With the last day of E3 looming already, despite reading our excellent coverage of the rest of the show, and getting to hear what Miyamoto and Sakurai think of the new Nintendo Wii (they think it's brilliant, shockingly) you're probably wondering where on earth our hands-on coverage of the Nintendo Wii first-party titles has been.
Now, do you know when you read journalists go into a several paragraph long rant about how hard E3 is, how tiring it is, how rankly unenjoyable the whole shebang is for them, and you think to yourself, smugly, "What an idiot. He's getting to play the best new games months before anyone else! What is he complaining about?"
Oh yes, I felt the exact same way that you did. Then I spent the last two days entirely in the walled off Wii section, in the most gigantic, unbearably packed room I've ever been in, lining up for hours at a time, and have ended up with a total play time of about 12 minutes of everything there.
Okay, so, I admit, that's a bit of an exaggeration. But I have spent the last two days there, thanks to the divine hand of our lovely editor Kristan (and also because our dearest Tom took one look at the lines and thought 'no way') to give you the best coverage I possibly can. So let's start here.
I know it's not what they intended at all, but hearing the title 'Wii Sports' and seeing the games on offer, which feature wee men, quite similar to those old Fisher Price figures that existed long before that Rescue Heroes malarkey, the name of the console started to make sense. Um, to a Scottish person. But that's beside the point. I've grown rather fond of the name. Or at least used to it. The Wii Sports range, which may or may not come in one package, no one's quite 100 per cent sure yet. It all depends on whether or not these short demos are really all the individual games are, or if they're going to be much deeper in a final form.
The Wii Sports games, I'd like to let you know, probably took the longest for me to get a good feel for, despite their easy pick up and play appeal, because each game was on a separate demo unit, each with a queue that would probably double the amount of people who live in any random small country you can think of. Let's say... Fiji. Which is a lot nicer than where I wished most of them would go. But for some reason, each time I got to the front of the queue, as full of rage and bile that I was, once I got that surprisingly small, can't-quite-tell-if-it's-comfortable-yet controller in my hand, it was honestly like I was a kid again.
Wii Sports: Airplane
Let's take Wii Sports: Airplane as an example. After watching a remarkable number of people clumsily slap their plane into walls and fly it about like it was a brick, I thought to myself, well, the trailer I watched for it during the Nintendo press conference had a kid holding the controller like it was a plane! Let's give that a shot!
And, it is, just like Reggie would scream in your face, exactly like playing with a toy airplane. It's effortless. You just wave the controller, not worrying about where it is compared to the screen or anything (well, as long as you're far enough away from the sensor, which is about three or four feet) and enjoy what is the most pleasant flying experience since Pilotwings 64.
Which this isn't a sequel to, obviously. It's not a Pilotwings, they say, despite featuring a lovely, relaxing island which features small towns to buzz over, and tunnels to barnstorm. And, oh, you know, rings to fly through to get points.
It's not entirely clear how this would fit into the Wii Sports range (or pack) or, despite what they say, if it is even intended to. But as a tech demo for that Pilotwings game they're going to unveil at TGS or something, it's brilliant and I'm gasping for more.
Oh, one word of warning to them, I suppose. After a while your arm does get pretty tired. But then again, this is the case with everything Wii. You have to be prepared for a bit of a work out no matter what title you're picking up to play, and judging by the number of hideous cheese smelling fatties I was surrounded by most of the time it's hopefully going to be popular enough that within a few E3's they'll all either be 300 pounds lighter or have died of a coronary.
This has been given most of the coverage of the Wii games, and that's possibly because the global appeal of Tennis means it's instantly recognizable to anyone, and, you know, you may have heard of that Tennis game... Pong?
This really isn't anything like Pong, though, most notably because you are not given control of the position of your character on the court, removing a great deal of the strategy of the game. Though you may wish that you could rush the net, you are completely incapable to. But, I suppose, in the name of inclusiveness (what about people without arms, Nintendo? EH?) it's kept as simple as possible. We can only hope that they at least take a diplomatic solution like allowing the player to control movement using the Wii's d-pad. Or as I heard one of Nintendo's adorably cluless demonstrators call it, 'the funny plus sign'.
Lack of player location issue aside, there are absolutely no quibbles about the control in this title when it comes to smacking a ball about. The timing seems a little bit earlier than you expect, but when it comes, you absolutely have the option of a softer shot, a hard shot, and, if you are dexterous enough, to add spin to the ball by rotating or twisting the controller in your hand as you play (quite difficult, but isn't that as it should be?) To a beginner, actually, scoring points is remarkably difficult, as you not only need to get your timing down but, essentially, your tennis style. Not being a tennis player (well, I did play Badminton in school I guess, that was fun) I was resoundingly beaten by the CPU, but thanks to my awesome games journo skills I did better than most. I can live with that.
