Saturday, November 17, 2007

Wii Rules!


Not every parent whose child wants a Nintendo Wii this holiday season will be able to get their hands on one. Instead of Tickle Me Elmo, this year parents will stalk the aisles of retailers and surf the Web in hot pursuit of the tiny, white "waggle box." The $250 kid-friendly console has already been on the market for a year, and more than 13 million are already in the hands of gamers.

"Nintendo (other-otc: NTDOY - news - people ) is making as many Wiis as it can," says IGN GamerMetrics analyst Nick Williams. "There's a limited supply, a continuously high demand." Though Microsoft's (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) Xbox 360 sold more units than the Wii in September due to the launch of "Halo 3," analysts predict the Wii will be back on top in October, selling as many as 450,000 units.

The Wii has made headlines for entertaining the elderly at retirement homes and putting motion-based controllers in the hands of many non-gamer moms. But the system has also delighted very young children because of its easy-to-grasp style of play and lack of button manipulations. Many parents, understandably cautious about putting 6-, 4- or even 2-year-olds in front of a videogame console, seem to have warily endorsed the Wii because of its anti-couch potato imperative and shallow learning curve.


In Pictures: Great Games For The Wii

1. Wii Sports

Why parents like it: It gets the kids off the couch and swinging for the fences, together. This is the game that created the initial Wii buzz. And if it has managed to please even octogenarians in retirement, chances are that youthful 30- and 40-something parents will enjoy a few rounds of virtual tennis, golf, baseball and boxing, too. As with all Wii games, remind kids to wear the Wiimote wrist-strap so they don't put a crack in that new flat-screen TV.

Why kids want it: Wii Sports comes bundled with every new Wii system, so if your kid has the console, he has this game, too. If he wants a Wii, it's mostly so he can play this active game in the living room with his siblings and friends.

2. Wii Play

Why parents like it: It's a good deal. For the price of a game, you also get a second Wiimote controller (the Wii comes with only one). This bunch of mini-games--including target-shooting, fishing, table-tennis and an I Spy-type game for spotting your own avatar, is ideal for the very youngest end of the Wii's fan base.

Why kids want it: The second controller--it lets two players engage in all games, not just this one. Older siblings are willing to play together with younger ones on these simple-to-learn gestural activities.

3. Super Mario Galaxy

Why parents like it: This first-ever 3D, outer space Mario game is tough to maneuver for new gamers. But the appeal of the classic plumber franchise is great, and kids will clamor for it anyway, perhaps hoping that an older family member (Dad? Mom?) will show them the ropes, such as how to jump across that widening interplanetary chasm without plummeting. And that electronic theme music? Pure nostalgia for parents.

Why kids want it: What kid doesn't root for Mario? The game has the highest rating for Wii--a 97--in reviews round-up site It is bright, polished and provides hours upon hours of entertainment.

4. Carnival Games

Why parents like it: Like Wii Sports and Wii Play, "Carnival Games" is a collection of quick, simple-to-learn mini-games that require movement and are devoid of violence. Rounds of miniature golf, test-your-strength hammer slams and milk-can tosses last mere seconds, quieting the usual gamer whine of "Mom, I need to get to a save-game place," right before bedtime.

Why kids want it: Just like a real carnival, players earn tickets redeemable for cheapo prizes. In the game, tickets can be used to buy accessories to dress up players' avatars, like a ninja mask or pirate outfit.

5. Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party

6. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga

Why adults like it: For parents who happen to be fans of the six-film series, a game where everyone from Obi-Wan to Han and Leia are rendered in Lego blocks is pretty funny stuff. Tongue-in-cheek Star Wars humor fills the game, and violence is kept to a minimum. When characters "die," their Lego parts simply break up into bricks and reform. No flesh wounds to worry about.

Why kids want it: Light saber action. Even kids who aren't yet old enough to watch the movies--which can be legitimately scary--know enough to want to wield a Lego-cartoon light saber, and the Wiimote is the perfect proxy.

7. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

Why parents like it: Some won't. The game contains mild sexual imagery, a devil and the occasional bad word in song lyrics. But parents willing to trust their children with a soundtrack that includes "Anarchy in the U.K.," by the Sex Pistols and even play along with them in multiplayer mode will be amazed at the ease and agility with which even 7-year-olds can pluck the plastic guitar's buttons. Parents can play lead guitar while the kid plays bass or rhythm, which usually requires only one note at a time.

Why kids want it: Guitar Hero has been a best-seller on several other videogame consoles, so if a child wants the game for her Wii, she's probably played it at a friend's house on Sony's PlayStation 2. Wailing on Alice Cooper's "School's Out," during winter vacation has an edgy appeal.

8. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games

Why parents like it: The game is mercifully easy to play. Each Olympic event (environments are based on the official venues of the Beijing 2008 games), including the 100-meter dash, archery and even Judo, requires only a very easy-to-grasp skill: shaking the Wiimote really, really fast. Kids will succeed here with little help.

