If you’ve been trying to get your hands on a Nintendo Wii since Christmas, you might have found it something of a thankless task.
People are snapping them up as fast as Nintendo can ship them around the world, and no wonder – because the Wii is something very different.
Some folks in the videogaming scene were dismissive when they first heard about it. It didn’t have nearly the same technical oomph of rival new machines, the XBox 360 or the (coming soon) PlayStation 3.
Critics declared it is little more than a GameCube with a makeover, and declared the wireless controller a gimmick.
So why as Wii been such a hit? It’s hard to describe – you have to play it to appreciate it.
But that’s exactly why it has been so popular. Wii is word-of-mouth fun. You buy one, invite your pals round for a Wii Sports party, and by the end of the evening they have all vowed to go out the very next day and buy their own machine. It’s contagious.
Wii Sports is the game that comes with the machine, and boasts four simple virtual sports - boxing, bowling, tennis and golf. Playing them is tremendous fun, because rather than sit on the sofa pressing buttons, you have to stand up and move.
The wireless controller, called the Wii Remote, becomes the handle of the tennis racket or golf club. You swing it around the room with (not too much) wild abandon and you really feel like you’re playing the game.
One chap even claimed to have lost pounds just by playing 30 minutes of Wii Sports every day for 16 weeks.
Clearly, Nintendo is on to something. But what’s more impressive is that the Wii has a built-in wireless network card. If you already have a network in your home, the Wii will find it and connect to it when you first switch it on. And having a games console connected to the net is more useful than you might have imagined.
Sure, the idea’s not that new – we were connecting Sega Dreamcasts to the net, over clunky dial-up connections, back in the 1990s. The geek factor was high, but the end result less than impressive.
The Wii’s main menu lists games as one channel among many. The other channels are packed with online content – news, weather, even a web browser for general surfing. You can slap a memory card full of photos into the Wii and it will display them in a slideshow in the Photo Channel. And best of all for retro gaming fans, it will soon be possible to download old games over the net.
People are excited because this is something completely different for the games industry. Nintendo makes no secret of its aim to attract people who don’t usually play games (parents, even grandparents), and there’s every sign that the strategy is working.
If you were cynical, you might say that it’s a ploy to sell more games, since it’s usually parents and grandparents who have to shell out for the disks anyway. Get them interested and perhaps they will let the kids spend more?
Who cares, though, if there’s this much fun to be had? If you look around, you can find a basic Wii package for less than #200. That’s assuming any shops have actually got one in stock.