a review of Wii Sports
a videogame developed by nintendo
and published by nintendo
for the nintendo wii
text by tim rogers
I’ve checked my Wii Weather Channel twice today, and tomorrow’s forecast hasn’t changed: it’s going to be “Manic”, with a slight chance of scattered “Normal”; so while I’m still here sitting on “Depressive”, let’s do the unthinkable, and talk about how much I dislike — or even, possibly, hate — Wii Sports.
First, though, a disclaimer: do you realize how hecking long it took me to get my Wii online? If you said “almost six months” (or even “almost half a year”), then you’re absolutely right. Well, that’s not to say that I was trying for the whole time. Just that I bought the Wii, brought it home, groaned at the fact that it can’t display high-definition resolutions yet is compatible only to wireless internet connections — which seemed even more backward in reality than it did on paper — and then just let it sit there, unconnected to the rich, honey-dripping goodness of the internet, for nearly half a year. I checked the Virtual Console page on Nintendo’s website every couple weeks, wondering if anything was coming out that I wanted. And then, just two days ago, I got around to configuring my Macbook Pro to share my internet connection wirelessly, and after entering IP addresses and such into the Wii, it now triumphantly works online. There are still no Virtual Console games I would like to play that I don’t already own the original versions of.
I wonder if there’s some psychological equivalent of the IP address entry procedure that I need to complete before I can like Wii Sports. If anything, I’m confident that I don’t enjoy Wii Sports because it’s not for me — it’s for people who either haven’t ever played videogames or people who were old enough to purchase marijuana back when Pong was brand-spanking new, people who gave up on the videogame fad back when no top analyst was capable of believably making the prediction that someday game characters would start to look less like solid white lines and more like people. In Wii Sports, players frantically wave a Wii remote around in order to make their on-screen avatar, a puppet-like human being who may or may not resemble the player or one of the player’s loved (or hated) ones, perform various sports-like tasks. The game opens with three or four steel-handed disclaimers: secure the Wii remote strap tightly around your wrist, be careful not to hit anyone as you swing your arms, don’t wake the neighbors with your triumphant cries of “heck yeah”, et cetera. Though in this reviewer’s humble opinion, most of it isn’t really necessary. You don’t even need to stand up and look like a jerk-ass, like the people on the back of the box, to play this game. You can just sit on the sofa twiddling your wrists. If you don’t believe me, check The Internet. I do believe this phenomenon has been reported in other places.
Here at Action Button Dot Net, we play-test all games we review using a large enough high-definition television situated in the cockpit of a grounded F-14 Tomcat fighter jet, and even within these cramped confines we were able to bowl strikes in Wii Sports Bowling, or punch out our molasses-slow would-be adversaries in Wii Sports Boxing. We were even able to hit a homerun in Wii Sports Baseball. It’s really not that difficult to play and succeed at this game without growing a horrifying hairstyle and/or hiding under the sofa and/or flashing a smile so artificially white as to blind the Wii sensor bar atop your television.
When the Wii’s dynamic and interesting remote control was introduced to the public, some keen observers were quick to note that tilt sensitivity had been something that people wanted, perhaps subconsciously: remember your little sister playing Super Mario Bros. forever ago, yanking the controller up above shoulder level every time Mario jumped. You thought nothing of it, back then, and neither did she. And perhaps Nintendo themselves were thinking nothing of it when they created the Wii remote — from the start, their only intent had been to make a “new” controller, for “new” playing “experiences”, and the final design was probably just about as good as they were going to get. I mean, one of the other prototypes showed a “Hungry Hungry Hippos”-looking plastic toy platform with one giant button in the middle, for Peach’s sake.
