingle with other Miis. The Wii Photo Channel gives you access to QuickTime videos, MP3 music files, and JPEG images on removable Secure Digital memory cards. This is also where you can store Virtual Console game downloads purchased through the Wii Shop Channel. Nintendo plans to release a steady stream of their classics (all the oldies) for the Wii. (A Classic Controller is also sold separately.) Unlike its next-gen ilk, the Wii offers a relatively modest 512 megabytes of onboard data storage, supplemented by optional SD cards. At press time, these types of SD cards were available in a maximum capacity of 2 gigabytes. There are also News and Forecast channels, plus the recently added Opera Internet browser, available as a free download for a limited time.
Control, Control—You Must Learn Control
At first glance, the Wii Remote doesn't look much like an ergonomic video-game-interface device, but this motion-sensing controller is nothing if not versatile. You can wield it as you would a baseball bat, a golf club, or a bowling ball (work with me here) during the included Wii Sports game. Or you can turn it horizontally and make like it's a steering wheel. And, because these are ultimately not real-world endeavors, you can even use it to direct your descent during a big jump in Excite Truck. Lest your other hand feel slighted, a supplemental Nunchuk controller plugs in at the base, drawing its power from the Wii Remote's pair of AA batteries.
Having played Activision's Call of Duty 3 on multiple systems, I am of the mind that the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combo is not necessarily the best way to win World War II. But, when it comes to living out your boyhood fantasies with a signature move like throwing Captain America's mighty shield in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, this funky thingamajig can't be beat. You just hold down the modifier button and thrust to thwang those bad guys into next week. Of course, there's no time to figure out this technique during the heat of battle, so you'll have to read those manuals—or at least pay attention to any onscreen prompts that suggest proper Wii controller usage. Oh, and did I forget to mention the pig-milking action in Rayman Raving Rabbids? There's a rumble feature in the Wii Remote, in addition to a small embedded speaker that various games exploit brilliantly. In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, when hero Link shoots an arrow, you can hear it leave your hand and then hit a target on the TV screen. The Wii offers a sense of depth via positional 3-D audio that no other system can match. It surprised me that the first round of software exploited this revolutionary control technology, and more wonders are to come. At E3 2006, Nintendo's resident genius, Shigeru Miyamoto, used his Wii to conduct a virtual orchestra.
Taking Nintendo's counterpoint to state-of-the-art graphics a step further, the visuals in a first-party title like Sports are a deliberately stylized departure from the realistic sweat and sinews of other fabled next-gen fare. At times, the athletes here don't even have arms! Even so, the grass on the golf course looked quite realistic, and the subtle use of focus was excellent. Still, the distracting stair-step edges might have benefited from more effective antialiasing across most titles, even the more lifelike Zelda. Unique tricks like the mini speaker aside, Dolby Pro Logic II does a great job with crowd surrounds in Sports and also delivers real sonic detail in big, busy games like Alliance. You might even mistake it for 5.1.
The most serious problem I had was with the wireless connectivity. Sometimes, I could link to my Wi-Fi router without incident; then, on the very next attempt, I couldn't. I had to physically move my router (something I've never done before) and temporarily disconnect my 2.4-gigahertz cordless phone to reduce interference. Some onscreen setup questions could have been clearer, too. But, once I was up and running, watching little Chriis put his topspin on a wicked backhand to trounce his would-be rivals, all my cares melted away. I felt something all too rare in the modern console landscape: a sense of genuine fun. Now all I have to complain about is my throbbing tennis elbow.
• Wireless, two-handed, full-motion control
• Capable of 480p video and Dolby Pro Logic II surround audio
• High-speed Internet browsing