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by Mike Zazaian September 2, 2006 - 2:47pm, 1 Comment

Wii

The Xbox 360 was released in November of 2005, and at the time I was sure that this next generation of gaming was sure to be nothing more than a graphically superior extension to the current one. Microsoft promised Xbox 360, Sony its Playstation 3, and it seemed that the only innovations offered were new memory options, faster processors, and updated controllers. Besides that, the systems would be virtually the same. So much so, in fact, that one would be able to play a game on these consoles and have nearly the same gaming experience as playing the same game on its predecessor. Of course the graphics would be improved, and surely this opens the doors for a whole new way of looking at these worlds, but the interaction with them would remain virtually identical.

It seemed like an ill omen that prospective buyers were more concerned with floating point performance and teraflops than actual games when the system specs for 360 and PS3 were leaked back in July 2005. Along with the 360 and the PS3 spec leak, Nintendo leaked its specifications for its new “Revolution,” a plain white box reminiscent of a cd-drive turned on its side. Whereas the PS3 and Xbox 360 looked more like compact computers, the Revolution looked as if you couldn’t fit so much as a hard drive inside, which you couldn’t. Then there was the matter of the Revolution’s controller, more resembling a multi-function TV remote than a traditional game pad. This was received by prospective buyers as a threat to the current gaming experience. It seemed that the Revolution promised a slower, less versatile, less graphically pleasing, and less manually familiar gaming experience than even the Game Cube had delivered. But this initial impression couldn’t have been further from the truth.

By the end of the Spec frenzy in July 2005, Nintendo’s Revolution was at the bottom of the barrel. But without the flashy specs and pre-rendered eye candy Nintendo’s Revolution was judged prematurely. That TV-remote controller thing? It’s primary function is to indicate where on the screen it’s being pointed. Nintendo has broken out of the box with its new interactive offering, allowing the player’s actual motions to dictate the actions on screen. There’s still a direction pad, but it’ll be used for more secondary functions. The implications here are just limitless. Games that were impossibly useless or silly in the past can now be enjoyable simply by virtue of their interactivity. Fishing games, hunting games, games where you, I don’t know, pet your cat, these games, as mundane as they may sound, offer a long overdue revision of the up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right, A, B, A, B, select, start mentality that we’ve grown so accustomed to in gaming. And really, it is this mentality that has alienated those who aren’t fanatically devoted to it.

And the best part is, you don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy the Revolution, renamed Wii in April of 2006. Part of Nintendo’s strategy with this release was to make the controller something that is more familiar to non-gamers and older people who didn’t grow along with the gaming boom. Something that non-gamers could pick up and feel comfortable using. It already seems like a more casual gaming experience as well, one in which players won’t succeed or fail based on the rapidity with which they smash the A button.

Nintendo has done with the Wii what they’ve always done will continue to do with gaming; they’ve innovated not only what we see the games but what we’re able to do with them. How fun and imagination can be stretched by changing the experience in ways beyond putting and extra seven cores into the system’s processor. Frankly, I wasn’t planning on getting an Xbox 360, at least, not unless I found myself bored one summer with a wad of extra cash burning a hole in my pocket. But, to be honest, I’m juiced about the Wii. When I first read about it I felt re-energized about video games in a way that I don’t think I’d felt since I first played the NES when I was a little kid. But to be fair, the Wii promises a whole new way to look at gaming, and it may just change the industry in the same way the NES did.

Did I mention the price tag? Speculatively, $199. Which, in a time when a $399 Xbox 360 and a tentatively $600+ PS3 are king, sounds like a slice of heaven. Nintendo’s definately hit the spot on this one. All we have to do now is wait until Thanksgiving, and hope that world economies don’t tank when born again gamers get addicted to kicking turtles at Bowser in Super Mario Wii.

For more information on Nintendo’s Wii check out this in-depth report from Gamespot, complete with videos.