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Impressions: Does Nintendo's Wii Deliver?

With less than a week to go before the console's US launch, Gamasutra has taken Nintendo's Wii for an extended test drive, and now present our impressions on the console's various hard- and software features, to see if the Wii is indeed a 'revolution.'
[Gamasutra editor Jason Dobson has been playing and extensively testing the Nintendo Wii since we received a pre-release version of the console late last week, and has written up his detailed personal impressions on Nintendo's next-gen console.] Ever since Nintendo first unveiled its next-generation gaming console in 2005, the then-dubbed “Revolution” was the focus of both fan anticipation and media scrutiny. Now, with the console set to debut on November 19 under the slightly less conventional (but arguably more fun) name of Wii, consumers will very soon get to experience Nintendo's unique take on the future of gaming. In the run up to the retail debut of the new Wii console from Nintendo, Gamasutra was able to spend some extended time with the platform in an effort to get a good idea of what it brings to the next-generation console race, as well as what consumers can expect from the Wii's initial salvo of first party titles. Gaming For Everyone Positioned by Nintendo as an accessible gaming platform for video game enthusiasts as well as those less inclined to pick up a controller, the Wii is decidedly attractive right out of the box. Significantly smaller and lighter than either of its chief competitors, the Wii seems almost subdued in its presentation. Even its unconventional Wii remote controller and attachable nunchuck analog peripheral, both packed with the hardware, look and feel decidedly unlike anything else yet released for the console gaming market. Indeed, the console's greatest strength, besides its ease of use, perhaps lies in its curiosity. It practically begs to to be tried out, and with games that engage the player physically, the Wii seems genuinely poised to capture the attention of anyone within arms reach. To test this, upon the arrival of the Wii, I immediately set it up in a room and invited several video game enthusiasts and non-gamers to try it out. It's one thing to pitch the idea of a console that anyone can play, but it is quite another to see this in practice. Upon inserting the pack-in title Wii Sports, a compilation of various sports titles, into the Wii, it was not long before everyone was was taking turns swinging their arms while playing tennis, or taking strides toward the television and going through the motions of bowling. In my numerous years as both a video game journalist and an enthusiast of the hobby, I had never seen such a reaction to a game, especially not a video game. The Wii, a video game console, had engaged a group of people to laugh and play together as they enjoyed themselves in a party-like community atmosphere. Some things are stranger than fiction. Remote Control? One of the chief concerns surrounding the Wii, besides Nintendo's unapologetic divergence from traditional graphic awareness, lies with the Wii's unique remote style controller and its attachable nunchuck. Having spent some time with it recently at Nintendo headquarters, some – but not all - of my personal concerns were wiped clean. In addition, while personal accounts have begun to paint to new control paradigm as easy to use, consumers remain divided on the controller that is so vastly different to the established standard. However, after spending several days using the Wii remote and nunchuck on Nintendo's first party titles, including the aforementioned Wii Sports, as well as Excite Truck and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, it is evident that while some issues remain - such as the occasional lag experienced when using the Wii remote - and are topics that the gaming community should watch closely, others, such as the controller's comfort, especially during extended play periods, are unfounded. However, even with some noticeable latency in games, the controls afforded by the Wii manage to achieve much of what Nintendo has set out to accomplish. Fishing in The Legend of Zelda is much more immersive when using the Wii remote as the fishing pole, rather than you would imagine it would be when simply pressing a button on a conventional controller. In addition, the pack-in title Wii Sports further emphasizes the accessibility of the controller, and by association the console, by presenting video game activities that even non-gamers can pick up and play with little to no explanation. Even for what essentially amounts to a tech demo, this is an impressive feat that has yet to be duplicated by either Sony or Microsoft. Channel Surfing Upon booting up, the Wii presents you with its bright menu display, complete with a collection of ovals denoting each of the console's various faculties, both on and offline. Besides the ability to play either a Wii or GameCube disc inserted into the machine, the Wii also features the ability to create one or more Mii avatars, currently only used by Wii Sports. While the options are not infinite, it is possible to create a number of mildly amusing caricatures using the available facial features and body types. In addition to using these Mii icons as players in Wii Sports, the Wii also allows you to store Miis within the Wii remote itself, presumably to allow personalized Miis to be transported to and used on any Wii console. The Wii Channel also includes the option to “Travel”, which will allow Miis from other consoles to visit your Wii, and visa versa, though to what end remains unclear. However, as the Wii continues the use of Friend Codes such as those used on the Nintendo DS, the console documentation notes that such Mii propagation remains limited to just those Wii consoles currently registered as friends in your Wii address book. The crux of the Wii's multimedia capabilities lies in its Photo Channel, which allows users to view images and videos contained on an inserted SD card, edit images, as well as post and browse through images featured on the Wii's online message board. The Wii can access nearly 1000 images and photos from an SD card, though, according to the console's documentation, cards containing more that 1000 photos or videos will have to have their content paired down outside of the Wii before being accessed. Other than this slight limitation, the channel is very easy to use, allowing images to be browsed through one at a time as thumbnails using the Wii remote, or even played through automatically as a slide show. The image editing capabilities are mostly in place for fun doodles using the remote, rather than anything too serious, allowing users to apply a handful of filters or text to their pictures, or even break up a photo into a puzzle for others to assemble. Interestingly, while the Channel does support video playback of Quicktime movies of resolutions up to 848x480, we found this feature to be hit and miss. Some videos played back flawlessly, while others were simply reported back to the screen as incompatible. The other channels, including the Forecast Channel, News Channel, and Wii Shop Channel, each promise various online features and information in addition to other online capabilities such as downloading games and sending messages to other Wii users in a fashion not all that dissimilar from both Sony and Microsoft and their respective consoles. However, as of press time Nintendo's online infrastructure was not active, so none of these features were able to be tested. Conclusion While it is far too early to declare any sort of victory in the next-generation console race, as we currently sit just days before the launch of with the Wii or its competition in the PlayStation 3, certain statements have already been made. For over a year now, Nintendo has remained adamant that it believes video games should be accessible to everyone, not just the so called hard core. With its Nintendo DS, the company proved successful in its pursuit of the non-gamer through a number of its titles, thus validating Nintendo's idiom. It remains to be seen if Nintendo can recapture the lightning in a bottle of the Nintendo DS, as video game history is littered with the corpses of experimental technology that failed, despite the best intentions. However, given what we have seen with the Wii, and the reactions of those who have played it, its hard not to get excited for what Nintendo has put together for its next-generation console contribution. If people warm up to the platform like Nintendo anticipates, the Wii's original moniker of Revolution may in fact have been more prophetic than anyone could have anticipated.

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