reporter's notebook SAN FRANCISCO--I'm sitting in a conference room here at CNET Networks' headquarters, playing a baseball game on a Nintendo Wii in which the players look like little more than rudimentary Lego people.
Still, I'm having a good time, swinging (and mostly missing, I'll admit) at pitches, but once in awhile smacking a hit.
Mostly, I'm having fun because the mood of the game, thanks to the Lego figure players, is silly. And I'll admit it: The Wii'sand secondary nunchuck (an ancillary controller specific to the Wii) is easy to use, especially for someone like me who has always had a little trouble with traditional console joysticks.
Thanks to Nintendo product testing supervisor Sean Egan, I've have about 90 minutes of solo time on the Wii as part of a road show Nintendo's putting on for the console in advance of its Nov. 19 release.
My test has cemented the feeling I had, where I got about five minutes of Wii play time, that for players like me who aren't hard-core gamers but enjoy good game play, Nintendo's next-generation console will be a lot more fun than or .
Egan and I begin the road test with some mini game demos that are part of "Wario Ware."
The idea behind these very, very simple games is to teach players how to use the controller. For example, players jump rope by simply moving the controller up and down in time with the rope onscreen. Swinging the controller like a hammer hammers in a nail.
And sure, even with that level of complexity, I still manage to screw up a few times. But Egan humors me and keeps telling me I'm doing a good job, even when it's obvious I'm looking foolish. Ah, flattery.
The thing is, the mini games, no matter how simple or pointless they are in their own right, do just what they're supposed to: teach players what the heck is going on with these newfangled controllers. And that's important, because as easy as they are to use, they are unfamiliar.
Even so, by the time we move on to the next demo, a fishing task built into "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess," I'm already feeling like a Wii pro.
To fish, Egan explains, you pull back on the pole--the remote controller--and cast off by throwing your hand forward. Happily, the nunchuck makes a satisfying fishing reel noise as the "fishing line" feeds out. Then, when you hook a fish and are pulling it back in, the built-in speaker makes just the clicking sound a reel would make if it was real. I enjoy the feedback.
Each demo Egan gives me is aimed at furthering my Wii controller education. Each game works on a slightly different element of the controller's functions, and fortunately, one or two false starts each time aside, the demos do their job: By the end, I feel like I have a handle on what I'm doing.
One thing that does occur to me, however, is that being in a room with another person who is casting "a "fishing rod" with this controller might look a little silly. It may take some time and some really good friends for me to not feel that way. After all, the controllers are rather small in your hand and it looks a bit like you're just gesticulating wildly.
I think it's something I would get over eventually, though. And Egan doesn't appear to be too self-conscious about it.Anyway, I do start to notice, as we move into more complex areas of "Zelda," that I begin to get confused as more complicated combinations of buttons and motion-sensitive controller are necessary. That means death at the hands of evil monsters shooting flaming arrows at me.
Not to be deterred, I soldier on, and after a few more fits and starts deep in the guts of a dank dungeon, I begin to get the hang of it, firing off arrows from my bow with deadly accuracy, slaying goblins and feeling like Egan is no longer looking at me like a moron.
I also notice, while playing the "Zelda" demo, that the Wii graphics aren't likely to be mistaken for the higher quality of the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. But that's OK, since the , compared with the top-end $399 Xbox 360 andwhen it is released Nov. 17.
And after all, Wii buyers are either going to be more casual gamers or Xbox or PlayStation buyers who want a Wii as well.
Before he leaves, Egan pulls out a second Wii geared just for "Wii Sports"--a software package that will ship with the console--and showed me the baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis games.
And I'll admit it, I like them. These games are simple and fun, and I can see trying to beat the golf game until I can sink putts, the baseball game until I can hit the curveball, and the tennis game until I am Wimbledon (Wiim-bledon?) champion. But I do manage to beat Egan to a pulp in the boxing game. First try.
Of course, "Wii Sports" is really just about getting players going, learning to work the controllers and having a little extra fun before plunking down real money on the sophisticated games from the Electronic Arts and Activisions of the world.
That's good, too, because I think players will probably get bored by "Wii Sports" as soon as they master the games. And that shouldn't take too long.
It's "just making you feel that actions you're seeing on the screen are what you want to be seeing from the remote," Egan tells me about the point of the demos. "So it's seamless."
Anyway, I walk away from my time with the Wii feeling pretty good about the machine. Egan keeps reminding me that what I was playing with wasn't production-ready, and that actually makes me feel even better about it. And more like it's the next-gen console I would most want to own myself.
Of course, later this week, I'll be getting my hands on the PS3, so my mind may very well change by then.