I have to be honest; I'm not much of a gamer. The last time I played games on a regular basis was on my breeze block of a Game Boy, and my last console was the Atari 3600. John's frequent ramblings about Final Fantasy and Grand Theft Auto meant nothing to me, and any attempt he made to try and introduce me to PS2 gaming was met with sighs of indifference. Gaming for me ended with Tetris, and no game I saw after 1992 ever ignited the merest flicker of interest.
Then we got our Wii.
I haven't missed a day's game-play in over a week. For the first time ever, I may actually be in love with a games console.
The Wii has been released to a mainly positive reception, but I do wonder how many people out there realise just how revolutionary this console is, and how Nintendo have pulled off what is nothing less than a master stroke. For the Wii is finally making gaming democratic. Finally, gaming is entering the same phase as home computing did some time ago, where it is becoming less of an enthusiast's world, and becoming something all groups of people in society can enjoy. And the secret is with the ease of game-play.
Although I was aware that game-play on the Wii was going to be very different from the traditional finger-dizz that I was used to (and never found the enthusiasm to truly master), it wasn't made clear to me until I cracked onto the idea of Wii Sports, where you would be able to flay your arms around in the same manner as in the real world. Suddenly, my attitude changed from motherly tolerance ("Yes dear, a new console! I'm sure it's VERY exciting.") to genuine excitement. Here was intuitive game-play, which entailed actually getting up from off your arse and moving like you would if you were down the leisure centre.
And there's the key. Because most of the movement in Wii games is being carried out by muscles well used to them, almost anyone can pick them up. Want to play tennis? Easy. Just swing your arm; you'll soon be able to judge when and how you can obtain the best results. No complicated key-presses are needed, as your brain just carries out the movements that it does every day. Although it's fair to say that Nintendo haven't yet perfected the process, the Wii provides the closest possible feeling to actually being IN the game. This is very important for the 'buy-in' process (sorry, but can't think of a better phrase), which is what will have the user coming back day after day. With the Wii, you have a console where game-play is picked up quickly and easily, and Nintendo have also thought of some canny devices in the games to keep users hooked.
Wii Sports is my favourite over Wii Play, so I'll cover that first. As well as the games themselves (tennis, bowling, golf, baseball, and boxing), there's the option of playing training games for each sport, with your score being tracked, and Wii Fitness, which gives you a random selection of three of the training games to assess your 'Wii Fitness Age'. I'm not totally sure about how this is calculated, and as its possible to drop 30 years or so from one session to the next, I wouldn't recommend it as an indicator of any real-world fitness, or even overall Wii skill. Your score can be adversely affected by being given a game you're unfamiliar with, or by being given a game in a sport that you're not that good at. For example, both me and John are fairly pathetic at baseball compared to the other sports, so if we're given one of those games, we tend to assume that our score will probably chuck on a few years to our disadvantage. Nevertheless, it gives you a sense of commitment to get to the perfect 20, and also forces you to take on the sports that you're weakest on, as John and I can at least now hit the ball in baseball. It can also uncover possible sporting prowess, as both of us have found ourselves surprisingly good at golf. Whether success on the Wii would translate to the same on the golf course is a different matter, but it has at least awakened an interest in the game for both of us, which I would count as a positive development.
Wii Play features several games aimed at developing prowess with the Wii controller, taking the form of shooting games, games where speed and control of the pointer are essential, and, er, cow racing, which is enormous fun once you've got the hang of holding the controller a different way. It probably isn't surprising that John, the gaming veteran, took to Wii Play a lot easier than myself, as it is that much closer to the traditional gaming experience, but is very useful for those who would like to play more games where the movements aren't necessarily as instinctive as those of Wii Sports.
With both suites of games, progress is tracked by the Wii, giving you the motivation to continue by giving out medals for getting to certain score levels, and differing status being bestowed when your skill reaches the appropriate levels. Being able to assess your progress in this way is a big bonus for a personality like mine, as there's no frustrating replay of levels that you know off by heart; rather, there's a more gradual measurement of your increasing skill, which, for me, rewards my efforts in a more balanced manner. As much as I like to avoid generalisations, I think this is more likely to appeal to women and older people than the progress through more traditional games, and, as I've said, the ease of game-play will draw in large sections of people who didn't play computer games before. A case in point is Monkeyson's dad, who, as Monkeyson said on NOTBBC's Arcade forum, "...doesn't play any games at all, ever - board, card, computer, crosswords - but he loved Wii Golf." I think that's really quite an extraordinary achievement for a console.
Anyway, you've got the picture; the Wii is easy and fantastic fun to play. However, one criticism is leaping from some reviews, which is the quality of the graphics compared to the XBox and PS2. This is really a misunderstanding of the whole point of the Wii, which wasn't intended to reproduce the admittedly impressive work displayed by Grand Theft Auto, but was intended to offer an alternative to pixel-perfect rendering of some guy's brains being blown out. The graphics are basic in the sense that you won't in any way see the changes from morning to evening, but they're really quite lovely for their purpose, which is to give an almost cartoonish world to play around in. If it doesn't speak to you; well, you've got plenty of alternatives. I'm just ecstatic that, at last, I've got MY alternative. It would be a boring world if we were all the same.
The cartoonish nature of the graphics brings me onto the final, brilliant idea of the Mii, Nintendo's weapon of choice to represent the game player. When designing the Wii, Nintendo clearly took a good look at the internet, with its love for avatars, and decided to re-create this human narcissism for Wii game-play. As much as it probably traumatises some sections of the gaming community, the Mii concept is aimed squarely at the teenage girl in all of us, fitting the idea that we should feel part of the game by creating our own presence, with it being up to us what it actually looks like. Even though the customisations are currently limited in scope, most people will be able to form a decent representation of themselves; my avatar doesn't have quite the right hairstyle, but it doesn't seem to affect it being looking pretty accurate in the Wii universe. A vital part of the Mii's appeal is being able to link with other Wiis through the internet, which relies on both parties exchanging Wii numbers, observing a suitable level of security, and then (depending if you've allowed them) your Miis can then wander onto other people's machines, with the avatars on their Wii popping up on your Mii channel as well. They'll also pop up in the background when you're busy on Wii Sports, which never ceases to be amusing. If this idea makes you squeal with excitement, then the Wii is definitely for you, as I absolutely love seeing the number of Miis grow every few days. Seeing friends of friends has the same addictive qualities as I'm told MySpace has, with the added bonus of not having to read their blogs. You can exchange email with registered contacts as well, although selecting letters with the Wii remote will certainly tempt people to buy a Wii keyboard. There will be internet channels in due course, with the only service currently accessible being the Wii Shop, where you use your credit card to buy Wii points, redeemable against a selection of Nintendo and Sega games. As nice as it is to play Sonic on the Wii, it was rather pricey compared with alternative sources, so I can't really give the internet services a enthusiastic review at the moment.
However, the rather mercenary nature of the Wii Shop barely matters when you have such a bloody good time with the main aspects of the console. As I said at the start of this article, I've never been that much of a gamer, but one week on the Wii has made me interested enough to write this article, and I have to hand it to Nintendo; they've done an amazing job. I could list no end of superlatives about how the Wii makes me feel, but the real proof is this article existing by my hand in the first place. Consider me well and truly hooked, and marvel at the fact that I won't be alone in my experience. Wii? Wow.