Sure, tilt sensitivity is pretty awesome. I’ve played a couple demos of Wii games that felt tight and polished and sublimely enjoyable — Dragon Quest Swords, for example — though Wii Sports just, quite frankly, ain’t the future. It’s cheap and tiny; it’s not a rock star dreaming big dreams, it’s the manager of a twenty-four hour supermarket. It’s sold nearly 2 million copies in Japan to date, and it wasn’t released in America for more than two weeks before somebody wrote a letter to Kotaku about how the game had helped them lose something like fourteen pounds, and how they think they could be a spokesperson for Nintendo, the way Jared was for Subway sandwiches. Wii Sports is the weirdest kind of euphoria-exploitation, and it kind of chills me. It’s a little cheap parlor trick, a toy. I went into my Large Japanese Videogame Corporation after the New Years’ holiday had ended, and just about threw up in my mouth when a person I really respected beamed about how much they’d enjoyed playing Wii Sports with their family every night for literally eight days in a row. I asked this person if they’d not found the game kind of cheap and dull, and they replied, “Well, yeah. It was nice to see everyone else in my family having fun, though.”
Tilt sensitivity is a pretty awesome thing, as I’ve said in the above paragraph. I still think that. And I’m pretty dead convinced that Wii Sports doesn’t use it very well. The game that blew the doors off the DS, for example, was Nintendo’s Brain Age — a game about answering simple mathematical problems as per an actual doctor’s recommendation, in the interest of staving off Alzheimer’s disease. Compare this to the over-eager Nintendo DS playable demos shown behind closed doors at that year’s E3: Sega had shown a Sonic the Hedgehog demo with blocky 32-bit polygon graphics and no gameplay aside from the ability to make Sonic run faster and faster by scraping the bottom screen with the stylus. Wii Sports is to that Sonic demo as Dragon Quest Swords is to Brain Training, if you ask me. However, Dragon Quest Swords most likely does not present the “evergreen” quality to sell nearly as many copies to nearly as many consumers of nearly as many age groups as Brain Training.
This review then serves two purposes: Firstly, I’m being optimistic that, despite its great sales numbers, Wii Sports has not blown the doors off the Nintendo Wii. No, the door-blower-offer is still hidden somewhere shadowy, and it’s not Super Mario Galaxy, tear-jerkingly amazing as that game will likely be.
Secondly, I’m going to be pessimistic, though more about myself than about videogames: I’m just a guy writing a review on the internet, and not one of Nintendo’s marketing geniuses, so I can’t fathom what game will ultimately redeem the Nintendo Wii. If I worked for Nintendo, I’d probably make sure that their consoles had LAN ports, because even some people who own HDTVs don’t have wireless routers (ahem!), or else I’d insist on a minimum maximum resolution of 720p for all games, or maybe I’d bring a riding crop to board meetings and slap bald heads en masse until they agreed that rechargeable battery packs and a controller charging cradle were pack-in necessities for their system. (Seriously, I’ve changed the batteries in my Wii remotes like six times now, and I’ve barely played anything on it.) Though you know what? Einstein apparently failed basic math in high school, and needed to ask his friend to do his income taxes for him; piano virtuosos throughout the centuries have tripped on their untied shoelaces while shuffling out for an encore time and time again. As Nintendo is currently the golden boy of pioneering game innovation, we, the loving parents of adorable little Miis and proud owners of Nintendo Wiis and sweat-proof rubber Wiimote covers, might behold Nintendo’s little missteps — the vapidity of Wii Sports, the bleating shamelessness of Nintendo of America’s neanderthal president (seriously, this is business, not wrestling; or: seriously, the guy used to work at Pizza Hut; or: seriously, “Blue Ocean” means you’re not “fighting” anyone; “doing our own thing” means you don’t have to worry about laying “smack-downs” on your rivals — because you should be busy doing your “own thing”) — as dribbles of spittle coagulating at the corner of an idiot savant’s mouth. One day before he masturbates himself to death at the mercy of an issue of Dog Fancy, this unkempt little bastard is going to invent the Ultimate Toothbrushing Solution, which will prevent cavities and kill plaque and tartar in all peace-loving people after just one dose.
