|Allow me to introduce the Wii. Don't snicker damn it, this is the latest (and greatest?) heir to the throne of Nintendo royalty|
I was hoping to have some blurb up on the PS3 by now, but events
beyond my control mean the damn thing is currently soaring its way back across the pond to Sony for repair. Thank fucking christ there's an additional console launch this year to help fill that all too empty void then, eh?
Yes, it's time for some Wii. Nintendo's barmy, off-the-wall and "revolutionary" new take on video gaming has finally touched down. Does it need an intro? Is there really a single person out there unfamiliar with its demented new form of control, and god-awful name? Somehow, meesa doubt it. The real question is though, does it live up to the hype, and more importantly, is this sucker as ground-breakingly original as we've been hoping
for these many, endless years. Is the Wii the future of gaming?
International shortages be damned, I managed to secure one at the last minute, and to cut straight to the chase...I'm bloody glad I did. I love this thing. It ain't without its issues - and in fact there are areas where its two big rivals show it up something fierce - but there's no denying that when you plug the Wii into that living room of yours, you're in for a brand new, truly innovative gaming experience never seen before...and that goes a hell of a long way, my friend.
So sit down, lube up, and read on, as we explore the system, review some launch titles, and assess exactly how this beast stacks up against the oh-so-fierce competition.
First things first, I gotta plug the machine itself. It's friggin' tiny
. Compared to recent next-gen systems - and heck, even the original Xbox - the Wii is invisibly small. Nintendo claim it no bigger than 3 DVD cases piled on top of each other, but to actually see that in the flesh? Bloody impressive. And oh so cute.
|The Wii-mote. Where the Wii draws its immense power!|
With a sleek and simple iPod-esque design - held together by the most ominously gorgeous blue light emitting from its slot-loading disc drive - the Wii wins maximum points for its aesthetics the second you ease it outta the box. In fact, it's the prettiest damn bit of gaming hardware seen since...well, the DS Lite
, I guess. Nintendo...the new Apple?
Just as sleek are the much-hyped new controllers...or "Wii-motes" as they're regrettably tagged. Of course, the entire concept driving the Wii from inception has been the fact these remotes react to full 3D movement, essentially giving you a virtual mouse with which to control your characters with. We'll get onto just how well that translates to actual games a little further down, but the controllers themselves are gorgeously designed I must say. Sleek, tiny, yet surprisingly rugged, their smooth and shiny exterior looks almost designed to go up your bum, not shoot pixellated dudes with. I like.
Also? Rumble freakin' rocks on this thing. It's beautifully quiet and subtle, but adds so much to not only gameplay, but even just navigating the (rather gorgeous) menus. The controller shakes whenever you "mouse over" a button you see, and it adds this fab, if under-stated sense of tactile feedback to the entire interface that just wreaks
If I had to whine about the controller for any insane reason, I'd say the decision to use bog-standard AA batteries is a humungous misfire. A rechargeable, replaceable battery ala Sony and Microsoft would have perfected this thing, but alas, you're gonna need to continually splash out on Duracells to keep her afloat, or alternatively snag some sort of recharging AA station from Dixons. After spending over 20 hours with the bugger thus far though, I'm pleased to say the batteries haven't needed replacing once yet, and if Nintendo are to be believed, won't do until somewhere between the 30 to 60 hour mark.
|This is the nunchuk attachment. It'll further enhance your abilities and add some extra control options, but sadly lacks rumble|
Also on the negative tip, there's some (really rather serious) claims of the Wii-mote's wrist strap not being strong enough to handle more high-octane gameplay conditions, with worrying reports stemming from the net of rogue controllers flying from their users into living room tellies, computer monitors and even nearby pet's orifices. Having had no such issues myself - much to my cat's chagrin - I'll let you read
up on that on your own time, but the mere worry alone can somewhat taint your enjoyment of the system at times. Thankfully Nintendo are now offering upgraded replacement straps for free
though, so it ain't all bad news.
The Wii-mote is used by itself for the majority of the games I've played so far, with you merely moving it around and pressing buttons as needed, but for the more hardcore and full-on titles, you can also click on an additional "nunchuk" attachment as well. This brings your controller's overall button tally up to a whopping 9, while adding an analogue stick to boot, and when used in tandem, the two controllers form a kind of deformed dual analogue controller, cross-bred with a PC mouse. It's a control scheme that can potentially handle each and every genre and play-style you can think up, while providing a lot more precision and fluidity over a bog standard gamepad at the same time.
But does it work? Did Nintendo pull it off? Like I say, scroll a little further down to the game round-up for playability impressions, but I will say on first booting up the Wii, I had a slightly tricky time getting the hang of it all. Primarily this is due to the machine coming with a single sensor bar that has to be setup in rather annoyingly specific ways you see, and not only did that take a while to sort out and thus get functioning as it should...but heck, just controlling such a precise and reactive pointer in the setup menu alone proved alarmingly (and kinda hilariously) tricky at first.
After your first half hour or so though, you do kinda settle into things somewhat, and slowly the potential of the Wii's controller starts to dawn on you...
...and with it, a huge friggin' grin creeps across your face.
