As Nintendo's stand was still being built around us, with cranes and fork lift trucks all about, we were ushered into a back walled room secured with an anticipation raising jumbo-jet style locking mechanism for one of the world's first goes on Wii.
First things first: the controller. Smaller and shorter than it looked in the original announcement videos, we were warned that it was still a prototype design and that several games at E3 would use it connected to the Wii with a wire that wouldn't be needed with the final machine. The biggest surprise was the speaker later announced at Nintendo's press conference but other than some minor button renaming the most vital addition was probably the wrist strap - highly recommended for owners of expensive pottery and plasma screens. The two main things you'll be pressing when playing Wii are the A button on top of the controller and the B trigger underneath. The nunchuck controller, which is the final name, was also light, well made with two shoulder buttons, a smaller top button named C above the Z button. Nintendo representatives confirmed that the main controller will take two AA batteries but we'd expect a 360-style array on rechargeable options. One more thing, apparently the freehand and nunchuck can be swapped between hands so left-handers have no need to moan about this new way of playing games.
Enough controller housekeeping - onto the games. First was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which demoed the controller with a fishing mini-game and a compact dungeon area to give an idea of how the controller will work in more normal play. The fishing should go down really well at E3. Link paddles his canoe out over a shimmering lake, casts off by flicking the controller like a rod (recalling the previous greatest fishing game experience - Sega's Get Bass with the special rod controller). The camera then moves to the lure which you jerk seductively through the water to attract a fish. Get a bite and you then yank the controller back to hook it and then, unsurprisingly, make a circular motion with the nunchuck to reel in the line. Using the Nunchuck's “accleratometer” came into play more than you might expect from seeing the initial Wii announcement videos. In the dungeon section we were shown next for example, the main freehand controller worked to shove Link's shield into enemies rather than swing the sword (which was done with an A button press) while shaking the nunchuck performed a spin attack in combat. The controller really seemed to come into its own for aiming Link's bow, however. Although it didn't initially look as easy as using an analogue stick, it could actually add a shakier aspect to aiming that would feel more realistic. Firing an arrow using the trigger and the whip of the sitting comes out through the built in speaker. Nicely, the freehand controller also moves a fairy pointer around the screen to access menus and lock onto things, but we'll need more time to see how running around with the nunchuck's analogue stick, pointing with the freehand - and, most crucially, combat works when combined in longer sessions of play.
Next up was Excite Truck, a truck racing game that looked designed to provide a bit more, old-fashioned American kick ass to the Wii's show line up. Holding the controller sideways with the 1 and 2 buttons for gas and break, you steered your truck by turning the controller more like a steering wheel. Also, by tilting it while your truck was in the air you could try and get boost assisted landings by hitting the ground with both wheels at the same time. Steering your careering truck seemed difficult, and certainly for anyone who's used to the precision stick driving in the best racers this could be a difficult adjustment to make.
The next game made much more instantly gratifying use of the controller: Wario Ware. This gives you a pose to assume with the freehand controller before you have to work out how to use it in the ensuing mini-game. And as you'd expect from WarioWare: Smooth Moves, there was plenty of opportunity for embarrassing yourself as you put the controller on your head and squatted up and down to lift weights, hula-hooped with the controller at your side and ran on the spot. It showed off just how many ways the controller can be used. The Waiter pose, with it balancing on your hand saw as you try to keep a teetering broom upright, while the Samurai pose required the controller to be at your side and drawn out to slash a log in two. Along with spearing pieces of fruit, winding a paper shredding crank and flipping a wok full of stir-fried vegetables this was as much fun as you'd expect and a great way of getting players used to a completely different way of playing.
Nowhere was this new style off play more evident than in the demo of Virtua Tennis (pictured) that brought the house down at Nintendo's press conference. With no buttons to press at all, the hardest thing to get your head around was just how the Wii was registering what you did with the controller. Tossing the ball with an upwards flick and serving with an overarm swing, this was the best demonstration of just how much fun Wii games can be and also how much gamers will have to revolutionize their thinking to get the most out of the console. There was no control of the players, just the stroke you made with the controller. Get the timing right and you felt the satisfaction of connecting with the ball with your virtual racket. We didn't play enough to see how deep the controls were and how much subtlety the Wii will be able to pick up in your strokes, but Nintendo said you could turn it to get different amounts of spin. As Miyamoto, Reggie, Iwata San and the winning punter showed the next day at the Nintendo press conference, though, it's a lot of fun and should really sell Wii to casual gamers with large living rooms this Christmas.
Finally, we were shown MP3: Corruption. This used the pointer for shooting and to guide Samus in Morph ball form around side-view puzzles. The nunchuck stick moved you around with the accelerometer coming in to play for Samus' grapple beam. By thrusting it out to hook onto locked door control panels, you could then turn and pull it to open them. With the freehand controller controlling her Beam Cannon and the nunchuck her left-handed grapple beam, it had the potential to feel quite natural. But we were concerned that the novelty of opening doors with a twist off the wrist might get tiring after the fiftieth time. Nintendo mentioned that there would be a more advanced PC FPS style control system in the game too.
We'll be interested to see how developers manage to incorporate accelerometer-based controls into gamers like Metroid and Zelda that we're used to playing with a pad. If anything, our first go left us thinking that hardcore gamers will actually have the most difficulty adjusting to the new controller and "getting" Wii, having to unlearn years of sticks and buttons and throwing themselves into a new, possibly more intuitive system of control. Only further extended play will let us know if that will also mean giving up the precision we're used to. With the more casual games like Tennis, Wii is hitting the reset button for gamers and putting everyone back to a place where your mom could quite easily beat you. And that means Wii has massive potential for fun and fulfilling Nintendo's promise to reach people who don't play games.
Report courtesy of GamesMaster magazine
May 10, 2006