I am a gaming dad. I have two sons who are currently in the under-10 crowd, and we all play video games. It’s just something we do, and it is a great way to bond with my kids. We have a lot of consoles – SNES, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, PS1, PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox 360. This isn’t a hardware or gaming review with staged photos, it’s my experience over the last 72 hours and how the Wii changed the way my family plays games – for better or worse – with an unsanitized glimpse at us playing. Since the 360 was the last addition to our gaming family, I’m also going to compare out-of-the-box experiences between the 360 and Wii.
But first –
How I got screwed by Toys R Us
In my opinion, Toys R Us is using underhanded sales tactics to push their extended warranty. I did not preorder, and I did not wait in line. My local Toys R Us claimed that they had units in stock when I called. I drove the seven miles and got in line, which was short – only two people in front of me, and neither of them were buying a Wii. Lucky me.
When I asked for a unit, I was told by the “R Zone” clerk that they were out of individual Wii units. They were now only stocking “bundles”. This “bundle” is not officially-sanctioned. It does not come in a bigger box with factory-packed extras. No, the Toys R Us “bundle” consists of simply a standard off-the-shelf Wii, upon which you are forced to add a game, two accessories (which don’t even have to be official Nintendo accessories), and the extended protection plan from Toys R Us.
I was forced to purchase these “extras” if I wanted to walk out of there with a Wii (which I was told they had in stock) – I was offered a Wii Starter Kit which is made a company called Bensussen, not Nintendo. This is a collection of cheaply made, useless items like controller covers and a game carrying case. This “starter kit” is $30.00. This thing no doubt has a huge profit margin built in for Toys R Us. The clerk actually left the counter and brought me right to it, and told me that it was part of the bundle. I asked if there were other, more useful accessories that would fulfill the “bundle” requirement, and found that I could purchase an SD card (made by a third party), and an extra Wii controller (sans Nunchuk!).
I intended to buy an extra controller and memory card anyway, but that’s not the point. I certainly would not have gotten my 1 gb SD card at Toys R Us for $59.99! I would have gotten it from a reasonable online retailer at a much lower price (at this writing, I found a Kingston 1 gb SD card for $19.99 online). I certainly did not want the $30 pile of garbage that they threw together and called a “starter kit”. My intention was to go there and buy a Wii, an extra controller, and a game.
The last part of the “bundle” is the extended warranty. I never buy the extended protection plans. It doesn’t matter if they are a good idea or not, I just don’t buy them on principle. Toys R Us didn’t give me the choice. I was planning on spending under $350, but instead ended up forking over more than $430. I walked out of the store with a Wii, an extra Remote, Legend of Zelda, a 1 gb SD card, and the extended protection plan.
They told me they had them in stock, but they never qualified that by telling me to bring an extra hundred dollars because I was gonna be buying their extra crap. Boo on you, Toys R Us.
Enough of that now.
Xbox 360 out-of-the-box
My eldest son won an Xbox 360 in a random drawing, and was thrilled – he couldn’t wait to get it unpacked and running. Four months later, I can say that I have put in much more time on the 360 than he has. The 360 is a great system, but we have a standard def TV, which really prohibits the experience. For example, Dead Rising and Ghost Recon are near to unplayable because you simply cannot read what’s on the screen. The kids spend way more time in the Xbox Live Arcade than they do with store-bought games. The XBL system is very well implemented (once you actually go through the crap of creating a passport account and all that), and even my seven year old son has figured it all out – he can get online and play his friends or other people without any help from me. In many ways, we all feel that the XBL system is the crowning glory of the 360. We rarely ever put an actual disk in the system, we just turn it on and play XBLA.
The first time I turned on the 360, I was able to figure out how to get “going” right away. The wireless controllers were effortless – everything just autodetected. We got the 360 months after launch, so the XBL system was fairly mature, and it was easy to get in there, add points, buy games, and play. The kids, however, were confused by the tabbed menu system, and I had to guide them the first few times on how to actually sign in to their own accounts, and play a game, and also how to switch accounts when they wanted to switch players (so they could track their own acheivements, etc.)
The Wii experience was considerably different. There are a lot of things in that box! First, figure out the sensor bar. It’s not complicated, but it does have to be placed on top of, or directly below, your display. I had to route the extremely thin (and frighteningly cheap feeling) wire all over the place to get it to where my Wii console was resting.
At first, I thought the second remote was defective – I didn’t understand why it wasn’t being detected. I found out via the manual that you have to do a one time “sync” with the console so that the console owns that particular remote. The bundled remote is factory-synchronized, but any additional remotes must be manually synced. This isn’t complicated, but it’s also not obvious. I predict many frustrated non-techy moms and dads going through some drama on Christmas Day, trying to figure out why the extra controllers aren’t working.
