I finally got my paws on one this week­end, and have spent a hell of a lot of time since then just hangin’ out and playin’ with my Wii.

You might have gath­ered a while back that I’m a ded­i­cated Nintendo sys­tem user. You’d prob­a­bly be wrong about that, actu­ally; I never owned the orig­i­nal NES. My first actual Nintendo pur­chase was a Game Boy. I’ve been a happy con­sumer of hand­helds since then, going from the GB to a GB Pocket, Color, GBA, GBA SP and finally a DS Lite.* Never got into PSP and still am not inter­ested even though Sony’s dropped the price by about 50% on the unit.

But I’m not a Nintendo shill; for home con­soles I had a Sega with the 32-​​bit adapter for quite a long time before pick­ing up an N64. That was the last home unit I bought until being per­suaded in late ’05 to buy a used Xbox. That even­tu­ally became a 360, some­thing I like except in the online areas — at least when I come up against hyper­com­pet­i­tive fifteen-​​year-​​olds with far too much time on their hands, shitty atti­tudes and no com­pre­hen­sion what­so­ever of sports­man­like conduct.

Roughly six months ago I got to play with a Wii for the first time, and since then have been semi-​​casually look­ing out for one, but they sell out very, very fast. I just hap­pened to be in the right place at the right time Saturday, and at last ful­filled my not-​​particularly-​​urgent desire to get one.

The sys­tem sells with a CD con­tain­ing five mini-​​games that nicely give you a taste of the pos­si­bil­i­ties in play­ing with the inter­face. It’s respon­sive and rea­son­ably spatially-​​aware, though par­tic­u­larly while “pitch­ing” in the base­ball game I was some­times able to com­plete a “pitch” before the game caught up with my gestures.

The bowl­ing is rea­son­ably real­is­tic, and gives you the abil­ity to aim your shot fairly well; the golf — while it picks your clubs for you auto­mat­i­cally — has some nice ball-​​in-​​flight scenes and a rea­son­ably pretty course; ten­nis is … well, ten­nis; and while I haven’t tried to do it yet I won­der if base­ball will let you bunt.

All the games respond to dif­fer­ent speeds of use in the con­troller, which really does rec­og­nize three-​​dimensional ges­tures includ­ing twist­ing (think of turn­ing the remote in your hand like a screw­driver). The sys­tem comes with one remote (it can take up to four), can also play GameCube games, and is inter­net aware. I’ve already down­loaded two free Nintendo “channnels” — Everybody Votes, an infor­mal and more or less inane open-​​poll type setup; and a pretty capa­ble web browser custom-​​built for the pur­pose by Opera.

I haven’t yet tried inte­grat­ing my DS Lite with the Wii, though sup­pos­edly I can, and I didn’t men­tion the fifth game on the CD yet because it involves use of the aux­il­iary con­troller, the “nunchuk” — and because I ended up enjoy­ing it a lot, which sur­prised me.

You use the nunchuk in your non-​​dominant hand, hold­ing it and the main Wii con­troller and using both arms to play the game. Upper-​​body motions are responded to and you can actu­ally break a sweat play­ing, which I did before get­ting a KO on my oppo­nent in the third round.

Yeah, box­ing. Not a “sport” of which I approve in the slight­est, and yet this turned out to be — for me any­way — the most fun of the five games on the CD included with the Wii. It reminded me, just a lit­tle, of the spar­ring I used to do with oppo­nents in mar­tial arts, with the sin­gu­lar advan­tage that no one actu­ally gets hit.

Overall the sys­tem inter­face is sim­ple and quite com­pre­hen­si­ble. Throughout my expe­ri­ence work­ing with the con­sole and play­ing the pack­aged games I was reminded of noth­ing more than a Mac; everything’s pretty well-​​designed, everything’s pretty intu­itive, and it’s easy to just sit right down and get to work** with­out hav­ing to spend a lot of time learn­ing con­trols or com­mands. The Wii does what it needs to do and ignores pretty much every­thing else. It doesn’t have a hard drive and it doesn’t play DVDs or music CDs, though it can go online and col­lect news and weather for you, right out of the box, using a free ser­vice pro­vided by Nintendo.

The $250 price tag might feel a lit­tle steep to a par­ent who’s tired of the sprogs bleat­ing for Yet Another Electronic Toy, but I have a feel­ing the dol­lars might be well spent in this case. The Wii is dynamic, intu­itive and — as the title sta­ble expands to include new games designed specif­i­cally for its motion-​​sensitive con­troller sys­tem — I can see it con­tin­u­ing to do well.

And I wouldn’t be sur­prised to learn that, in six months or a year or so, there will be adapters avail­able for Xbox and PS that let you do some­thing sim­i­lar to what you can now with a Wii. 3D-​​aware gestural-​​responsive game con­trollers are here to stay, as the con­tin­u­ing sales stats for the Wii demon­strate amply. Try it your­self and see if you agree.

Just don’t be too impa­tient. That six-​​month wait was annoy­ing, but the pay­off really was worth it, to me at least.


* I waited a cou­ple years after buy­ing my GBA SP before get­ting the DS Lite. By then I’d real­ized Nintendo was likely to come up with some­thing that would supercede the orig­i­nal DS, and I was right. I love my big pink thing.

** “Work” in this case being, of course, play.


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