Once I was able to wield the Wii-mote with a modicum of finesse, the first thing I did before firing up any games though, was get the online functionality up and running. Due to the system's built in wi-fi access (Wii-fi?), this proved pleasingly easy though, and a far cry from the 360's messy setup of router incompatibilities and restricted NAT bullshit. The Wii logged into my wireless network first time - WEP encryption be damned - and was already auto-updating its glorious dashboard with firmware patches before even semenal clean-up had commenced.
|The Wii's sensor bar - which slots above or below your TV - may take some trial and error to get working perfectly|
Now for the bad news. If you don't have a wi-fi network, you're borderline fucked, as the Wii has no ethernet port to speak of. You can
get around this with USB dongles and other such monstrosities, but needless to say it's hardly ideal. It gets worse though I'm afraid. Much like the DS, the Wii ships with absolutely zilch in the way of online multiplayer games. That ain't strictly true I guess - Pokeman Battle Revolution is out is Japan I believe - but no real
games regardless. Nintendo promise online titles will be touching down from the second quarter of 2007 onwards, but as of right now? It's back to playing with yourself. Isn't it always?
When these mythical online titles do show up, it remains to be seen how the multiplayer setup will work exactly too, because as of right now, the Wii's online feature-set is depressingly skimpy. Not only is there no bundled headset with the system, but also no voicemail support, nada vaguely approaching the likes of video chat, and not even an active friends list either.
You can add dudes to your "address book", send them dinky little text messages, and in a stroke of genius even send e-mails to PCs and mobile phones directly through the console - but is that enough? The jaded Live addict within me says no. In fact, it all feels worryingly similar to the DS right now. That was a setup that worked fine on a handheld (I'm still amazed to be able to play Mario Kart and Star Fox against yanks in the palm of my hand with zero lag), but I guess it remains to be seen if such a simple and minimal system is able to cut the mustard on a full blown home console.
Those expecting an online service with as many features as a PC or the 360 then, will be sorely disappointed here. Yet, I must say, while the Wii may lack some of those core multiplayer features we've come to expect from years of online gaming, it does bring some other brand new and totally innovative ideas to the online table that we've never seen anything vaguely like before to help make up for it. Some of this stuff came completely out of leftfield and really took me by surprise to be frank.
Headlining that list is the "Mii" feature. Miis are simple little custom made cartoon characters that you create yourself via a drag 'n' drag interface, essentially giving you your own avatar. A scaled-down profile of sorts, this avatar can then be tied to all your text messages, and can even be used as a playable character in games that support it (of which there are already two). Your system can hold up to 100 of these Miis in total though, so you can also get to work creating avatars for all your friends and family too. Now when they pop over for a blast of 4-player Wii Sports, everyone's got their own little customised toons to play with. Pretty sweet.
But that's not the cool part. You see, the Wii has a crazy and totally unheard of new feature called WiiConnect24. Quite simply, using the system's built in internet access, it manages to stay logged onto the net at all times
...even when you turn the bastard off. So not only can you still receive messages at 2am when you're all powered-down and asleep in bed, but the damn thing'll even let ya know about it by slowly pulsating that ethereal blue colour. It's about the sweetest damn thing I've ever seen!
|Make your first Mii, and you'll be hooked for life. I've spent more time with this than actually playing games...|
What's this have to do with your Miis though? Well, all the Miis you've created will use this WiiConnect functionality to go wondering off and explore, even when your system's switched off for the night...finding their way into your friends' Wiis in the process.
It's awesome to wake up and find your buddy's parents or siblings hanging out in the communal "Mii Parade" thanks to such off-the-wall viral antics, but it takes a turn for the hilarious when you start seeing some of the demented celebrity Miis people are already conjuring up in addition to their loved ones. I've already seen the likes of Batman, Hitler and Jesus popping up in my Mii Parade, although personally I've been splitting my time between cranking out the Family Guy cast, along with the odd Gollum and Michael Jackson. Creating Miis is oh so addictive as a result, made all the more satisfying when you hear the screams of panic as buddies pop their Wiis on to find Wacko Jacko staring back at 'em.
These Miis are in turn used to populate your games. You may be playing Wii Bowling and casually see the cast of the Big Lebowski wonder by in the background for example. Or perhaps you'll be enjoying a bash on Wii Tennis while The Beatles' heads sway side to side as they watch from the stadium. It all creates this fab sense of connection and community in your games as a result...and all without any actual
online multiplayer titles. It's barmy and inventive, and really must be applauded.
One gets the impression the capabilities of this constantly-connected online service have barely been scratched at this point though, and I can't wait 'til we see the likes of Animal Crossing start to put such functionality to serious in-depth use. Nintendo have stated they plan to offer downloadable demos and updates at some point, which your system will automatically grab while you sleep, but there's loads of other awesome directions developers could take with this setup for gameplay purposes too, from online communities, to persistent multiplayer games. Overall it's just as important and innovative as the more hyped and highly praised new controller if you ask me, and comes across as insanely cool, even in these early days.
Oh, and by the way? Online services come totally free, including (we're told) multiplayer gaming. Thoughts, Microsoft?
Speaking of games, let's get onto the good stuff. What the hell is the Wii like to actually play
? That's why we're here, no? Unfortunately, straight off the bat I have to say the launch line-up is depressingly wiik. There's a stream of simple mini-game collections like the previously mentioned Wii Sports, and the odd scaled-down port ala Call of Duty 3, but hardly a ton of serious system exclusives at this point. What little's there in fact - like the hugely hyped first person slash 'em up Red Steel - hasn't been met with a ton of critical praise either.
