Word of mouth is a powerful tool and one that Nintendo is intent on leveraging to its full potential in the coming months, culminating with the launch of its next generation console - the Wii. Not content with 3rd place in the last round of the console wars, Japan's finest are working hard to build on the success of its DS launch last year, which has performed exceedingly well despite some stiff competition from Sony's PSP.
The dual screened machine dubbed 'ugly' by critics is currently outselling the PSP worldwide, thanks mainly to quality titles that attempt to change the way games are played; titles that break from the norm and open up an entirely new market and, as a result, an entirely new audience. The Wii is no stranger to this approach, with its single-handed controller, less than next-gen graphics, and innovations that we never expected. Pro-G had the chance to get some hands-on time with a few of the more unique titles in development, and it was no hardship to step up for the job.
As I tentatively walked in to the demo room, the style and focus of the Wii was incredibly apparent. Wii is a consumer electronics device, not a console; it's going to be marketed at everyone and is styled appropriately. Those of you who picked up on the shift to Lifestyle marketing for the Xbox 360 launch will be at home with Nintendo's offering. From the Logo, the case design and even the colour scheme, this isn't a kid's toy. Sure, it can play games designed for the younger element of society, but with its simple and elegant design, appealing to the masses is something Nintendo is very focussed on; after all, if everyone who owns a PS3 or 360 bought the Wii as a second console, Nintendo would end up in first place.
This is only half the market Nintendo are aiming for, though, and nowhere is this more evident than in the software and, more so, how it uses the hardware to make gaming more sociable than ever before. The way in which this is achieved, isn't through a hefty online system, nor by gimmicks, but by way of simple fun. The only way to describe it would be the first time you play Mario Party, or Mario Kart. It's the way it's designed to make things enjoyable, such as interacting with friends and letting your inhibitions go. Personally, I'm not really a social gamer with other people around, because I'm competitive to the extent that I annoy the other players, but with the Wii, I'm normal. I'm enjoying myself. This begs the question: do you need a Killer App when the hardware does half the job for you?
Wii Sports Tennis
Standing a few feet away from the screen, adopting a 'tennis ready' pose, the first thing evident about one of the confirmed launch titles is the amount of energy you're going to use compared to normal gaming. Swishing your remote from left to right, up and over, gives you a sense of freedom, allowing you to play the game at your own pace, with sweeping forehands or with gentle backhand gestures. The choice in playing style is something that most gamers won't have witnessed, and more importantly, it's the most accessible way of playing games to date.
Twisting the remote whilst playing shots can add spin, making the game as involving or as simple as the player would like, with the AI adjusting accordingly. Set in the style of Mario tennis, with the same cartoon-esque graphics, Tennis will be a sure-fire hit with Nintendo fans, and easy on the eyes for most.
One concern at this stage would be the lack of information on the game modes. As with most of the hands-on session, we only got the cut down, one-game E3 demo with slightly updated graphics (nicer grass in particular), but the fun to be had was a sure sign of the usual Nintendo magic we're accustomed to. However, we'll have to wait until the preview stage sometime in September before we can get wrapped up in the whole game - and the other games that make up the Wii Sports package.
I don't know how they did it, but Nintendo have done something amazing with Wii Music. I only had a play with the orchestra, but it's fantastic. Due to the early nature of the build, there were only two songs to play with, but my word it's fun. Once you're past the 'Do I look stupid doing this?' stage, you really get into the action. Keeping time with the music can sometimes be hard, but familiarity with the scores of various Nintendo franchises, such as Zelda and Mario, will make things easier. You also have complete control over the tempo of the music with the remote, moving up and down in time with the music, making the game easier than it initially seems.
With ratings at the end of each piece detailing how close to the original score you've conducted, and a serious sense of fun, the only thing missing from this part of the title is the ability to control specific sections of the orchestra. Imagine asking only the string section to play the lead-in for the Zelda theme tune, then backing that up with a strong brass section and percussion to match. The limits are endless and the fun levels distinctly high.
Not on show this time was the much vaunted Drumming mode which allows you to play the drums with two remotes, hitting different drums by hitting invisible snares and hi hats. I was desperate to get my hands on this feature, but alas, it seems the hands-on event came too early. Maybe next time I'll get the chance to lay down a wicked four on the floor, and the orchestra can pitch in for a Super Mario Remix? Still, here's hoping this makes it past the concept stage and into a fully fledged title.
Critics may ask how the Wii can be called next-gen without fancy particle effects, self shadowing or per pixel motion blur, but next-gen isn't all about graphics. The essence of the Wii is that anyone can pick up a controller and have fun. Its ease of use, backed up by next generation software will be the drivers for the machine. A lack of top quality titles won't kill off the Wii, nor will identical conversions of PS3 or Xbox 360 titles be missed. Custom written software such as the likes on offer from Nintendo, and currently being worked on titles such as Red Steel, Rayman and Call of Duty, are games to set alight the imagination of gamers across the world. Driven by the imagination of Nintendo's hardware development team, alongside the ideas created by third-party developers, the Wii has every chance of being a success.
The scale of that success won't depend on any other machine but the Wii itself and we intend to get one as soon as humanly possible. It's that good a machine that we've even come up with our own ideas for future Wii titles, but that's another feature entirely.