In the Before Time — the Long, Long Ago — gaming consoles had a launch title packed in with the system to really show off the new system’s capabilities. Many of you may be too young to remember August 1991 (if you were even [b]alive[/b] then… man, now I feel old), but that’s the last time I personally remember this happening (SNES and [i]Super Mario World[/i])… until November 19, 2006, over fifteen years later. In order to better “sell” its unusual new “Wii” console, Nintendo resurrected this now-defunct practice by including [i]Wii Sports[/i] in the North American product; Europe/Australia would also receive the title as a pack-in, but Japan would not. (Although it was the [url=http://www.kotaku.com/gaming/famitsu/japanese-wii-sales-figures-219253.php]top selling piece of software[/url], narrowly edging out [i]Wii Play[/i], which North America has not yet seen as of this writing; [i]Zelda: Twilight Princess[/i] was behind them by around 30,000 units.) [i]Wii Sports[/i] is at first glance a glorified tech demo, but upon closer inspection, it is five very simple versions of popular sports with three additional mini-games (“training exercises”) for each. Each of these games puts the Wii Remote’s abilities at the forefront rather than providing an EA-like recreation of the sport — I’m sure [i]those[/i] will come later (and indeed, a Wii-specific [i]Madden[/i] title was also available at launch, while Tecmo is bringing a more fleshed-out golf game soon).
The first thing the casual observer notices about [i]Wii Sports[/i] is the decidedly lackluster visual presentation; what are these blocky piles of basic, untextured polygons doing on my new console!? First of all, those are known as Miis, and they’re the Wii equivalent to online avatars. You create them via the Wii’s Mii Channel, and then you select the one you want to use when you play the game. And secondly, [i]Wii Sports[/i] isn’t about the visuals (although they are quite nice in some areas, like the water on Golf), it’s about the gameplay, so shut up and strap that Remote to your wrist.
With that out of the way, the opening screen presents you with seven options, which I’ll tackle from top to bottom:
[*]Tennis — use the Wii Remote to swing your racket in doubles play for up to four people, one remote per person (although one person can control multiple Miis onscreen). Play one set, best of three, or best of five.
[*]Baseball — comes in two flavors: batting and pitching; batting is as simple as in real life, while pitching combines a throwing motion with the Remote’s buttons for specific types of pitches. Three innings, and there is a “Mercy Rule” in effect if necessary. Play alone or against a friend (who will need his/her own Remote).
[*]Bowling — ten frames of you versus the pins. No power or spin meters here; everything is handled by the Remote and your natural swing. It can accommodate up to four alternating players using only one Remote or however many remotes you happen to have available.
[*]Golf — take your driver, iron, wedge, and putter on your choice of a three-hole sampling (in three levels of difficulty) or the full nine-hole course. Like Bowling, you don’t have the old crutch of “swing meters” here. Also like Bowling, up to four players can alternate using however many remotes you have handy. (Easter Egg — compare these holes with those of the NES’s [i]Golf[/i] title!)
[*]Boxing — the only [i]Wii Sports[/i] event to use the nunchuk attachment, which represents your left hand as the Remote subs for your right. Throw combination punches while dodging your opponent’s — or friend’s (who will obviously need his own Remote/nunchuk combo) — blows.
[*]Training — initially five single-player mini-games (one for each event, although all of the Baseball exercises are batting-oriented), you unlock the other five simply by trying out the first ones you get, and then the final five for trying those.
[*]Fitness — put your training to the test in three randomly-selected exercises (or in some cases, slight variations) to measure your “Wii Fitness” age (similar to your “Brain Age” on the DS title of the same name). You get measured in Speed, Balance, and Stamina, with the best score being an age of 20; younger players will not receive accurate results, although there’s a good chance that older players will experience some wild fluctuations as well. You can do this once per day per Mii.
The individual events keep track of your rating, awarding you with “Pro” status once that rating breaks 1000 (and taking that title away if you dip below that threshold).