We here at Action Button Dot Net have been under fire, recently — before the official launch of our website, in fact — for writing reviews that accentuate the negative things in videogames, while applauding none of their strengths. A comment on one review bemoaned it for being “off-topic” and “rambling”; I think I replied to that comment personally, with a link to IGN and a well-wishing: “Have fun dying alone!” To wit: I’m sure that kid didn’t give a heck about the game I was reviewing, and neither did I. The goal of this website, as it were, is not to be the “Best source for reviews, previews, screenshots, and news regarding [GAME TITLE]” — it is to use reviews as tools for provoking discussion on videogames. That is to say, if you want a “review” of Wii Sports that tells you everything you need to know about the game, look somewhere else. I merely felt compelled to write something about the game, and didn’t arrive at any other conclusion than this sad realization: “This game is not for me. It’s not for me because I’ve played too many videogames, and seen what they can do.” If the game were a gateway drug pointing the way to a lifetime of substance abuse, it’d probably be Pixy Stix.
Let’s get critical for just a moment, though: the graphics kind of do suck. I’m not saying that I hate the way the Mii characters look, because hey, artistic expression and whatnot. Instead, I’ll say that the colors are washed out and acutely drab. The music is bouncy samba-pop trash. And, to reiterate, the gameplay is vapid and weirdly self-important. For example, in Wii Sports Tennis, where your onscreen avatar moves entirely on his or her own, all you can control is the swinging of the racket — of course, done by shaking the remote. You can do backhands or forehands, apparently, and you can (kind of) control the strength of your swing. I’ve pored over it for over five hours, however, and still don’t quite find the execution delicate enough to laud as triumphant. I can play the game seated on my sofa with a hand on my crotch, and still not lose. So why does the game split the screen when you’re playing with two or more players? The immediate answer is “So each player can see the game from his own perspective, and choose between backhand and forehand effectively.” I get really touchy when games split the screen, especially when they don’t have to. To test myself, I watched my avatar only as represented at the top of my friend’s side of the screen. I had no problem whatsoever differentiating between backhand and forehand. Do normal people not possess the spatial perception to backhand effectively without the screen being split? “No, they don’t,” quipped my friend. How about you? I asked him. I told him to look at my screen instead of his. He won the point. “I guess I can, though.” To be as blunt as possible, I feel a greater sense of intricate challenge when I grab the world globe on my Wii News Channel, and spin it with all my might, and try to grab and stop it on the exact point where I started. (In all honesty, that’s become a great and precious hobby these past twenty-four hours.)
In a way, Wii Sports makes me feel awesome for being able to do something Nintendo’s play-testers apparently thought most people can’t do. In another way, it makes me kind of cringe, because it’s so cheap and tacky that it’s not entirely adorable. Tennis is always doubles, which is kind of hokey, even if you’re just playing two players. When I swing my remote, both players on my team swing their rackets in unison, which is even hokier. It’s enough to make me imagine, for a second, a world where Konami ditches the excellent Winning Eleven series to instead focus on foosball table simulators; where games like Bandai-Namco’s Magic Taizen card-trick-trainer for Nintendo DS are actually popular — that hecking game includes a deck of cards in its box, so you can test the card tricks out on your friends. I say, don’t ask videogames to do what other things can do for you — if you want to learn card tricks, read a book about card tricks. If you want to play foosball, buy a foosball table. Certainly, Wii Sports stands head and shoulders above these two examples, though mostly only because it managed to fulfill its promise without even, you know, making a promise to begin with: it got people together, it got grandma to peel her eyes off her handheld Casio TV and the soap operas within, it got the goth sons and vegan daughters to come out of the basements and garages and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner like they’ll probably never enjoy Thanksgiving dinner again. Each sale of the game represents a flash-in-the-pan holiday for one someone somewhere; it is with sadness that I say that my first experience with the game was not such a monumental occasion, and therefore I can score it no higher than one star. If you disagree with this review, congratulations: you’re far more likely to marry your high school sweetheart than I. I didn’t even have a high school sweetheart, come to think of it — I was a borderline sociopath who spent six hours a night writing letters under dozens of pseudonyms to DIE HARD GAME FAN instead of sleeping, for God’s sake.
And . . . now I’ve said a bit too much.
(thanks to benjamin rivers for the exclusive Action Button Dot Net screenshot of Wii Sports. do NOT reuse without our permission or we will proceed to take legal action. lol no just kidding man use it all you want.)