As of November 2011, the Nintendo Wii will be five years old. That's a long time in game years: in fact, it's nearly a console generation. To no great surprise, then, Nintendo has already announced the Wii's successor, the Wii U, a new type of revolutionary device with a likely 2012 release. Until then, the Wii still survives, but as a lame-duck console. That doesn't mean it should be overlooked. Nintendo's latest Wii console bundle--the fourth since the Wii's debut--is the lowest-priced ever, at $150, although the components have changed since last year's $200 bundle.
Gone is Wii Sports, the perennial Wii console pack-in. Gone, too, is Wii Sports Resort. Instead, the new Mario Kart bundle includes a Wii Remote Plus, a Nunchuk, a copy of Mario Kart Wii, and a Wii Steering Wheel plastic accessory. Mario Kart's a fun casual racer, but Nintendo's taken its most popular motion-control game out of the equation, forcing people to buy Wii Sports separately. It doesn't make much sense, especially considering the game's five years old. Those interested in multiplayer games will also have to buy an extra Wii Remote Plus and Nunchuk, at $40 and $20 respectively.
Europe has announced an even less expensive redesigned Wii bundle, but the $150 Mario Kart version remains the least expensive Wii console in the U.S. We'd love to see this system drop down to $99, but that's just wishful thinking for now. That said, it can be found for under $135 from such major retailers as Wal-Mart and Amazon.com.
So the question remains: at those prices--about half those of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360--is the Wii worth the investment for first-time buyers?
The answer, as usual, is, "It depends." We used to love the Wii for its clean, futuristic design and motion-control family games, but its thunder has since been stolen by motion-control alternatives like the Kinect and PlayStation Move, and by family-friendly gaming devices like the iPad. The Wii was an aging, fading star last fall, and today it's a console that's feeling decidedly last-gen: it still isn't HD, and its appeal beyond budget family entertainment and nostalgic gaming is dwindling fast.
That doesn't mean there aren't a ton of excellent, first-party Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games worth buying, and some interesting bargain-bin exclusives never seen on any other console that would be fun for grown-ups and families alike. The Wii was the cheapest gaming console before, and it remains the cheapest now. But, other than the impending release of Zelda: Skyward Sword, there isn't much to look forward to for the Wii.
At this stage in its life cycle, the Wii isn't really a console to invest in. Our advice is to consider the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 first, currently available for as low as $249 and $199, respectively. Buy the Wii only if you're looking for a kid-friendly gaming console with a solid library of older, affordable games. Just be prepared to invest another $70 to $100 if you need extra controllers and some must-have titles (such as Wii Sports).
With that caveat established--if you're still interested--let's take a look at the system in greater detail.
The Wii is arguably the easiest to set up of the 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, 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 last fall 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.
In addition to Nintendo's sizable library of Wii games, in a pleasant but odd tip of the hat, the Wii is backward-compatible with the GameCube, 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: 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 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.
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 grid 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
Since last fall, Nintendo Wii consoles have been packaged with the Wii Remote Plus, an enhanced version of the original Wii Remote incorporating MotionPlus technology in the same form. The gyroscopic technology combines with a built-in accelerometer and infrared sensors on the tip of the Wii Remote to offer more accurate position-based motion sensing than the original Wii Remote. Unfortunately, few games incorporate MotionPlus, so odds are you won't notice the difference unless you happen to be playing one of those games (Zelda: Skyward Sword is one of them, as is Wii Sports Resort).