Console launches generally offer a limited line-up at first, while developers get to grips with the system before pumping out their real grade-A system sellers, but I can't help but feel the Wii's is even worse off than usual to be honest. As a result, I'd be lying if I said I'd snagged a ton of games for mine so far...although there are one or two worthy of a mention regardless...
One thing that does deserve some major kudos is Nintendo's decision to bundle a free game in with the machine. A long-lost art we haven't seen for a millennia, it's not only a generous and smart move on their part, but one that also immediately puts you in a good mood about owning the system. Even better? It's a beaut too.
|Bundled in for free with the machine, the Wii Sports compilation offers up simple (and ugly) fun for all the family|
Wii Sports is a collection of five mini-games designed to get you familiar with the Wii's controller, the system itself, and how exactly the Miis work. It covers the full spectrum of solo play, 2 player fun, and 4 player craziness, all centred around - you guessed it - different sports. Oh, and it's utterly fab.
First up is Tennis. The game may look like a barely updated rendition of good old Super Tennis on the Super NES, but in terms of raw gameplay, couldn't be more different if it tried. This is really about as simple a game as you've ever played on the one hand, with your character moved around 100% automatically by the computer, while you simply swing the Wii-mote around to knock the ball back and forth. Depending on your speed and timing though, your returns can be directed appropriately, and sure enough, it essentially lets you play freakin' tennis in your living room. It really is a bizarre feeling, but hella fun regardless, and despite almost insulting simplicity, Wii Tennis proves an awesome first stop for a day one Wii purchaser.
Next up's Bowling. For me, this is one of the better games in the compilation, and really about as close as you could ever get to recreating the feeling of the great game without a lane, 10 pins and a fuckin' heavy ball. You simply use the D-Pad to line-up your dude's approach, then it's literally just a case of swinging the Wii-mote as you would for real, and releasing the "B" button to let 'er rip. The sensation is alarmingly accurate to bowling a real ball, and what's especially cool is how it's all affected by spin and technique as well. In real-life for instance, I always
curl that mother fucker off to the same side, and sure enough...here it's happening again. On a TV screen in front of me. Fuckin' crazy!
|Definitely one of the best, Bowling has housed some of my most most fun moments yet with the Wii. Amazing stuff|
It can be a little tricky nailing down the timing of when to swing and when to release, but once you do? Bowling becomes awesome. Even better is how much fun this one is with mates, particularly as it only requires one Wii-mote (or "ball") which you can pass from player to player as needed.
Wii Boxing on the other hand, would have to be the worst game of the lot in my book. As the only title on the disc to use the nunchuk attachment, the idea is you hold the Wii-mote in one hand, and the nunchuk in the other, while you punch, block and dodge as needed, with the system sensing your movements and translating it on screen. It's an interesting concept in that it demonstrates a more physical and active style of gameplay, while also showcasing how the nunchuk can in fact be used for motion sensing just as well as the Wii-mote, but in practice...Boxing just never really works I'm afraid. Punches register barely half the time, blocking is flimsy at best, and there really seems to be little to no skill involved at all.
On the plus side, the dodging system - in which you strafe your entire body side to side to move out of the way of incoming attacks - works impressively well, and if nothing else, this game'll have you sweating like a mad loon after just two minutes, thus burning off all them fatty gamer calories you stored up playing traditional consoles for the past 20 years. Fat fuck.
Next up's Baseball. You know, I kinda dig this one; it seems smacking the hell out of virtual balls with the Wii-mote is just plain fun. Going in, I'd heard a variety of complaints from peeps claiming it was all but impossible to score points in this game, and sure enough, I had a tricky old time myself at first too. Here's the thing though, once I realised I was swinging wildly off target and thus barely clipping incoming balls - if not flat-out missing 'em altogether - Baseball suddenly fell in to place. Adjusting my swing and coming up from a lower angle has resulted in me knocking 'em straight out the park now - quite literally - and I must say it's rather startling how much like in real life, you can slowly start to hone your skills and improve your technique over time like that.
|As someone not hugely into his sports - particularly American ones - the fact I'm digging so readily on Baseball says a lot|
Also - despite the fact the manual doesn't grace us with this info for some bizarre reason - holding down various Wii-mote buttons and directions on the D-Pad while you swing apparently produces varied results too. Get experimenting.
The Wii Sports line-up is rounded off with my fave of the bunch though, and the one that really surprised me more than anything else. Good old Golf. Of the five games, this is easily the most fleshed-out by far, with club selection, wind resistance and varied terrain all affecting your play-style hugely. To be honest, it's almost a shameless rip-off of Hot Shots Golf
in many ways, but as always, the Wii has that ace sense of control to fall back on that makes it play waaay better than Hot Shots ever did. Standing side-on, swinging the club back, then thwacking balls off into the distance? Pure bliss I tells ya.
Once again, it takes some skill to get down - quite possibly more than any of the above - and I wish there were more than 9 bleedin' holes to work through, but Wii Golf really is a fab, and immensely enjoyable addition regardless. It's actually got me super excited for the day we see a proper, full-on, stand-alone golf game over here, such as the recently released State-side Super Swing Golf. Never thought I'd say that.
