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Gamers Get a Handle on the Wii’s Future Features

When it first came out, the main thing that drew me to the Nintendo Wii was its potential for first-person shooter (FPS) games. Finally, here was a console on which I could play a “Metroid Prime” game despite my infirmity.

By my infirmity, I mean my inability to play an FPS game with any degree of skill or finesse without the aid of some sort of motion-sensitive device. Ever since the days of “Duke Nukem 3-D,” I’ve always been tethered to a mouse to aim those tiny little crosshairs at a target, or an actual gun prop if we’re talking arcade. Give me the sort of controller found on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, and my thumbs just can’t get them to line up right until I’ve popped off nine or 10 missing shots. By that time, someone’s snuck up behind me with a bazooka, and the obvious happens. I actually got teased because of this at E3.

Then came the Wii, and its controller made FPS gaming fun for me again. Then came the Wii Zapper, which broke my heart. Selling a simple piece of plastic to turn the Wii controller into an updated version of a Nintendo Zapper was a great idea, but they put the trigger on the wrong grip. This could be fixed by reassigning the Fire command to one of the Nunchuck buttons, but not all of the games that advertise themselves as Zapper-compatible allow you to do that.

Saber Rattling

Of course, the Wii’s control system is good for a lot more than shooter games — you can bowl, fly planes, drive go-carts, toss electric-arc grappling hooks and box. You can also sword fight, which is why I imagine 90 percent of those who bought “Red Steel” did so. It was a mediocre FPS at best, but hey, you got to cross swords with the bad guys once in a while — even though you usually have a perfectly good gun at the time. (Did that scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” teach us nothing?)

But “Red Steel’s” sword-fighting bits were crude. All the moves felt preprogrammed — a downward slash looked the same regardless of whether the user limply wiggled the controller a bit or really put some force behind it.

Now Nintendo has attempted to refine its motion-sensing properties with the WiiMotion Plus, a dongle that attaches to the base of the WiiMote and uses gyroscope technology to better sense exactly how you’re holding the device and what you’re doing with it.

Now, a slight wave of the controller really does translate into a slight wave of the sword, as the company demonstrated at E3 with the fencing game in “Wii Sports Resort.” That game will ship next spring with the WiiMotion Plus attachment. The attachment will also be available without the game, meaning we’ll likely see more games that incorporate the device around the same time.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a good light saber dueling game. We’ve got “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed” and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels” coming this fall, so they probably won’t incorporate WiiMotion Plus. After seeing what the new gyroscopic dongle can do, I’ll be more interested in sword-slinging games after next spring.

Really, that’s all I ever wanted to do: shoot aliens and fight with light sabers.

Musically Minded

Something I never considered was the Wii’s musical potential. Sure, putting “Guitar Hero III” on the Wii was no big stretch of the imagination; just make a new specialized controller. But what Nintendo’s trying to do with “Wii Music” is make the WiiMote and Nunchuck itself into musical instruments.

On the demo I tried, “Wii Music” lets up to four players jam to preprogrammed tunes using instruments like a trumpet, a guitar or drums. Instead of using a guitar-shaped controller, though, you basically just play air guitar (or air drums or air trumpet) while holding the controller. The game senses your movement, and the Mii holding an instrument onscreen plays what you tell it to. Notes can be changed (sort of) using the buttons.

But “Rock Band” this is not — the game doesn’t tell you to play any exact notes or any specific rhythm, and nobody except your friends will boo you if you get it wrong. Only a sparse background track attempts to guide you through the song; the rest is up to the players. My trio managed to stay fairly on task through a rendition of the “Super Mario Bros.” theme, though that may have been due to a well-practiced Nintendo rep on lead trumpet. For me, a slight lag made it a little tough to keep to the beat. I wouldn’t buy our CD.

Even after Nintendo polishes up “Wii Music” a little (it says it’s working on incorporating more instruments and more songs), it looks like it’s still going to be a fairly lightweight game for house parties that don’t want to deal with “Guitar Hero III” — that game has a tough crowd.

Click here to e-mail Paul Hartsock.

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