Back when the Wii first debuted, Nintendo's revolutionary device offered a new approach to gaming that surprised nongamers and gamers alike. The technology employed was futuristic, its design surprising, and its games unmatched on any other system.
Times have changed. Nintendo's latest update to the iconic Wii console includes the Wii Remote Plus controller with MotionPlus, a Nunchuk, and copies of both Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort for $200. It's the third iteration of the bundle sold in stores since 2006, and yet the Wii has remained largely unchanged in many ways. The Wii remains the least expensive game console of this generation, but in the years since its debut, the system's unique territory has been impinged on by competitors offering motion-gaming alternatives, more diverse entertainment options, and upgraded hardware.
In 2006, the Wii was by far the most affordable next-generation console. At $250 compared with the $599 PlayStation 3 and $399 Xbox 360, it was a no-brainer for the budget-minded. In 2010, the Wii is a reasonable $199, but the Xbox 360 can also be had for as little as $199, while the PlayStation 3 costs $299.
The release of motion-based gaming solutions for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, in the form of PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect, also offers alternatives that Nintendo once had a lock on. Family-friendly casual games on all systems blur the lines more than they ever have, although the Wii still corners the market by owning the most quality kid-oriented games.
The Wii also lacks the HD compatibility and multimedia and graphics power that Microsoft's and Sony's consoles offer. We used to be excited about the way that the Wii redefined family entertainment and offered a compact, clean, futuristic style of motion-based gameplay in a fairly priced package. In 2010, the Wii is still relatively affordable, and there are plenty of good games in its library, but the promise of the system beyond temporary novelty has dwindled.
The Wii is arguably the easiest system to set up of all three game consoles: even the box comes in clearly labeled sections that resemble Apple's packaging. The console hasn't changed a bit since 2006, unlike both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which have seen redesigns and performance improvements. The thin, small, clean minimalist box almost resembles a set-top device. The Wii now comes in black as well as white, and a limited-edition red version was briefly offered for the holiday season to commemorate Mario's 25th anniversary. No matter the color, the clean, almost innocuous look makes the Wii one of the least imposing consoles of all time.
The Wii plays Nintendo's sizable library of Wii games, and in a pleasant but odd tip of the hat, it's backward-compatible with the GameCube, too, thanks to four GameCube controller ports and two memory card slots that lie tucked away behind a side door. Odds are slim that you'll tap into the GameCube library, unless you're a hard-core Nintendo system owner or a garage-sale shopper. To be honest, we'd rather have other features instead--we'd trade the GameCube jacks for an HDMI-out port without blinking. That said, we've reviewed a viable alternative that will provide 480p HDMI-out for your Wii with the Neoya Wii2HDMI attachment.
Two rear USB ports work with plug-in peripherals such as microphones, but will otherwise rarely be used. In the front, below Power and Reset buttons, an SD card slot can read photos and video off cameras, or archive downloaded games and save files to expand the limited internal 512MB of storage space on the Wii. There's also no Ethernet port for direct-wired Internet connectivity, although the Wii does have internal 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. A separate USB-to-Ethernet adapter is available, though.
While we appreciate the economical size of the Wii, its features are out of date and difficult to upgrade compared with the more PC-like Xbox 360 and PS3. The slot-loading disc player doesn't even play DVDs. Wii controllers connect wirelessly through Bluetooth and are powered by AA batteries, although we recommend one of the rechargeable packs that can be used instead. There are no physical controller ports on the Wii.
The Wii's system menu has a gridlike layout, with downloadable games and applike channels displayed on a series of pages that remarkably resemble Apple's iOS, although the concept predates Apple by a year. System software can be updated over the Internet relatively painlessly, but other online features are severely hobbled, aside from certain Internet-connected channels and the Wii Shop.
Wii Remote Plus
All new Nintendo Wii bundles from this point forward will be packaged with Nintendo's new Wii Remote Plus, an enhanced version of the original Wii Remote incorporating MotionPlus technology in the same form. Last year, MotionPlus was offered up as an awkward plug-in dongle that made the Wii Remote long and heavy, so it's nice to see the problem fixed in this year's controller. The gyroscopic technology combines with a built-in accelerometer and infrared sensors on the tip of the Wii Remote to offer very accurate position-based motion sensing. The technology's potential can be seen in the included Wii Sports Resort game, a sequel to Nintendo's original Wii Sports. Unfortunately, few other games incorporate MotionPlus. While that may change now that MotionPlus is included with all Wiis, it feels like too little, too late.
The new remote's capabilities keep up with Microsoft's Kinect and the PlayStation Move, but both of those peripherals utilize a camera mounted near the TV, while Nintendo's only requires an IR-beaming sensor bar attached above or below the TV set.
Other features on the Wii Remote remain the same: the clean button layout can be used in a remote-style or horizontal control-pad-like layout, and a variety of plug-in peripherals such as the included Nunchuk or a retro-compatible game controller give the Wii some flexibility for various games, but an increasing number of titles just use the Wii Remote on its own.
Set-top device that could have been
Before the iPhone redefined the idea of Apps, the Nintendo Wii offered up its own grid of Channels with a variety of Internet-connected information functions--in their own way, apps. The potential was huge, especially since Channels could be downloaded directly from an online Wii Shop, but only a few were ever made--and no significant ones in the past couple of years. A Web browser remains the most useful, but navigation gets awkward with the Wii Remote, not to mention some sites have difficulty showing up at all. Other Channels offering global weather, news, and quirky polls felt like gimmicks, and their novelty wore thin. Apps from the likes of Pandora, YouTube, Hulu, or ESPN would be welcome, but of course they don't exist. Microsoft and Sony have been far more active in this regard, offering sports videos, Hulu Plus, Vudu movie streaming, MLB and NHL games, Last.fm, and many other functions.