In that respect, Wii Sports does an ace job at hinting at the sort of potential this machine has, even if it doesn't follow through by providing any particularly fleshed-out full games. You could quite easily take any of these, go off and bulk them up properly, and return with a full-on 40 quid sports title, but here we get to sample those same waters for free. Although simplistic games by themselves, I do think as a complete package they all hold together remarkably well too, with a decent variety of experiences to try out and, as clich?d as it sounds, most certainly something for everyone.
|Multiplayer proves a blast - particularly with the Mii system in full effect - but you can't help but pine for an online mode regardless|
On the downside, I don't know if Wii Sports has any particular staying power. Nintendo do bundle in a rather ingenious Brain Age
-style workout mode, which lets you sit a random test once a day in which you're graded with a final "Wii Fitness Age", but despite boosting the game's length a fair bit longer than it otherwise would have been...the games ain't particularly deep at the end of the day, and will probably be relegated solely to late-night Saturday night multiplayer beer-fests soon enough, and not a whole lot else.
One can't let the game's graphics get off Scott-free either, as there's no two ways about it....Wii Sports is one ugly arse game. It's awfully clean and simple - not to mention really sorta sterile - and you just can't help but feel going the more Mario Sports-style route would have given these games a whole lot more personality and visual power. Instead, the Miis come off as incredibly basic, the environments look way too simplistic, and the god awful jaggies are out in full force.
Unfortunately - and this leads us onto more chronic problems with the Wii as a whole I'm afraid - these complaints aren't exclusive to Wii Sports either. Lack of graphical fidelity is the biggest (and arguably only) real chink in the Wii's armour, but my god...some of these titles truly are alarmingly pap on the visual front.
We knew going in that the Wii wouldn't support HD resolutions, and was more in keeping with an over-clocked Gamecube
on the tech side, but what I've seen so far fails to match up to even that at times, let alone what Sony and Microsoft are meanwhile pumping out with ease. This is something to know going in, as it's a hell of a shock to the senses after gawping in awe at Gears of War
and company these past few months.
While on the whole I was hugely impressed with Wii Sports regardless of its iffy visuals though, Wii Play doesn't fair quite so well. This is another collection of mini-games, losing the sports moniker and going off into far more original and "zany" territory, but for the most part it flat-out fails. It has the pleasing bonus of coming with a free additional Wii-mote though, and considering the total package'll set you back a meagre 35 sheets, you're essentially getting Wii Play for a fiver. A good thing too, 'cos after half a minute with this thing...you'll realise why.
|The best of a bad bunch, punching air has never been as much fun as it is in Laser Hockey|
Rather than detail each of its nine mini-games individually though - some of which really aren't worth pressing keys over - I'll briefly hit the highs and lows instead. The best of the bunch by far would have to be Laser Hockey. A simple recreation of the sorts of air-hockey games you usually find at arcades and the like, here you simply smack a puck around the screen in an attempt to score goals by gesturing with the Wii-mote. It actually works rather brilliantly though - particularly with two players - where the feeble AI can be swapped out for good old-fashioned multiplayer hilarity, that is also surprisingly easy on the eyes.
Then just like that, it hits you...you're pretty much playing Pong. More to the point, you're having an absolute blast
doing it. The Wii really is magical in that regard, rejuvenating that old skool love for gaming in a brand new and totally original way. That's gotta make you smile.
Another good 'un that sits alongside Laser Hockey is the one entitled Shooting Range. What many mistook as an official next-gen Duck Hunt when originally unveiled by Nintendo earlier this year, might as well have been, to be honest. Turning the Wii-mote into a light gun, you simply aim at the screen and take out targets, which constantly mutate over time, from simple 2D bulls-eyes, to super-fast UFO's trying to abduct your Miis. Particularly riotous is two player mode on this as well, in which you either share a screen and compete for high scores...or simply blaze through by yourself with guns akimbo.
The final game I kinda dug was simply titled Charge! Holding the Wii-mote side-on, here you basically have to steer a cow around like a driving game, avoiding obstacles, bashing into scarecrows and jumping over fences by merely gesturing and flicking the Wii-mote as needed. Despite horrendous visuals, it's surprisingly good fun, and another title that hints at the sorta potential that lays in store for us further down the line in regards to more fleshed-out racing titles (and no, Excite Truck doesn't count). Until we see such a beast released though, Charge! is an enjoyable diversion in the meantime, and one only really overshadowed by the unfortunate fact Rayman (mentioned further down) pretty much upstages it at the exact same thing via one of its own mini-games.
That's the majority of the good in Wii Play though. On the unfortunate flip-side, we find flat out awful offerings like Pose Me (pictured) - in which you have to move and rotate your Miis to fit within floating bubbles under a set a time limit (what?) - and the deathly boring Find Me, in which you must pick your Mii out of a crowd repeatedly in a "Where's Wally?" style. Again and again. Over and over. Simplistic and dull, such bastard offerings do nothing but pad the numbers out, while making you wanna stick fingers down your throat and carve the word "HATE" into your arms with a compass.
|Table Tennis is alright, but could have used some added depth, and next to Rockstar's 360 offering, pales in comparison|
More than such blandness though, I was especially disappointed in just how poor Billiards ended up. Not only is it restricted to one meagre variation of the great game, but the interface and shot taking mechanic is surprisingly clumsy and oh so hard to use. I pretty much just yearned for Bankshot Billiards the entire time I was playing it, and can't see myself going back to this wretched turd any time soon.
As hinted upon throughout these rantings, Wii Play does get immeasurably better with some buddies to play with. I think that's the biggest difference between it and Wii Sports to be honest - Sports can be enjoyed just as much by yourself, whereas Play is worryingly iffy unless you're in a big group. It's definitely worth snagging for that extra Wii-mote however, and one or two of the games will
provide some mild relief with your pals.