This is 2006, Nintendo. Plug and Play – look it up!
The very first time you hold the remote and point it at the screen is a magical experience. It is one of those rare “ahhhh… yes, this is it!” moments when you have to wonder why they didn’t think of this sooner. It just WORKS, and it works well. Anybody who picks it up is an instant expert, because it just feels like the natural way of doing things. In fact, two days later, I picked up the 360 controller and was slightly confused as to why moving the controller around didn’t actually do anything.
The remote also has a tiny speaker on it. While it might not seem that important, it’s another “eureka” feature. It adds a lot to the experience.
The “Channel” system (the first screen when you turn on the Wii) is fairly intuitive and, in typical Nintendo fashion, very simple, big, and bright. The first thing I did was go to the “Mii” channel. I am not entirely sure yet (and this says something about the whole Wii experience) – but I believe that a Mii is sort of like an Xbox Live gamertag – you can use your Mii to track your own personal acheivements and gaming records, as well as use it as an avatar of your online identity. The thing I don’t entirely understand yet (and I’ll get to this in a bit) is that you can create endless Miis, and there’s nothing indicating that you should use a particular one when you are playing a game. Whereas with XBL or other online services (like Sony’s PlayOnline), you have an account to which you log in, and that is your gaming identity, the Mii is just really a cute little thing that you can choose to be your avatar, or not if you prefer. I am not convinced that you actually MUST create a Mii, which is confusing.
That said – creating Miis is a blast. It is almost a game in itself. Honestly, the kids, the friends, and the family have all spent hours in my house, laughing and creating their own little Miis. Everybody who has visited my house in the last three days has a Mii on my system. My older son thought the Wii was “stupid” when I first turned it on and he saw the remote. Then, he watched as I created my first Mii. When I handed the remote to my younger son, my eldest watched his little brother create HIS own Mii, and he couldn’t stand it anymore. With typical “too cool” haughty nine year-old arrogance, he took the remote and was instantly having a great time. His face lit up and he was having tons of fun with the rest of us. This was their first Wii experience, and it was good. It was very good, and the system made itself their new favorite in that five minute span. And this was before we had even played a single game.
How Wii changed the conversation
The kids never went to school and talked about the 360, or the Gamecube, or any other system. They never ran in from school and ran straight to a console before, but the Wii has changed all that. They can’t wait to get home from school and play it.
Of course, we bought this thing to play games. The bundled game, Wii Sports, is really, really fun. While not comprehensive or complicated, it has brought hours of enjoyment to my household. There’s not much depth to it, but I am beginning to understand the greater purpose and philosophy behind the Wii by using Wii Sports as an example. Wii Sports is just … fun. It’s just a fun thing to do, and you are almost guaranteed to smile when you are done playing it. A lot of games seem “angry” nowadays. You are a criminal; a soldier; a great injustice has been committed and you need revenge, etc. These are all fine, and you get a sense of “accomplishment” in these games. However, there seems to be a movement towards “egoless” games lately. Wii Sports is like that. No room for ego! You just swing the controller around and laugh at how dumb you and your friends look, and have a good time. My friend Jeff was “bowling” but stepped back too far to run up to the TV and he tripped over my dog and fell on his ass. We had to move the coffee table to make more room for playing!
I guess you can say the Wii is the perfect system for this kind of game. I am not saying other consoles can’t or won’t do it – think of the insanely popular “Katamari Damacy” for PS2. Some people scoff and call it “cutesy” but you have to admit that it is just plain fun. Why is fun so bad? The Wii is REALLY fun, and I think Nintendo made the right move by trying to bring fun back to gaming.
In the end, I say this: The Wii is a new era for gaming. Really. That’s not a dramatic, hype-driven statement. I think developers will indeed make horrible games for this system, and I can see how a developer could get the controls all wrong and make a bad experience for the player, but when it is done right, it is SO right. I have had a living room full of video games and systems for my entire adult life, and nothing has ever done what the Wii has done – fill a living room with laughing kids and adults who are all sitting around having a great time playing and watching the experience that this tiny, unassuming little white box has created for us. Every single person who has come through my door in the last three days wants to go out and buy a Wii now. Nintendo has made gaming really fun again.
Set your egos at the door, and come on over and play Wii with us. You’ll have fun, I promise.
I can’t write this article without adding that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is, so far, an extremely engaging, well-designed game that fulfills all my hopes as a lifelong fan of the franchise. I was really looking forward to this game, and I am not disappointed. Anyone who likes Zelda simply must buy a Wii and the game. That is all.