Wednesday, January 07, 2009

So you scored a Wii! Now what?

Congratulations on your new Wii! This is the third straight holiday season that the Wii has been a hot commodity. You're a lucky guy/gal/family.

Three years ago, Nintendo's future looked shaky. Their Gamecube was an also-ran next to sexier gaming platforms like the Playstation and Xbox. Nintendo was banking on being unchallenged in the handheld market, but Sony was gunning for them with the sleek new PSP. With so much of the game development for Nintendo's hardware being internal first-party stuff, it looked like the company was going the way of the Sega. Which was not a good thing.

Then the Wii came along and became a household word. Believe it or not, before the name had been rammed into our head by hearing it several hundred times, usually on mainstream media broadcasts, many of us thought the name was silly . "Wii?" we laughed, "Are they kidding? No one's going to take that seriously? Ha ha ha. So stupid. Wii?"

Those were the days. Who's laughing now? Hopefully you, jumping around your living room and looking silly playing Wii Sports. But before you go any further, there are some things you should know.

What to avoid?
There's a lot of trash on the Wii. A lot. Several metric tons of it. Basically, this is the absolute worst system for impulse buying. The gold Official Nintendo Seal on the back of every game was originally created to distinguish the good stuff from the junk. Now it's just a rubber stamp. The irony is that you're statistically more likely to end up with a stinker if you grabbed a random game with the Official Nintendo Seal on it. Pound for pound, your new Wii is probably the system with the greatest proportion of bad games on it.
(Even though I just used the word "statistically", I haven't gathered any data for this. I base this purely on my gut feel and the fact that I had to play all the way through Red Steel for a review.)

So four points to keep in mind:
1) There is no multiplatform game worth getting for the Wii instead of one of the other systems. None. Zilch. Zip. Nada. If you can, always opt for the PS3 or 360 before the Wii. Except maybe for Bully (see below).
2) For Pete's sake, don't fall for Wii Fit. It's terrible. Just go outside and jog or something.
3) If you don't know this already, avoid direct movie tie-ins like the plague. They are all bad.
4) Shooters don't work very well on the Wii. There are a few designed specifically for the Wii, but this simply isn't the console system for that kind of game.

What to get
Here's where it gets tricky. I'm going to divide everyone into two groups. Raise your hand if you know who this is:
Okay, everyone who raised your hand, you're in group B. Everyone who didn't raise your hand, you're in group A. Group A, keep reading. Group B, skip down to "But I'm already a gamer". By the way, Group A, that was Shigeru Miyamoto, the guy who pretty much invented your Wii. He's a pretty cool dude. Also, don't listen to the disparaging remarks those guys in Group B might make, particularly about your new Wii. A lot of them say mean things out of a sense of insecurity. Don't mind them.

Okay, two points really quickly:
1) Keep in mind the Wii isn't just a Wii. The entire catalog of Gamecube games is backwards compatible, meaning you have a library of hundreds of inexpensive games, many of which hold up very well. You can find cheap Gamecube games on eBay or at garage sales. Don't feel like you always have to shell out money for new releases.
2) Get Excite Truck.

Beyond that, it all depends on what you like. Here are five sure-fire recommendations, regardless of age, ethnic group, religion, nerdiness, and manual dexterity.

1) For a platformer, you can't beat Super Mario Galaxy for easy, laid-back, varied, colorful fun. It's one of those great irresistible Nintendo games. If you're looking for something that's not so kiddie-oriented, get over it. If you're still looking for something that's no so kiddie-oriented even after I've chided you, then download Lost Winds from the WiiWare section. It's short, sublime, and as beautiful a game as you can play on the Wii.

2) For a puzzle game, Boom Blox is pretty much the niftiest thing to take advantage of the Wii's controller. It's a bunch of physics-based (don't be scared of that word, which just means things fall over different ways every time) minigames with blocks, but there are also cute little animals to give it some personality and a level builder for anyone who might be inclined to actually create stuff. This is as nearly universal a videogame as has ever been made.