When all's said and done though, as a barebones and charmless excursion into gimmicky mediocrity, this feels like the game you would have expected to see bundled in with the system for free, not the far superior and way more enjoyable Wii Sports. A shame, more than anything.
The Legend of Zelda - Twilight Princess
Dear lord, it feels like we've been waiting on this friggin' game for-bleedin'-ever. After the continual delays that seemed to last the entire span of the Gamecube's life - not to mention the endless years it took to rework it into a Wii title - one has to ask...was it worth the wait? Hell fuckin' yeah it was! Twilight Princess is pretty much everything you could ever want from a classic old skool Zelda outing, and a whole lot more on top. Prepare yourself for gushings of love!
|Twilight Princess is quite the epic, boasting a crazy cast of oh-so-cute characters, of which Midna headlines with ease. Ambiguous yet playful, she's the best annoying side-kick you've ever seen in a game|
Once again we play some reincarnated version of Link, albeit a slightly more grown up and adult take on the dude than seen previously. When we join homeboy, he's off enjoying the quiet life herding goats on a ranch, but quicker than you can say "Brokebrack Hyrule Mountain", the nasty shit hits the fan and off he goes to vanquish evil from the land. Cue swordfights, horse chases, boss battles and an endless stream of them good old crazy dungeon crawls.
It's not that instantaneous mind you, Twilight Princess has a far more gradual and slower paced introduction than your typical Zelda game. You'll spend a good couple of hours merely hanging out around Link's home-town and mingling with the locals before you even set foot inside a dungeon actually, and even then it's mostly in the name of light-hearted, harmless fun. It really takes a good 5 or 6 hours 'til the proper story begins rolling along at full-force, and with good reason too...the game is absolutely enormous
. My god, we're talking a whopping great 60 to 70 hours long, I exaggerate not. As I write this, I'm approximately 20 in myself...yet not even vaguely approaching the likes of a halfway point yet.
|Although still strangely androgynous, Link's far more of a super bad arse action hero this time out|
This is something to prepare yourself for when firing up Zelda for the first time, 'cos in the interests of pacing, you won't be snagging yourself a sword, let alone engaging dudes in epic battles to the death until a significant portion of those 60 hours are under your belt. Twilight Princess is impressively smart about not blowing it's load too early you see, using its ludicrous length and play-time to craft a much more compelling and rich adventure than you're used to, more of a slow release than one of instant gratification. In what short time it took to complete Gears of War from start to finish, you'll be lucky to have polished off what barely amounts to Zelda's intro.
While Link's early mincing around the village isn't especially captivating though, and it may take a little perseverance to see what all the fuss is about, make sure you do. As an overall package, Twilight Princess is one so rare and meticulous, you'd be doing a disservice to mankind to ignore it, not just yo badself.
To get into specific spoiler-rich details as to exactly why however, would essentially be criminal, but I will say this; Twilight Princess nabs bits and pieces from so many recent video game classics, and moulds them all together like no other. So along with all the traditional gear, gadgets and sword-play of the Zelda classics we grew up with, you've now also got your horseback riding and epic sense of adventure from Shadow of the Colossus
, surprising hints back to SEGA's classic Panzer Dragoon in other areas, and perhaps most charmingly of all, even, err, "elements" of modern Japanese masterpiece Okami liberally splattered throughout on top. All these varied influences hold together amazingly well though, offering varied and engrossing gameplay mechanics that constantly alter and keep you guessing as to where the hell it's gonna head next.
|Although nowhere near as good in my eyes, Twilight evokes stunning Shadow of the Colossus flashbacks at times|
Joining these new additions to the age-old formula is also a slightly more darker story than we're perhaps used to in our Zelda games. Maybe this stems from simply coming straight off The Wind Waker prior to this - which was essentially a kids cartoon in video game form - but Twilight Princess shocked me at times. Some serious shit goes down here, with a more sinister look, feel and ambience than in Link's previous outings. That all said, we're still in PG territory for the most part, and I can't help but ponder what a genuinely adult take on Zelda would look like at some point. Something more akin to the Lord of the Rings films, with decapitations, blood aplenty and a mammoth body-count. Or are my masturbatory fantasies firing wildly off target just thinking up such things?
Either way, Link's latest adventure most certainly delivers from both a game design and a storytelling angle. It's totally linear from beginning to end, with little more than the occasional secret treasure chest straying off the beaten path you're otherwise forced to take, but one sign of Nintendo's true genius is how the game completely disguises it. You never feel led by the hand, or herded down a corridor - nope, Twilight Princess forever feels like you're constantly exploring and uncovering the next chapter of the tale all by yourself. That's interactive storytelling at its very best if you ask me, and it rocks.
