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Game Consoles, Part 4: A Window on the Wii

By Chris Maxcer
Dec 22, 2008 6:00 AM PT

Part 1 of this four-part series gives an overview of the game console market this holiday season. Part 2 takes a closer look at the pros and cons of Microsoft's Xbox 360. Part 3 examines the PlayStation 3. Part 4 discusses the Nintendo Wii.

Game Consoles, Part 4: A Window on the Wii

The success of Nintendo's Wii gaming system came as something a surprise to almost everyone. Hardcore gamers wrote it off as a lightweight contender, best suited for small children, and without any true HD graphics capability, how could it compete? But compete it has, despite a list of hurdles. Despite Microsoft's Xbox 360 one-year head start, despite Sony's PlayStation experience, and despite a slowly growing list of game titles, the Nintendo Wii has taken the world by storm, selling more than 18 million units in the United States and more than 40 million worldwide.

So yeah, it's a Wii world out there, and there's no indication that the Wii is slowing down.

Still, choosing the Wii as a game machine for yourself or another is a tricky proposition -- it opens up doors while shutting others at the same time.

First, the Basics

The most obvious difference between the Wii and the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is the Wii's innovative controller system. Instead of the industry standard boomerang-shaped pad, Nintendo developed a new type of controller. Shaped like a TV remote control, the Wii controller -- or "Wiimote" -- is wireless and motion sensitive, which opens up a new range of game play options. Turn the controller and you turn a video game car. Swing it like a bat, and you swing a video game bat. Same goes for golf clubs and swords. Oh, and it vibrates and makes sounds, too, giving users tactile and audio feedback.

There's still more -- it comes with the optional (though in some games mandatory) Nunchuk accessory, which plugs into the main controller and provides an additional joystick, trigger and motion sensitive method for movement.

Bucking the trend of offering low-end and high-end packages with extra-large hard drives or better cables, Nintendo offers just one Wii -- the mainstream model. It comes in at $249 with one controller. It has 512 MB of internal flash memory, two USB 2.0 ports, and a slot for SD memory expansion. ATI. Compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3, not only is the processor woefully underpowered, the resolution tops out at 853 x 480, which is essentially widescreen standard definition. There's no 720p love here, and 1080p resolution is a pipe dream -- it doesn't even have HDMI output. It ships with composite video cables, but it will support component video cables that will sharpen the image just a bit.

And what about sound output? It's just old-school analog.

How about extra multimedia features like the ability to play DVDs? Nope. Netflix streaming? No. The Wii has a Photo Channel that will play slideshows and MP3s, but the media has to be loaded onto an SD card.

The Wii does, however, come with integrated WiFi built in, as well as Bluetooth for the controllers. Users can browse the Web through the TV and download new games to store on the machine's built-in memory (mostly old-school Nintendo titles).

Plus, the Wii comes with "Wii Sports," which include tennis, golf, baseball, bowling and boxing games. They're surprisingly addictive and very accessible to friends and family who may not have been interested in video games before. The Wii is also compatible with older GameCube discs.

Beyond the Cons

The key for Wii is the fun, family-friendly gaming experience. The motion sensitive controllers bring players closer to the action on the screen, and that's opened up a variety of extensions to provide additional simulation of play. For instance, the controller can be inserted into accessory steering wheels, guns, tennis rackets, and even light sabers.

The Wii has also created new runaway hits for non-traditional gamers -- like mothers -- who have turned "Wii Fit" into a hot seller. "Wii Fit" uses a sensitive balance board that you stand on to do yoga, balance games, strength training and aerobics. Plus, "Wii Fit" charts your progress, lets you set goals, and provides an activity log. It's been getting consistently good reviews -- at least from users who aren't already into using real gyms for workouts.

The Wii also connects users to the Internet, opening up a variety of Wii channels for news, weather, games, and more. Plus, you can download an Opera-based Web browser.

Nintendo also includes a Mii Channel, which is used to create cartoony avatars for users that can be used as characters in some games like "Wii Sports."

The Library of Games

The library of Wii games is starting to pick up steam, and third-party game manufacturers are starting to release some cross-platform games, too, like "Star Wars The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels," "Madden NFL 09 All-Play," "Guitar Hero," "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed," "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 All-Play," "NBA Live 09 All-Play," "Call of Duty: World at War," and "James Bond 007: Quantum of Solace."

Then there are Wii-specific games like "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess," which lets a slashing motion make the main character, Link, slash his sword. And "Mario Kart Wii" lets gamers use a steering wheel for driving fun. And there are, of course, dozens of casual games.

Pricing and Special Deals

Nintendo isn't offering any particularly compelling special deals this holiday season -- most deals seem to come from retailers who are offering accessories or games in Nintendo Wii bundles. Besides the standard "Wii Sports," no in-the-box extra games are included.

No, the only special deal buyers can hope for this season is simply finding a Wii on the shelf -- even in its third holiday season of availability, the things can be pretty hard to come by.

In Conclusion

You can't really go wrong with the Wii -- as long as you realize that you're buying a different sort of gaming system. While it has some of the same game titles that are available on the Xbox 360 and PS3, the graphics aren't as compelling and the controllers are different. Also, developers often have to modify the games' play control system to account for the Wii's unique controller, making the Wii version significantly different.

As a living room TV extender box, the Wii is woefully inadequate; however, it isn't design to compete in these areas. No, the Wii is intended to deliver a new interactive gaming experience that resides in its own little world ... and really, it does a darn fine job.

Game Consoles, Part 1: The War for the Living Room

Game Consoles, Part 2: An X-Ray of the Xbox

Game Consoles, Part 3: A Peek at the PS3

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