3) For maximum silliness, get WarioWare: Smooth Moves. Make sure you check that all those words are on the box you're getting, because otherwise you might end up with the wrong thing. Be sure to play with a friend, because if there's one thing sillier than looking silly, it's looking silly when there's no one there to see.

4) For an action game, get Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. It's simple to play and everyone loves (non-prequel) Star Wars. But here's a situation where the Gamecube backwards compatibility is a great help. For a slightly less goofy take on an action game that also happens to be Star Wars, the second game in the Rogue Squadron series is still great. Look for a copy of Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II. Again, make sure you get all those words right. You don't want to end up with the terrible third game in the series, which has soul-killing jumping puzzles on Dagobah.

5a) For an open-world-style Grand Theft Auto game, you'd normally be out of luck because the Wii can't do the fancy next-gen stuff generally required for the latest open-world games. But you're actually in luck, because there's Bully (the Wii version of Bully is a rare instance where the Wii version is preferable to the supposedly fancier Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions). Also, whereas the previous five recommendations (don't forget about Excite Truck!) are entirely kid-safe and family friendly, Bully might be about kids, but it's definitely not for kids.

5b) If you've got kids, for your open world game, you should probably get Animal Crossing for your open-world needs. It's not much of a game, but it's a great way to share a virtual space among members of your family. It's peppered with activities and the most violent thing you can do is chop down a tree. However, don't feel compelled to get Animal Crossing: City Folk, which is the recently released Wii version that adds almost nothing new. Instead, if you can find a cheaper copy of the original Animal Crossing for the Gamecube, you'll be good to go.

A lot of folks might try to push you into getting a Mario themed game, probably Super Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Those are both pretty good, but they're both for specific tastes. You can get around to that stuff later.

Okay, now I'm going to let those other guys who knew about Miyamoto back in. Some of the following stuff won't necessarily apply to you, but feel free to stick around in case you're interested in taking your Wii ownership to the next level. Also, don't tell those guys what I told you, especially the stuff about Super Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. They wouldn't understand.

But I'm already a gamer!
Okay, first of all, don't panic. Rather than scramble around looking for the gift receipt, let me run a few titles by you that might make your Wii worth keeping, and that will even give your next-gen systems a run for their money.

1) Beach Spikers, for the Gamecube, is one of the best party games I've ever played. It's a volleyball game that has all the accessibility and all the challenge of the original Virtua Tennis, but with some really sweet volleyball twists. Anyone can play competitively after a few tries, and you can even manage some teamwork and devious shots with only a modicum of practice. It's not even terribly salacious; I don't think there's anything bigger than a B-cup in this game. Unfortunately, you'll need four Gamecube controllers. But this is easily a good enough reason to keep Gamecube controllers in the house.

2) Zack and Wiki is the Wii equivalent of those old Sierra adventure games. It's slightly kiddie, but only in look. The puzzles are insidious and gratifying. They're even better when you try to solve them with a friend. This is absolutely a game worthy of an old school PC adventure gamer. It's a wonderful brain tickler that will appeal to fans of Braid, King's Quest, Roberta Williams, Japanese stuff, and episodic games.

3) Pikmin 2 is every bit as good as that nifty Overlord game, which was similarly puzzle based and involved lots of followers swarming around at your feet. There's a Wii-specific Pikmin coming out later this year, but why wait when you can get a copy of this Gamecube game for peanuts? This is also a great variation on console-based real time strategy games, with its own style of resource management and combat.

4) De Blob might seem like just a weird platformer, but it's slightly more than just a platformer. It's got a lot in common with Jet Set Radio and Katamari Damacy. Don't pass this one up if you're interested in some cool level navigation, a spirited combination of music and visuals, and lots of exploration and replayability.

5) Personally, I think light gun games are a little goofy, mainly because I can instead play first person shooters with a mouse and keyboard. But if you want something like a shooter for your Wii, you're probably better off trying Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. It works very well with a straight-up Wiimote and even has a mild RPG system to encourage you to play. Plus it's great in co-op.

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