One also has to touch upon the control scheme while showering Zelda with love. Considering this game was originally built from the ground-up for the Gamecube, one couldn't help but go into it presuming Wii controller functionality had been somewhat shoe-horned in like a Ron Jeremy cock up your colon. Regardless of whether it has or not though, it works so fucking well that you won't give a damn. It makes for a far more compelling time than a simple bog-standard analogue pad would have provided in my opinion, with all those age-old Zelda mechanics that have started to feel a little too
familiar over the years coming across a hell of a lot more fresh as a result. I can't help but feel like the bog-standard Gamecube rendition will provide a far less thrilling experience in comparison.
|The Wii-mote's more hands-on approach gives sword-fights a far more interactive and exciting feel than before|
How's it work exactly then? Basically, the nunchuk provides your standard third-person movement via the analogue stick as per usual, but it's the Wii-mote that brings it all to life. By "flicking" the remote once, Link will draw his sword you see, at which point you're free to poke and swing that thing around like there's no tomorrow, while our synchronised green-clothed pal slices up dudes before your very eyes. Zelda also lets you use the Wii-mote for your just-as-awesome bow and arrow though, aiming at enemies and blasting 'em through the skull in a full-on lightgun style as and when you wish. Although you give up your right analogue camera control by using such a scheme, it's a fair trade-off if you ask me, and all feels a lot more interactive and engrossing than archaic button bashing.
The uber geek within me has been known to bubble ferociously to the surface as a result. I mean, yeah, you can get away with simple little flicks of the wrist for the majority of your hacking and slashing, but the atmosphere and the experience of this ruddy game sucks me in so damn much at times, I'll regularly be seen waving that ruddy controller around like a proper effin' sword (yep, much like those 'tards you see in the Wii commercials). What's great is the game's more than happy to play along if you do. It hardly provides an exact match at all times - swinging left won't see Link do the same for example - but jabbing the Wii-mote forward will sure enough see him poke it straight at his enemies, and kick arse special moves and finishers can also be fired off depending on your sword movements and button combinations. I even find myself subconsciously "unsheathing" the bugger from my back when entering a battle, seemingly unaware of what a fucking idiot I look like.
That's the thing with this game though, you don't give a shit. I'm not a grown man sitting on his sofa playing a video game at that moment in time, I'm a young elven warrior on a quest to save the world, sword-fighting dudes within an inch of my life amidst a gorgeous (if jaggy...) medieval backdrop. There ain't a ton of games that can have that affect on a guy, but Zelda is most definitely one of 'em.
|After splashing out on a new system like the Wii, it's kinda crazy not to pay that extra tenner for a decent scart lead or a component cable to see it truly shine. Albeit not as crazy as just including the damn cable in the box from the start, you Nintendo arse hats...|
Something else I haven't mentioned once yet, is that the Wii-mote also has its own built-in speaker, and I leave it 'til now to bring up as Zelda seems to be the only game really utilising it to any interesting degree at this point. As you wield your blade, you'll hear the "whooshes" of it slicing through air emitting from your hand though, along of course with the simply unmatched sounds of arrows flying into the distance any time you whip out your trusty bow. The speaker itself provides cack-o-rama sound-quality - understandable in a wireless controller - but the subsequent extra dimension it adds to the combat makes it a humungous winner in my book. Just make sure you turn the little git down in the options screen if you don't want your ear drums to rupture (setting it at 2 or 3 seems to provide optimum enjoy-ability).
Throw all of the above in together, and the new Wii control scheme could be considered a pretty friggin' humongous success for me. You can whine about Zelda's fuzzy visuals and the lack of HD graphics, but ya know what? That's really neither here nor there at the end of the day. It's the experience that counts when all's said and done, and Zelda delivers one neither of the other next-gen systems - for all their immense horse power and hefty price requirements - could ever really pull off. And it's all down to that controller.
And sure, those graphics are
sorta whack. It's variable really; some of the forests look every bit as good as the likes of Fable
, and there's also some great lava sequences that almost match up to Resident Evil 4
in places, but unfortunately it just as often degenerates into a jaggy, blurry mess of a game, with iffy textures and one too many loading screens sellotaping it all together. Not so cool, this.
I guess what saddens me more than anything is how its near-4 year old prequel The Wind Waker looks so much better really, as for all that game's lack of detail, its expertly realised cartoony art style gave it far more of a timeless and memorable look that still
flaws me to this day. It's a pity really, 'cos Twilight Princes is a far superior game, yet won't age nearly as well due to being stuck in the real world, as it were.
|The Twilight dimension. You might wanna avoid studying this pic in too much detail if you're 100% spoiler free, mind|
On the plus side, when you go dimension hopping and see some of the "darker" sites found in Twilight Princess, graphics get immeasurably better and more interesting. Nice bloom effects, art design and overall ghostly ambience show us a side to Zelda we ain't really seen before, and although gameplay-wise these sections don't quite match up to those from the "classic" dimension, at least they give the eyes a bit of a rest in the meantime. It also has to be said, upgrading from composite cables works some pretty humungous wonders with this game - especially if you're running on an HD set - and should most definitely be your first purchasing priority on day one of owning a Wii.
At the end of the day, we should bear in mind that this is, and always has been, a Gamecube game at its core, with zero graphical upgrades made to accommodate the Wii's extra horsepower other than a 16:9 widescreen mode. One hopes future Wii games will look a fare bit better in that regard, and in fact if the next game on this list is anything to go by, they most certainly will. Iffy graphics aside, Zelda is unquestionably one of the best games released this year though, and is a monumental achievement as both a top of the range adventure game, and a system launch title to boot.
Do I think it's worth buying the Wii for? With the title's subsequent multi-platform release on the Gamecube, that's a tricky question to answer. As stated, I find the Wii controller adds a whole other level of enjoyment to this game that simply wouldn't be there without it...but would one really wanna pay ?180 for such a privilege? Particularly with so few other high quality games on the horizon? I'll leave that decision up to you, but I will say this; Twilight Princess does its series more than enough justice, and as far as Zelda games go, is bettered only by the Super NES classic A Link to the Past in my book.
