Nintendo is the last dedicated games company. There aren't any others. Microsoft, a vast software maker, and Sony, a troubled electronics giant, are the principle makers of games hardware these days. Nintendo can't hope to compete with these enormous companies, can it?
Well, maybe. It certainly seems to have a very strong grip on the handheld gaming market -- the lovely DS Lite is outselling Sony's PSP all over the world, largely because it continues to offer great games that appeal to all sorts of people. Dr Kawashima's Brain Training is a remarkable title that has sold millions of copies to people who would normally be doing the Sudoko on the back of the paper.
So a philosophy of offering a different experience to the guns 'n' cars formula espoused by the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and completely ignoring the willy-waving, I-can-push-more-polygons-than-you arms race, seems to be a viable way forward for Nintendo. Its latest console, the Wii, is the embodiment of this ethic.
Yes, it's got a silly name. Say it out loud, it's pronounced 'wee'. Have a chuckle. Right, can we move on? Because everyone else has -- to the controls. The main control is a motion-sensitive TV remote lookalike called the 'Wiimote'. You point it at the TV, you press a button and your character shoots where you pointed. You wave it around and your character brandishes a sword or a fishing rod or a tennis racquet. Hit a ball onscreen and a little speaker on the Wiimote makes a 'twang' noise. Or you hold both ends and tilt it like a steering wheel. Very simple, very intuitive.
Well, not quite. There's a globulous 'nunchuk' add-on that plugs into the Wiimote, with a joystick and a few buttons to add more sophisticated controls, including more motion sense. You can also plug the remote into a Zapper gun, to make shooting games more intuitive, and you can plug it into a more conventional gamepad to control multi-platform games (ie titles that have versions for the Xbox and PS3).
The Wii, at £180, is less than half the price of the PlayStation 3 and £100 less than the high-end Xbox 360 -- a massive selling point. And there will be plenty of Wiis to go around, we're promised, because it's simple to manufacture. It's Internet-enabled, so you can play and download games on the Web. It's a terrific proposition that should appeal to party gamers, hardcore completists and children alike. Do we have reservations? Certainly. Early reports suggest it will tire your arms to hold up the Wiimote if you play for a long time. And even if loads of them are sold, they'll end up in the bottom of cupboards if compelling games for all ages don't continue to appear. Nintendo has to deliver on that promise, or it may be swallowed up. -NH
Update: a full review of the Nintendo Wii is now live.