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).
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 system 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, though 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 have been 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.
The Wii does have a downloadable Netflix Channel, and it works wonderfully. While the app doesn't have HD streaming, navigation with the Wii Remote is effortless, and Netflix's streaming library offers the sort of entertainment that the DVD-free Wii couldn't previously provide. We'd like to see more channels like these, but at this point in the Wii's life cycle it's highly unlikely they'll ever arrive.
Where's my entertainment?
The biggest failing of the Wii, in that regard, is its awkwardness as a set-top box. Netflix aside, there aren't any useful channels or apps that make the Wii anything that anyone would want to use except to play games on. That's fine enough considering the Wii's a game console, but today's systems are transforming into multipurpose devices quite rapidly. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have multiple video-streaming applications, and can also act as media hubs to stream content from nearby PCs. The Wii stands on an island, its only source of content being the Wii Shop. At $150, many will forgive the Wii's lack of versatility, but the fact remains that the Wii just can't compete with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in this territory.
Online, and yet not
The Wii connects online for Wii Shop downloads and occasional online play in some games and Channels, but in most other regards the system is closed off compared with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. User profiles are shared with friends via complicated 12-digit "friend codes," a method designed to protect young gamers, but for others, the system is so arcane that it's likely never to be used. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have far more elegant methods for online messaging, game matchmaking, and community-building.
The Wii does have a capable Web browser that can even play Flash video, but navigation can be a challenge. We'd rather have Internet-connected channels that offered more compelling features than the handful that are currently available.
The Wii Shop has a large library of downloadable games for the Wii, both Wii-specific games (WiiWare) and classic emulated games from old systems including the Sega Genesis, Super NES, N64, and more via the Virtual Console. The library of games offered at this point is substantial, and fans of classic games are in for some treats in the Virtual Console.
However, Nintendo has no method for transferring or redownloading digital content once it's been purchased and stored on a Wii. Games can be stored on SD cards, but not transferred to another console. If you wanted or needed to buy a new Wii, there's no way to copy your digital library to another console, short of sending both Wiis in to Nintendo directly. It's not that you'd really find a need to transfer games, but both the Xbox 360 and PS3 handle digital content in a far friendlier manner.
Storage space on the Wii is also extremely limited: internal storage space fills quickly, and you'll find yourself saving and shuttling between SD cards after that. The lack of a hard drive is a big miss if you download more than 10 games, but you're not likely to run out of space if you just play disc-based games.
While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 offer downloadable demos of upcoming titles, the Wii has yet to adopt such a preview system. Features allowing the user to try out a game before purchase have become increasingly popular. Nintendo has begun rolling out game demos for certain WiiWare titles, but we're not sure there will ever be such options for disc-based games.
The future, and the past
At E3 2011, Nintendo announced the successor to the Wii, called the Wii U. The price and release date for the Wii U are still unknown, but the next-gen Nintendo console signals the beginning of the end of the Wii console era. While some notable games will be released for the Wii this holiday season--Zelda: Skyward Sword being the biggest--the already-slow supply of Wii games has become a quiet trickle. The Wii's best days are clearly behind it.
Still, the Nintendo Wii is a kid-friendly, fun casual-games box and a shrine to Nintendo games for loyal fans. There are certainly plenty of great Wii, GameCube, and Virtual Console games to keep any Nintendo fetishist happy for years, and as a museum piece of Nintendo technology, the Wii succeeds greatly. Its variety of health-oriented games and peripherals such as Wii Fit and EA Sports Active could also be appealing to some. Leaving Wii Sports out removes what's arguably the Wii's most iconic must-have game from the box, forcing those who want it to shell out extra for the title or its sequel, but this $150 bundle is the cheapest the Wii's ever been. It's more gaming past than gaming future, but it's still a very good, if dated, product.