Big words, considering how much I endlessly stuck my dick in that game as a kid...
Rayman Raving Rabbids
The most recent game to be gently inserted into my Wii, and subsequently one I haven't ploughed the hours into yet that I would have liked, Rayman is (yet another) collection of scaled-down mini-games, doing away with the platforming antics the series is famous for, and instead giving your Wii-mote a thorough work-out in a variety of different, if flat-out barmy ways.
|Mini-games comprised of bog plunger head-shots and slamming toilet doors shut, this is Rayman Raving Rabbids|
Basically, Rayman and his buddy Globoxes are abducted by the evil and demented Rabbids while out on a picnic one day, and the poor guy is subsequently locked up in a gladiatorial arena, where he's forced into a series of devilish events and trials to amuse his lagomorphic captives. I know it doesn't make sense. These events range from navigating 3D mazes, to tossing cows as far as you can, to Operation Wolf-style shooting galleries, in which hordes of Rabbids charge you down dressed as cowboys, deep sea divers, and err, Splinter Cells. The final tally is a whopping great 75 mini-games altogether, utilising 35 different controller motions between 'em. And that ain't counting the bonus multiplayer and co-op modes that can be played with up to four players simultaneously.
As hopefully the above examples hint at, Raving Rabbids is pretty fuckin' funny in places. While the mini-games are simplistic in nature, ranging from shaking the controllers up and down to run, or swinging them around your head to toss, the animation, art and overall setting are so over-the-top and crazy, you constantly find yourself failing due to giggling way too hard to concentrate. Particularly riotous are the aforementioned cow flinging events, the disco dancing stages, and the truly awesome rope skipping...in which angry Rabbids constantly pop up in front of the camera trying to put you off. Funny shit.
|Raving Rabbids boasts the most hilarious dance-offs this side of Zoolander|
Rayman also holds the distinction of being by far the prettiest game that I've seen running on the Wii yet. The lighting, detail and vibrancy all stand-out and impress next to the simplicity of Wii Sports and the roughness of Zelda. Even if we're still firmly in last-gen territory for the most part, the game does perhaps start to hint at the power this system might in fact contain after all. Music stands out more than anything though, with hilarious Rabbid-ised remixes of famous songs, ranging from the likes of Cindy Lauper to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
On the whole I can almost recommend Rayman as a semi-decent launch game, one set amidst a ton of clutter and wasted space that has no right to exist, but at the same time I can't see myself sticking with it for any great deal of time in the long-run. As this review round-up seems to be demonstrating, mini-game collections by definition are short-lived affairs unfortunately, and although this one has way more scope and depth than both Sports and Play - not to mention how insanely giggly it is on top - I can already sense it starting to wear thin in barely a week of daily play.
The co-op modes and adversarial games will booster that longevity significantly, but one thing I've yet to touch upon with the Wii is how ridiculously expensive it can be to deck your home out with 3 additional Wii-motes with their own respective nunchuks. Unlike Sports and Play, Rayman requires both you see, which by my calculations is a whopping great ?135 total, as the damn things are all sold separately. Do you wanna pay that kinda cash just to pull worms out of Rabbid teeth with your buddies?
Even though, hehe, it is quite a sight.
|First person masscre-'em-up Red Steel could have been the best damn game ever. Apparently though, it umm, ain't|
Luckily for my now aching fingers, the line-up ain't particularly impressive beyond that though, and more worryingly, isn't about to get better any time soon. Discounting Trauma Center and Wario Ware next month, you're gonna be hard pressed to find a decent Wii game until Metroid bleedin' Prime 3 rolls around. And fuck knows when that may be.
Beyond Nintendo themselves, we've seen Ubi-soft plough a ton of titles into this system so far, all with fair to middling success it seems, but the call of arms to other developers doesn't seem to be reaping a response just yet by the looks of it. Whether more third parties jump on board and help 'em out remains to be seen I guess, but even if the Wii ultimately follows the Gamecube's example of being nothing more than the Nintendo franchise player, it should hopefully still prove its worth in Star Foxes, Metroids and good old Marios. If Zelda's anything to go by, I can't wait to see how these other golden-oldy series fair with the (arguably much needed) fresh lick of gameplay paint the Wii controller affords.
I just flat-out wish there were more games to buy right now though, and one can't help but notice the Wii shelves in Gamestation look depressingly empty.
|Even with its new slot-loading drive in full effect, the Wii is more than happy to accept your old teensy weensy Gamecube discs|
Still, if the Wii's software line-up isn't blowing any minds in these early days, one thing the system does
have going for it is 100% full backwards compatibility with Gamecube titles. Unlike Microsoft's slow crawl to get their machine fully backwards compatible, and Sony's bug-infested back catalogue, the Wii's BC works flawlessly straight outta the box. As it bloody well should do, considering the damn thing's running on Gamecube tech.
Nintendo go the extra mile here though, with not only the games themselves running flawlessly, but by also providing the full four Gamecube controller ports along the side of the machine for you to plug your old pads into, along with two memory card slots for all your old saved games as well. While my PS2 and Xbox remain firmly in place despite their recent next-gen upgrades, this is the first and only of the new systems which has allowed me to completely ditch its predecessor as a result, and for that, Nintendo deserve a serious tickle of the genitals.
