My Wii and Mii

I found myself awake on Sunday morning at 6am. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I did what everyone else is doing these days. I went to the Target to see if there was a line of people waiting to get a Wii. It was cold on Sunday, so there were only about 10 people there. I waited about ten minutes, got a ticket and then 45 minutes later walked into the store and picked up the machine. Since I got there before the store opened, this breaks the letter of my usual rule, which is to never buy anything during a fake shortage. But, since the Target did not sell out before I left, I think I maintained the spirit of the rule.

So here is a first impression: the machine is not quite magical, and Madden sucks. I might get rid of it.

OK I lied. I probably won’t get rid of it. I already bought some Wii points after all. However, it is true that the machine is not quite magical and Madden does suck.

Pete has alluded to the fact that the Wiimote seems both more precise and less precise. I think I can be more specific. The Wiimote is fantastic at gesture recognition, but it is a craptastic pointing device. I will use an old-skool analogy here. Back in the day, there were games that used the old Apple II paddles for control. These games worked in one of two modes. Some games would position the square that represented you on the screen by reading the absolute value out of the paddle. Others would read deltas from the paddle and move you to the right place based on the deltas. Pointing at things with the Wii feels like trying to play the first sort of game. This is ironic since it’s almost surely the case that the machine is using a combination of triangulation and interpolation to run the pointer.

All I know is, it’s impossible to hit small targets or move the pointer a small distance without it jumping around and missing. The UI of the machine seems geared for this, since the buttons are all very large.

Which brings me to Madden.

I like to play Madden as more of a tactical strategy game than an arcade football game. Sadly, some interface choices on the part of EA make the Wii version of the game nearly impossible to play this way. In order to beat up on the computer team effectively, you need to be able audible out of the play you picked and into something that will work better against the opponent’s defensive alignment. To do this on a PS2 you do this:

1. Hit square, hit one other face button to pick a play you previously stored as audible.

2. If you audible to a pass play, you can further change the routes of your receivers by hitting the Triangle button and a couple of other face buttons.

The result it that you can completely change up what you do in about 2.4 seconds.

Here is how you do it on the Wii.

1. To audible you point the Wiimote at the screen. Then you wave it around to figure out where the cursor is. Then you slllooooowly push it around to try and get the little orange dot under the QB, who normally already has an orange circle under him. You can’t hit the O-Line which is 2mm in front of the QB, because then something else happens. You can’t hit the RB 2mm behind the QB because then something else happens. Then you hold down the A button, then cancel because you missed. Then you try again. And hit cancel because you missed. Then finally you get the menu .5 seconds before you get a penalty for delay of game.

2. Changing receiver routes is almost as hard, but not quite. First you have to bring up the play-art screen. Then make the receiver you want to change the primary receiver. Then you can audible his route. Then maybe you need to pick some other receiver as the primary.

The result is that it’s nearly impossible to set things up at the line before the play clock runs out. Not surprisingly, I find this frustrating. The game’s play calling screen also requires that you use the pointer to pick formations and plays. This is also remarkably error prone and annoying. In general, it seems like EA decided to try and use the Wiimote as a surrogate for a mouse, and this fails spectacularly. Thus, my dreams of a Madden that has the gameplay of the PS2 version but with slightly better graphics are dashed again. So far every single version for one of the new consoles is crippled and awful in some way.

Meanwhile, most of the gesture controls are more effective. Passing, stiff arms, and so on are all not that hard to pull off. I can’t figure out kicking, but I can never figure out kicking.

The gesture controls also make Wii Sports about 50 times more fun than Madden. No pointing at tiny targets that you just can’t hit. Wii Sports is pure swinging flailing dancing fun. I’m sure that some will claim that’s it’s just a tech demo lacking in “depth”. These people should be ignored.

Finally, I couldn’t walk out of the store without Zelda. I ran Link around the opening village a bit. I only have two things to say before playing this game more:

1. People complaining about the graphics are morons.

2. The controls are kind of sloppy and hard to get used to, but then that’s exactly how they were on the Gamecube too, so no real complaints.

The Wiimote targeting in Zelda is a bit better than Madden. There is a setup screen that lets you calibrate the sensors to be a little less spastic. But even with all that, targeting the slingshot without auto-aim is still slow, no faster than the old analog stick. Meanwhile, the gesture mechanics all work pretty well. It’s too bad every swing gets you the same kind of swing though. You swing up, Link swings sideways. Boo.

While Madden is something of a bust, Zelda and Wii Sports and the virtual console are more than enough to justify the hour or so that I waited to get the box. Overall one has to marvel at how shrewd a tactical move the Wii has proven to be. Rather than pile features that nobody wants into a huge and expensive behemoth, Nintendo has delivered a nice little white box with a few new twists that most everyone will enjoy. And, they can make money on every box they sell for around half the price of the competition. Here’s hoping that there are a few good games next Christmas so they can keep up the momentum.