Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Br-wii-ef Aside

It looks like the two biggest items for Christmas this year are going to be (predictably) the Playstation 3 and Nintendo's new system, the Wii. Given that Sony horribly underproduced their system and has yet to manufacture any games aside from sports games, it looks like more kids will be finding Wii's under their tree this year.

Through a bizzare series of events, I ended up camping out with one of my friends to help her get one. And since I've now had a chance to play it, I'll take a moment to deviate from my usual posting topics and mention my first impressions: It sucks. There's two main reasons I say this: (1) The computing power has not been utilized and (2) the controller is annoying novel and driving the games.

I've been playing home console systems since the NES was out and every time a new one has come out, I've always noticed a marked improvement when each new generation comes out. For the system my friend got, she also got three games: The new Zelda (Twilight Princess), Rayman, and Excite Truck. Installed on the system already were a host of cutesy games. We started with the already installed tennis, golf and baseball.

For this, the graphics weren't in any manner an improvement. In fact, they were several steps back. The whole thing just felt like Nintendo had some leftover beta software lying around and just decided to slap it onto the system. The characters were floating geometric shapes with no arms to connect their sphere shaped hands to their torsos. The only (possibly) amusing thing was being able to design your own characters. The trouble was that there were so many choices of facial styles, expressions, hair, eyes, mouths, and everything else you can think of, that just creating a character took more time than playing the game! This seems extremely poorly thought out.

The next game we tried out was the new Rayman game. The previous Rayman game was about running through levels and jumping on things. Pretty standard for Nintendo. So, naturally, we were expecting more of the same. Instead, this game ended up seeming like the developers were intent on finding all the stupid ass ways that someone could use the controller.

If you haven't heard about the new controller (the Wii-mote), it's quite interesting. Instead of having a joystick, you use it by aiming it at the TV. From there, of course, there's a few buttons that allow you to interact with what's on screen. But the innovative part is that it has motion sensors that allow it to detect tilt, rotation, and a variety of other hand motions. It also features a wrist strap to affix it to your arm to prevent you from getting pissed off (which you will) and launching it at your TV.

This aim and tilt feature seemed to be what Rayman was having far too much fun with. From levels where you had to slap doors shut bunnies in port-a-poties to keep them from throwing plungers at you, to filling diving masks with carrot juice, to pulling worms out of teeth, there was no end to the annoying things you had to do to the Wii-mote.

As mentioned, this was all annoyingly difficult due to the difficulty aiming. Fortunately, my friend has a large TV, which made things much easier. For those having smaller sets, well, just make sure to wear that wrist strap.

For the graphics on this game, it wasn't bad. There weren't any sharp edges, anti-ailising worked well, there weren't any obvious repetitions on model skins to save on space... But then again, the Playstation 2 would be able to match this quality of graphics if not outdo it (as it does with games like Final Fantasy XII). About the only thing that was nice, was quick load times.

Lastly, I played about an hour of the new Zelda game. Dispite being a fan of the Zelda series, I've given up trying to concern myself with story continuity. Link seems to get a new background every game that comes out. And this one is no different.

Again, the graphics were nothing special. But here, there were several instances the controller became extremely annoying. The first one is when you're supposed to learn how to jump between rocks. The designers didn't think to make a way to control the camera angle, which made lining things up impossible. Oh, and if anyone's trying to do this, all you get for jumping to the other rock is an owl, which you can use once to knock a bee hive off a tree which you can climb up to get 15 rupies. Not worth the frustration.

Another thing that disappointed me was the lack of epic feel that the game begins with. In Ocarina of Time (generally held to be among the best of the Zelda series), it starts off almost immediately that you are summoned by the Great Deku Tree. Sure, you don't know what that is, but it sure sounds important. Meanwhile, in twilight princess, you're given the task to go deliver something to the castle in Hyrule by... someone, which is promptly forgotten in favor of doing chores like hearding goats into barns or looking for lost cats. Horay.

We haven't opened Excite Truck yet, but given that I'm not terribly into such games, I doubt I'd be too enthralled on that one either.

But my end conclusion for the Wii: It's not worth it. For the ~$250 the system alone costs, I have yet to see anything special. The controller is an annoying novelty, and the graphics aren't impressive.

Many gaming systems have started off this way, only to improve as better use of the technology is made. I'm sure this will be the case for the Wii in which quality games will start coming out once the giddy use of the controller wears off. But as for scrambling to get one this Christmas for yourself or your kids, don't bother. There's far more quality games for the Playstation 2.


Stephen said...

My 9 year old son and i were at a gaming store, where a Wii was set up for demo. I didn't play. They had this dirt car race where the car ends up flying more or less balistically half the time. My 9 year old started the game and played like a pro instantly.

The demo used a huge flat panel screen that probably cost more than all the electronics in my house combined. Sure, it was nice, but i'm not going to spring $250, so forget about the great screen.

My main complaint with modern games is that the technology seems to drive the game design. So, they put together first person shooter technology, and you get a bunch of first person shooter games.

This is less true for the Game Boy. And it's much less true for my 1981 vintage Atari 2600. This system has dozens of games that don't play like each other. This keeps interest up. Great graphics may sell a game, but game play keeps you playing it.

Carlo said...

Hello from a fellow gamer-scientist! I share your pain. I recently got to try out the wii-mote myself and was equally unimpressed. The thing reminds me too much of the NES's Power Glove. I sure hope they get the movement sensitivity issues dealt with quick, because I see a whole lot of people whipping their wii-motes into walls...