In fact, not only can this baby run good old Gamecube titles perfectly...but even NES, Super NES and N64 games too!
These appear via the much touted new "Virtual Console" feature. This is a built-in store accessible directly through the console's interface that lets you buy old skool games with "Wii Points", much like Xbox Live Arcade. While the list is currently rather small, you can still find the likes of F-Zero, the original Mario Brothers, and even Sonic the Hedgehog on there already, with more appearing weekly.
|Although your old Gamecube pads will suffice for most titles, an official Virtual Console controller is also available|
What the deuce? Sonic, did I say? Indeed, Virtual Console games are not merely relegated to Nintendo's back catalogue either, but also include both Sega Megadrive and TurboGrafx-16 titles, with possibly even more joining the roster further down the line. Pretty ruddy ace, no?
That all said, I haven't felt the urge to test this feature out myself just yet. As someone who owns most of these games on various other systems already, I'm not really up for splashing out on them yet again...in spite of Nintendo's plush online front-end and cheeky background music drawing me in. Furthermore, where this service and Live Arcade start to differ is that these are 100% straight ports unfortunately, with no added bonuses. We're talking no new features, no revamped graphics and no online multiplayer bolted on as Microsoft have been so keen to provide on the Live side. That's a major bummer for me, as the promise of playing dudes over the net at F-Zero, or replaying the very first Zelda with spruced up visuals would easily
make me splash out on pretty much every single one of these bad boys for a zillionth time. As it is though? There just ain't no incentive, homes.
On the plus side, the library continues to grow considerably faster than both Microsoft and Sony's online networks, and if you don't have access to the Nintendo back catalogue through any other systems like this gaming geek does, the Virtual Console is a fantastic feature in its own right, while doubling up as a great history lesson for the youngsters who missed out on these beauties first time around too.
Games range from ?3.50 to ?7 incidentally - depending on system - which you really have no business complaining about at all.
|The Wii's integrated Photo Channel. Perhaps best left to the HD-enabled console daddies...|
While you're busy browsing the Virtual Console catalogue on your Wii, you may notice one or two other additional features pop up on the dashboard too. In fact, staring at you on the very first opening screen are both a Weather and a News channel. Unfortunately neither of these have gone live yet - and ain't expected to 'til the new year - but we're told they'll provide frequent live updates streamed through the system's wi-fi link, which sounds kinda cool...if hardly the reason one buys a Nintendo console.
I do dig this concept of "channels" regardless, and it seems the big N has serious plans up its sleeve to offer (read: sell) more and more such functionality as time goes on, including search engines, web browsers and other such add-ons. This could flavour the Wii with surprising multimedia features that no one really expected before too long, and in a small glimpse at that, you even get a free Photo Channel bundled with the system. This lets you view and edit your own snaps via the machine's built-in SD card slot, and even send them to dudes in your address book via the machine's text message service.
The Wii's front-end and thus the interface for all these channels is all very pleasant and nicely done too I must say. It mimics the DS interface in many ways - big, bold and simple - yet beautifully laid out at the same time, and as touched upon, also comes accompanied by lovely little cheesy tunes that keep you company while you fiddle. Just browsing your channels, creating your Miis and even messing with your settings is surprisingly fun as a result.
The Wii feels very much like the DS right across the board actually, but sorta cranked up a notch into a full-blown console. That same eccentricity, accessibility and originality is all present and correct, culminating in a system your dad or your girlfriend may well be able to enjoy just as much as you do...which may sound like ultra cheesy marketing speak, but is still rather true regardless.
|Enough typing. I gotta go play some more|
The DS comparisons work both for and against the Wii though, as much like that system, the first year line-up doesn't particularly excite, and visually it can't hold a candle next to the competition either. The biggest compliment you can give the Wii though, is that it's so much damn fun to play
, the majority of the time you can safely ignore these technical shortcomings and concentrate on the good stuff. I also imagine that by this time next year - or even six months from now - we'll have definitely seen the equivalent of this systems "Nintendogs", where developers finally get it
and start to put the machine's wealth of zany features to superb use in a truly innovative manner. How or what form such a game will take remains to be seen, but the Wii's so rife with possibilities right now it truly boggles the mind.
Based on my first week or two with this thing, I don't see the Wii having any problem cementing itself as an insanely popular system that offers something neither of its competitors do. While Sony and Microsoft fight hand over arse for that same core audience, the Wii's providing a brand-new experience that, while one hopes is popular with youngsters and newcomers, most surprisingly of all holds startling enjoyment for the hardcore crowd too. Its lower price point than the 360 and, well, the fact it actually saw release over here unlike the PS3 also make it a pleasing Xmas system for 2006, one that the whole family will be able to crowd around and have a bash on while the Turkey roasts come the 25th. They'll enjoy it too, which I doubt you could say regarding the likes of Gears and Resistance.
And in closing, while I may bitch and moan about the lack of games released both for launch, and coming out in the foreseeable future, the Wii can still boast one solid, underlying accomplishment that neither the PS3 nor the 360
could in regards to its first-day line-up. It has that one single, unique system selling mind-blowing future classic to make it all worthwhile...and that game is Zelda. A monumental achievement in video gaming that's destined to go down as one of the greatest games of the year, if not the last five, it's flat-out stunning and a prime example of just why we all play games...
...although, err, the fact that same exact game is now out for the Gamecube as well, may well result in that not meaning a whole lot. Way to shoot one's own foot off, Mr. N!