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A Look at Nintendo’s Wii

Nintendo Wii

On Nov. 19, 2006, Nintendo released the Wii, its fifth home console. The latest Nintendo console managed to garnish quite a bit of fanfare since its release with demand overstepping supply. And despite its graphical inferiority in comparison to its current-gen competitors, the console managed to become the must-have item of the 2006 Holiday season. But does the console really stand out? Is the Wii truly a revolutionary gaming concept?

The Wii’s uniqueness lies in its controller, the Wii Remote (also known as the Wiimote). The Bluetooth controller, which resembles a standard television remote, acts like a pointing device that works in tandem with the Wii’s sensor bar (positioned either over or below your TV set). Your hand movements are then replicated on-screen. The system works surprisingly well. The movements are smooth and precise. The Wiimote and its motion detection is more than just a gimmick, it’s a unique feature that will change the way we play and interact with our video games.

The overall Wii gameplay experience is pretty involving. The new control scheme opens up a lot of possibilities where users can literally be immersed in these vast gaming environments. “Wii Sports” and “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” are prime examples of Wii titles that manage to captivate gamers’ attention and make them believe that they’re part of a virtual world.

The Wii also incorporates an innovative menu system that’s divided up in specific channels. The menu is populated by 12 squares, with each of them having the potential of hosting some form of media or channel. Currently, the Wii Menu features six default channels; the Disc Channel, the Mii Channel, the Forecast Channel, the Wii Shop Channel, the Photo Channel and the News Channel. A seventh channel can be added by downloading the free Opera Internet browser (free download only available for a limited time). Each title purchased for the Virtual Console (more on that later) takes up occupancy in an unused space on the menu. Thankfully, the Wii Menu uses a page system that leaves plenty of room for future expansion.

The Nintendo Wii has online functionality, but not in the traditional gaming sense… at least for now. Thanks to the inclusion of 802.11b/g, Wii owners are Wi-Fi ready from the get go. And thankfully, Nintendo offers a service called WiiConnect24 in which users can take advantage of the unit’s Wi-Fi capabilities.

Since there are presently no online multiplayer games available for the Wii, the free WiiConnect24 service compensates by offering two specific online channels, the Forecast Channel and the Internet Channel (which is currently in beta form). A third online-enabled channel, the News Channel, should be opening up shortly (Jan. 27) as it is prominently displayed on the Wii Menu.

The WiiConnect24 service is expected to evolve into a form of social networking where gamers will be able to interact with each other’s game spaces at all times, even when a user’s console is on standby mode. The service will also be used as a means to distribute media such as demos and additional game content. With the eventual addition of multiplayer gaming, the WiiConnect24 service looks extremely promising and will perhaps one day rival Microsoft’s excellent Xbox Live online component.

Gamers can also experience over 25 years of Nintendo gaming through the Wii’s Virtual Console. The Virtual Console offers NES, SNES and N64 games along with SEGA Genesis and TurboGrafx-16. The games are acquired by using Wii Points, which can be purchased on the Wii Shop Channel (100 points equals $1USD). The current prices are; 500 points for 8-bit games (NES), 800 points for 16-bit games (SNES, Genesis and TurboGrafx-16) and 1000 points for 64-bit games (N64). It’s currently unknown whether or not these will be the standard prices for all titles.

Virtual Console games require the use of either a Virtual Console controller or a Nintendo GameCube controller (each sold separately). The 8-bit classics can be played by holding the Wiimote horizontally. The Virtual Console controller mimics the look and feel of the SNES controller thus making it the preferred choice for 16-bit gaming. However, the GameCube controller is better suited for N64 titles thanks to the positioning of the analog thumb-stick. All Virtual Console titles are playable with its designated controller, while most titles are playable using the GameCube controller.

The Nintendo Wii is 100% backwards compatible with GameCube titles as it supports the unit’s 8-cm discs. The console features four GameCube controller ports and two memory card slots.

On the down side, the Wii does not include high-definition (HD) technology. For some reason, Nintendo decided to skip HD for this generation (they’re actually on record saying that it will be included in their next console). The Japanese gaming giant does sell component cables that let gamers experience their Wii console in a non-interlaced 480p resolution, but the only way you can secure these official cables is to purchase them online directly from Nintendo. For many gamers these days, standard definition is not an option. Luckily, Wii owners can get their hands on third-party component cables, but the quality of these said cables can sometimes be less than desirable.

The Wii is enjoying a successful launch with the console selling out everywhere. Early sales estimates indicate that Nintendo’s latest hardware centerpiece has sold over 1.2 million consoles in North America and sitting comfortably in second place behind the Xbox 360 (which, in the same territory, has 4.5 million consoles sold). It will be interesting to see what kind of effect the limited supply will have on the demand in the long run. The big question is whether or not gamers will wait patiently for an eventual Wii purchase.

As proven in the previous gaming generation, there is room in the industry for three consoles. But will third place be good enough for Microsoft, Nintendo or Sony? How dedicated are these media giants to the industry? Time will tell, but for now it seems like Nintendo is poised to make their return to the top!

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