Wii Sports: Golf
I think we saw a brief glimpse of the Korean super hit golf game, PangYa, during the press conference, didn't we? Well, indeed. This isn't a sickeningly cute MMORPG golf game with a revenue stream entirely built from buying digital clothes for your avatar (almost certainly a little girl with gigantic eyes) but we've got no idea what Nintendo could develop this Golf title into, really, so maybe it will be!
How does it play? I'm beginning to realize that for the whole Wii Sports series that these questions are mostly ridiculous, like asking 'hey, does swinging that golf club feel like swinging a golf club?' Because it feels like... Swinging a golf club. But with that helper of a power bar.
You're allowed to take as many practice shots as you like in the demo, and you learn exactly how much force is required to hit certain points on the bar, so though you'll know that if you swing with all your might it'll go as far as it can, but you might not learn for a few shots just how light a tap you require to putt well. I actually thought, if I was really trying to putt a ball 14ft away from me, how would I hit it? And you know? Playing the game exactly like actual golf, with a little help from the power bar, is perfect. One interesting thing about the title is that though it registers your swings power, it doesn't recognize anything else. So, while you may slice the ball at full power, if you haven't selected anything but 'straight ahead' using the d-pad, you'll still get a nice clean shot. I'm pretty sure that's why I got a hole in one on my first try. And yes I am boasting anyway.
Wii Sports: Baseball
Now here's a game I shouldn't really know much about, being a Brit, and all, but I did actually play softball during high school, and, you know, its father rounders during primary, so it's just as intuitive for me to pick up a 'bat' as it were.
But Wii Sports: Baseball has the most intriguing flaw of any of the titles. Swinging the bat is perfect, you can even wave it in the air while you prepare to bat (just like the pros do!), but what you are doing when you play the game is judging the distance from you a 2-dimensional object is. One that is flying straight at you. This terrifically unnatural, so your cues mostly rely on 'how big is it? Big enough?' to judge the point where you should strike. This is why one-eyed people hate sports so much they usually turn become pirates, as the only sport you can successfully play on a boat is shuffleboard, and that's rubbish. The game does seem quite forgiving, however, possibly to it's detriment, allowing me many home runs (the demo really just a batting cage simulator, really) and I didn't actually notice if it gave you the ability to move your character with the d-pad or not. I expect not, however.
The Wii Sports titles are an interesting bunch... Oh wait, one more.
Wii Music: Orchestra
This wasn't actually listed as a sports title, and was given a single, living room styled demo pod that wasn't really obvious. I did spot it, though. And this title is identical in styling to the Sports games, so I'll include it anyway.
Now, I suppose we all saw the press conference opening, right? When Shiggy, the Shigsta, Shub-Shiggurath, or whatever the rest of the people in the Kodak theatre would call him, came out, all dressed like a conductor (orchestra, not bus) and proceeded to very badly conduct the Zelda theme? Gosh, it looked really good, didn't it? He was waving his hands all about; it looked like he was really conducting an orchestra!
Well, no. It was really all for show, because with Wii Music: Orchestra, all you do is wave your hands in time. That's it. UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN. But shh, that's a super secret cheat code.
Out of all the games I played on the Wii, this is the only one to have made me feel truly mortified to be standing in front of a group of people waving my hands about like David James being Tazared. My hand movements just didn't mean anything.
This may surprise you, but on the second day I was actually in the hall with a real conductor (again, not bus) and was chatting to him about it. A conductor, you see, conducts by specifically hitting points in space with his little wandy thing (that's the technical term for it) in time with the music. So he hits off to the left to get the horns, or something. He doesn't just wave his hands in time with the music and dribble slightly.
Playing Wii Music: Orchestra, I felt genuinely sad for Shigeru Miyamoto. He gets dragged out each E3 like a caricature to embarrass himself in front of screaming fans who don't even know how to say his name properly.
This title would need some severe redesigning (to be something a bit more like Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, which is now called Elite Beat Agents in the west) to be even considered playable, I think.
It looks kinda cute, like all the other Wii Sports titles, though.
The Actual Conclusion
The Wii Sports titles really are an interesting bunch. Every single one is an incredibly fun, playable experience, and every single one cries out to be expanded to its absolute fullest, as the core mechanics are superb, with the system consistently responding to the controller the way you expect it to. Indeed, in a wildly insane occurrence, they're so individually lovely that I demand that Nintendo spend ages turning each one into full sports titles instead of leaving them as is (which is very under featured, but with bags of potential) and selling them in a single pack. Like the Wii itself, these titles have so much potential that is in danger of just not being realized correctly. Let's just cross our fingers and hope it is.
There's pretty much no concrete information about Wii Sports, but the first release will probably be a pack of Golf, Tennis and Baseball, and be released around about the time of the console launch.