Why kids want it: This is the first game where Mario--the most well-known Nintendo character--and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog team up to play together. Sega doesn't make consoles any more, but Sonic is still a favorite character. Better yet, kids can insert their "Miis" from Wii Sports into this Sega game to swim and run against Sonic and Mario.

9. Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

Why parents like it: "Zack and Wiki" is primarily a puzzle game, requiring logic skills to help a pirate boy uncover 16 missing pieces of a famous pirate's body. But the game isn't creepy. Even still, Capcom seems to hint that parents should play this game alongside kids: It comes with an unusual player mode that lets people interact with the game by pointing at the screen with a controller and hinting at how to solve a problem, without actually spoiling the game for the main player by taking over the action.

Why kids want it: They may not want it yet. That's because they don't know about it. "Zack and Wiki" is unlikely to be on many kids' wish lists because it isn't part of a well-known franchise. Third-party publishers have struggled to get traction for their original games on the Wii, but this one is worth watching. Tell them this will be something that the rest of the neighbors don't have yet.


And although older gamers might find it limiting, the Wii's online functions are currently limited to a Web browser and sharing avatars. Instead of pairing players with random gamers around the world in chat rooms like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Nintendo's system encourages multiplayer action in the living room.

"We hear all the time from parents that they take a look at the Microsoft Xbox 360 controller or the Sony (nyse: SNE - news - people ) PlayStation 3 controller and they get instantly intimidated," says John Davison, co-founder of What They Like, a start-up that in mid November launched a Web site called devoted to helping parents learn about videogame content.

While Microsoft's Xbox 360 team aims to make its machine as family-friendly as possible--on Nov. 8 the company announced a new feature called the "Family Timer" that allows parents to set automatic game-over times before bedtime--Xbox 360 thus far hasn't positioned itself as the child-friendly game platform.

With so many veteran Wii owners and wanna-be Wiisters hinting at which games they'd like to unwrap in December, parents must now take on the daunting task of vetting their kids' wish lists for age-appropriate and appealing titles.

Fortunately, the nature of game development for the Wii platform has evolved some bedtime enforcement techniques of its own. Some of the most in-demand and kid-befitting games are played in bite-size two-minute chunks.

With titles like Nintendo's own "Wii Sports" (which comes with every Wii), Sega's (other-otc: SEGNF - news - people ) "Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games" and Take-Two Interactive's "Carnival Games," kids choose from among several mini-games that don't elicit refrains of, "Mooooom, I need to get to a place where I can save my game before I quit!" With mini-games, mothers can graciously grant the kids one more round of Wii baseball or one last ring toss--and still pack them off to bed on time. These games last literally only a few seconds, or a couple of minutes, at most.

Beyond the quick mini-games, titles like Capcom's "Zack and Wiki," LucasArts' "Lego Star Wars" and Activison's (nasdaq: ATVI - news - people ) "Guitar Hero III" are perfect for playing together with friends, and especially with older relatives. These three games allow adults to take on the role of guide without spoiling puzzle-solving and discovery for kids, and their tongue-in-cheek jokes should keep parents entertained.

Not sure your kid is mature enough to battle it out with Guns 'n Roses' Slash and a rock-and-roll devil in "Guitar Hero III?" Some aren't ready for the content, but don't worry about their ability to get the hang of the game. "Little kids are very good at "Guitar Hero" because they have no nostalgic point of reference about how 'Sweet Child o' Mine' should sound," says Davison. "I've seen 5-year-olds play a perfect game."

Which Wii games should parents avoid? Well, there are obvious no-nos, like Take-Two Interactive's "Manhunt 2," a horror game about a murderer that Target (nyse: TGT - news - people ) won't even stock on its shelves. "Metroid Prime 3" and "Resident Evil 4" also glorify shooting things up. Other innocuous titles, like the ever-popular "Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess," and "Super Paper Mario," are simply too difficult for most new gamers.

Some of the most anticipated new Wii games just won't be out in time for this year's holidays. "Wii Fit," "Super Smash Bros. Brawl," and "Mario Kart" are all expected in early 2008. That will, of course, give kids something to covet for upcoming birthdays.

The best way to find out which games are most appropriate and most enjoyable for your child is, of course, to play along. But many parents don't. A survey conducted in October by AOL Games and the Associated Press found that 43% of parents say they never play games with their kids. About 30% said they've joined in, but never for more than an hour.

Meanwhile, another survey by the NPD Group found that between the ages of 6 and 8, kids form videogame-playing habits that will determine how "serious" they'll be about gaming as big kids. "This appears to be a critical age at which to capture the future gamers of the world," says NPD analyst Anita Frazier.

Parents of young children can either withhold game machines, play along with a watchful eye, or look the other way. Either way, the Wii will be impossible to ignore.

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