Greatly adding to the atmosphere is the Wii Remote’s speaker, which will emit the crack of a bat, the whistle of a golf club slicing through the air, or the sound of a tennis ball striking your racket right around where you would expect to hear the sound normally. The other sounds aren’t much to write home about, but the crowd does make some appropriate groans when you wind up just missing a putt or cheers after an intense series of volleys. The announcer’s brief comments (“Nice spare!”) are somewhat obnoxious but easy enough to ignore.
Undoubtedly, the real strength of [i]Wii Sports[/i] is how easy it is to literally pick up a Remote and start playing. There is a very brief adjustment period, with one of the hardest lessons apparently being to [url=http://www.wiihaveaproblem.com/]take it easy and don’t actually let go of the remote[/url]; the second important lesson is to heed the warnings about having enough space around you. After that, it’s completely intuitive and highly responsive… with perhaps one exception.
This brings me to the complaint portion. Each individual event has at least one problem that I noticed. Let’s run down that list again:
[*]Tennis — you don’t move your Mii at all; it chases the ball on its own and usually does a good job, but your strategy can become limited because of this. Also, you cannot play singles games. It seems difficult to control the ball as far as aiming is concerned, but that may just be a reflection of my actual skill. Your Mii automatically pre-determines whether it will swing a forehand or backhand depending on which side of it the ball is landing and not how you actually swing the Remote. Finally, good luck having enough physical space for more than two players if your Wii is in a room anything like ours.
[*]Baseball — as mentioned, you just bat and pitch, not unlike [url=http://www.partyoutfitters.com/itempics/games/PITCH-~1.JPG]an old mechanical arcade machine[/url]. Fielding and base-running are handled automatically (again: fairly well, but not always perfect), and there are no base-stealing or double plays. Batting results feel random, but again that may just be my skill talking.
[*]Bowling — while keeping track of your ranking is nice, I would have appreciated the game keeping track of my average as well. No option to play multiple strings. (Nitpicks; it’s almost impossible to screw up Bowling as long as your physics are sound.)
[*]Golf — four clubs (or if you prefer, three clubs and a putter) and nine unchanging holes does not a golf game make; it’s almost a tease. Very tough to judge how fast/hard you need to swing; while somewhat inherent in the play mechanics, this is something real golfers don’t have to consider as heavily due to having a (much) wider selection of clubs with more varied ranges. Greens can be hard to interpret with the topography-style map, and overall putting feels awkward. Like Bowling, a measure of my handicap might be appreciated.
[*]Boxing — perhaps the most frustrating event, as the Remote doesn’t seem to accurately be able to sense all of your movements; whether this is a factor of the game itself or the way my wife and I throw punches is hard to determine, but I know we aren’t alone in experiencing this. It may also be a factor of our sensor bar being located under the TV rather than on top of it, although given that there’s a setting for this in the global Wii Options it shouldn’t be a problem. Throwing specific punches is also difficult, which will [i]murder[/i] you on one of the training exercises (and as a result, jack up your Fitness score whenever that event comes up) and make fights against higher-ranked AI opponents frustrating.
With those problems out of the way, however, what remains is a very solid gaming experience. Some of the training exercises are flat-out awesome (Bowling: Power Throws come to mind immediately) and are great for quick workouts while actually (theoretically) developing your skills in the game. The word “workout” in that previous sentence is meant literally, by the way; I’ve built up legitimate sweats during extended Tennis and Boxing sessions, and while I’m definitely no athlete, I’m not grotesquely out of shape either. Perhaps most importantly, [i]Wii Sports[/i] is a blast to play with friends and family — and anyone in the family old enough to swing a baseball bat should be able to enjoy this game. In the end, that is what the Wii is meant to do, and [i]Wii Sports[/i] passes that test despite all of its shortcomings.
One final note regarding our Snackbar ratings as it applies to [i]Wii Sports[/i]’s unusual pack-in status: If you own a Wii, you most likely already own this (unless you are Japanese or hypothetically bought a system without the pack-in — say, years after I write this), but it’s getting a “Purchase” score just in case. As I mentioned, better and fuller versions of these sports/games will inevitably become available, but those are for a different audience; [i]Wii Sports[/i] isn’t trying to cater to the sports fan, it’s catering to the gaming fan — and more importantly, the “non-gamers.” Right now, there is no better demonstration of what the Wii is all about than [i]Wii Sports[/i].