Monday, February 26, 2007


I've had my Wii for a little over a month now, and thanks to Gamefly, I've been able to sample a number of games for it. I think the system has a lot of potential, but it will be a while before developers really take advantage of the system, and the best games for the Wii will almost certainly be very different from the best games for other systems.

Wii Sports is the best Wii game I've played so far. Zelda may be a better game overall, but it's not really a Wii game - it's a conventional game that happens to be available on the Wii. Going through the motions in Wii Sports is a lot of fun, and shows once again that having the right controller can make or break a game. It's unclear how well the software is actually modeling your actions, since random motions are often rendered as well-formed swings in the game, but Wii Sports demonstrates that the underlying model doesn't have to be perfect to be fun.

The controller is really three devices in one - a conventional controller with a joystick and buttons, a pointing device (using the sensor bar), and a motion sensor (using the accelerometers in the the two parts of the controller). The trouble is that these modes don't work together all that well - you can't really wave the wiimote around and hold the pointer on the screen (although Rayman's "point with the remote and act with the nunchuck" pattern works fairly well), and no matter how you hold the controller some of the buttons are going to be awkward to reach. The relative lack of easily-reachable buttons is the biggest problem for games designed with other systems in mind - developers have to use motions like "shake the nunchuck" to accommodate the variety of actions found in many games. This hidden-button syndrome doesn't really add anything to the games and probably makes them less approachable to novice gamers than they would be on a more conventional system (in contrast to Wii Sports, which is the epitome of approachability).

My biggest disappointment in the controls has been the pointer mode. It takes a steady hand to, for example, pick a letter from the on-screen qwerty keyboard and press the button without moving the pointer, and I find the hand position required to keep the pointer on the screen to be very uncomfortable. I've put the sensor bar on top of my TV but configured the Wii to think it's below the screen. This way I'm always aming into the space above the screen, which I find to be a more natural hand position. Playing this way isn't as weird as it sounds. You already have to watch the on-screen cursor instead of the angle of the remote (since there's no calibration for the size of your screen), so you don't really notice the added vertical offset.

I had hoped that the pointer mode would mean that the Wii could accommodate the kinds of games that are still at their best on PCs with a mouse and keyboard (primarily real-time strategy and first-person shooters), but now I'm not so sure. The control scheme used in Red Steel is worse than the usual two-joystick approach in my opinion. To turn your character, you have to position the cursor near the edge of the screen and leave it there while your character turns. It's like having a mouse you can't pick up when it reaches the edge of the pad. The Rayman-on-Rails plunger-shooting levels were a lot more fun because you could focus on aiming and shooting; movement was out of your control.

Taking movement out of the player's control is a recurring theme in the Wii's best moments. Wii Sports Tennis removes tennis video games from their Pong-based roots by making the challenge not about putting your player in front of the ball (the game moves for you), but just about making each shot (which mostly means timing). Conventional games have used most of their control "bandwidth" for controlling character movement (often using two analog sticks for position and orientation), while the actions you take once you're in position are abstracted behind simple button presses. The Wii turns that around, with the potential for richer and more immersive control of your actions, but less control of movement (at least in comparison). This is a relatively unexplored area of game design, although some of the best games I've played recently fall into the "actions, not movement" category: Guitar Hero and Trauma Center (DS). Now that the Wii has become a commercial success, I'm hopeful that we'll see some interesting new ideas for it.

Quick comments on the games I've tried:
  • Wii Sports - Simple and fun; the best reason to own a Wii.
  • Zelda - Excellent as usual, but doesn't break any new ground.
  • Elebits - Katamari Damacy meets the Half-Life 2 gravity gun, although it's not quite as awesome as that sounds. The controls can be frustrating when you're doing anything but flinging objects around the room.
  • Warioware - By far the most varied use of the wiimote. Slightly less frantic and unpredictable than other games in the series since it has to tell you how to hold the wiimote in each round.
  • Rayman Raving Rabbids - Great sense of style and humor.
  • Excite Truck - It's no Mario Kart, but it's enjoyable as long as you don't care about realism in your racing games.
  • Red Steel - It's an OK game, but I got really frustrated with the controls.


Post a Comment

<< Home