"It's just a tech demo."You may have seen those words written in various places, often followed by a tirade of abuse from Nintendo fans the world over. Until recently their faith in Wii was just that, faith. They believed because they had to, because they'd seen Nintendo executives play tennis on stage and it looked a helluva lot of fun. Nintendo repeated the trick at their European launch event, with Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman taking the stage to promote Wii Sports and the Wii experience. Again, it looked fun; it looked like something you'd want to play and this charm is Wii's not so secret weapon. When you watch people play on Wii, especially when playing Wii Sports, it looks like something you want to try, to see what it's really like. Of all the early Wii titles, Wii Sports sells this idea best and it was an enlightened decision from Nintendo to pack it in with every console sold in Europe and North America.
It seems suitable that this review begins with tennis, the original Wii Sports game that garnered all that intrigue at E3 earlier this year. The simple swing to hit the ball mechanic is by far the easiest to learn among all the Wii Sports games, and the automatic movement of the players allows you to concentrate on timing your shots. It already seems like an anachronism where Wii is concerned but tennis is simple and it's fun, which is all Wii Sports wants and needs to be. There's a surprising level of subtlety to the control too, with the ability to add topspin, slice and loft to your shots, adding further to rallies that can become very frenetic, especially when played with three friends. In short, tennis is exactly how you imagined it and is as fun as it looked when we saw it for the first time. It isn't the deepest of the Wii Sports games - though that isn't to say it's shallow - but it's the game that most people will immediately warm to.
Slightly less straightforward is baseball, though not necessarily because it's any worse than the other Wii Sports games. Just like cricket, baseball is something of an acquired taste and the great majority on this side of the Atlantic will find themselves scratching their heads in puzzlement - or possibly boredom. Rather like tennis, baseball only offers the fundamental pitching and hitting, with fielding dealt with automatically. These work just like you'd imagine: swing the remote at the right time to hit the ball and mimic a throwing action to pitch the ball. You also have the option of different types of pitches, with a splitter, curveball, screwball and fast ball all available by pressing certain buttons. To most laymen these terms mean nothing, but this variety does add a suitable level of depth to the game. As with tennis, baseball is intuitive and fun if you put a little time into mastering the timing of hitting the ball correctly.
Bowling is another of those sports that, even if you've never played it, you'll have a vague to good idea of how it's played. Once again, Bowling in Wii Sports is easy to master but also rather more nuanced than you might first imagine. The basic movement is just as you'd expect, with you swinging through whilst holding down the A-button and letting go of it to release the ball. You can adjust the approach - from the left, right or middle - and aim of your bowl and apply spin to the ball by twisting the remote as you follow through. At first this can be awkward, especially if you don't realise you can apply spin, but you'll quickly get the hang of the controls and realise you can't just swing your arm lazily and hope to get a strike. There's skill involved, and it's just enough to make it interesting without being too hard.
Of all the sports, golf has by far the most depth and content. Again the control works as you'd expect: just swing the remote to hit the ball. This, however, is only the very basic form and there are plenty of variables to consider. When playing you have a power bar with small dots on it, a map that shows the distance to the pin and corresponding dots showing how hard you have to hit the ball to reach your target. This visual guide is really quite handy as it allows you to take practice shots to work out how hard to swing, and if you swing too hard your shot will hook or slice away. Naturally, you can adjust your aim and change your club, and the wind has a serious effect on your shot selection. In other words, it's just like real golf, but easier and with less walking. The nine holes, which are split evenly into beginner, intermediate and expert holes, might not seem much, but they provide a surprising amount of variety.
Boxing, the final sport in the Wii Sports collection, features the loosest controls of the bunch. Using both the Remote and Nunchuck attachment, you hold them in front of you in a guard position and you can sway left and right to evade your opponent's approaches. The range of punches is quite impressive and being able to jab, upper-cut and hook from either side is great fun. However, pulling off these moves can be awkward and at times your movements aren't picked up when you'd like. That said, despite being slightly - only slightly - clunkier than the other Wii Sports games, it's just as much fun as the likes of bowling and tennis, and a good bout with a friend is a great workout too.
Undoubtedly, Wii Sports did start out as "just a tech demo" but the game that'll arrive with your Wii has come a long way since then. It's come far enough, in fact, that were Nintendo to sell this separately for say £20, it would be something akin to a must buy. It may not win any awards for the best looking or sounding game but it's great pure fun, and is instantly accessible to pretty much anyone. We all know roughly how to swing a tennis racket, or bowl a bowling ball - even if we haven't done either before - and the Wii Remote does a great job of recreating the sensations of the real thing by being neither too accurate nor too forgiving, but just right.