More thoughts on the Wii

Some more quality time with the Wii has solidified my impressions from last week: game developers are going to have to stretch a bit, because traditional games don’t seem to work too well on the Wii. Or rather, the Wii — in terms of graphics and controls — doesn’t seem made for traditional games.

I already wrote about Call of Duty 3 not working well with the Wii controller, mostly because it’s impossible to hold the remote still so the screen is constantly moving, if only slightly at times. I’ll also add button-mashing beat-em-ups to the list of genres probably not meant for Wii.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is Activision’s latest Marvel game (following two X-Men Legends titles), and it’s some mindless fun on the Xbox 360 (I’ll be testing out the PlayStation 3 version this weekend, but I assume it’s similar). There’s a seemingly endless list of Marvel characters you can use, which is cool even though they all do pretty much the same thing. The graphics are nice, at least until the first boss (a blocky flying dragon that, relative to the rest of the game, looks like it’s from a PlayStation 1 game). But on the Wii, the game is terrible. You can use the buttons to attack and jump, but the moves have also been mapped to the remote. If you want to use the remote control scheme, though, you’ll spend the whole time just flailing around and hurting your wrist. There’s no good reason for the remote use; the moves don’t really correspond to your motions, so it’s just arbitrary motions for the sake of it. To do the main attack, for example, you either press the A button or shake the controller. Boring! And repetitive-stress inducing. Also the graphics aren’t very good. Smoke completely blocks the view of what’s going on at times, and the whole palette seems muted so everything kind of runs together.

I’m sure a good action game could find a better way to use the Wii remote, but the motion-sensing doesn’t seem precise enough to make it worthwhile. There wouldn’t be any way to replicate God of War’s awesome moves and combos with the Wiimote, and anyway your hand would hurt for days afterward.

Tony_1 The lack of precision is also making me skeptical of racing games on the Wii. Or certain kinds of racing games. I haven’t played Excite Truck yet, but I have decidedly mixed feelings about Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam. In general I dig the change from the other Tony Hawk games. Instead of the open world, find-a-bunch-of-tasks-and-trials game of Tony Hawk’s Project 8 and all the earlier ones, Downhill Jam is like a snowboarding game with skateboards: Relatively short tracks that all go one way — down — and you have to pull off certain times or scores along the way. It’s quick, not nearly as complicated, and pretty fun.

To control your skater, you hold the remote on its side like a traditional controller and twist it right or left to make the character turn. This only partly works. On straightaways and gradual curves it’s fine, but on tight turns it barely works at all. The sensor isn’t precise enough to make quick turns the way a joystick can. And because the game moves so fast and it’s hard to see far ahead, you often have to make sharp moves. That too often ends up with the skater going in the wrong direction, and the remote is nearly useless in turning you around then. This is an especially frustrating problem in multiplayer games. The screen is split into four sections, so it’s already hard to tell what’s happening because of the speed and smallness. That makes it far too easy to get turned around. And because it’s impossible to turn back in the right direction, multiplayer games can end too quickly if you turn around — the game seems to randomly choose between a regular race and one where the time is running out and you have to maneuver to hit blue “gates” to keep adding time, so if you get turned around on those boards you’re screwed.

It’s possible Activision just didn’t do a good job with these Wii games (Call of Duty, Marvel, and Tony Hawk are all by Activision), but they don’t feel rushed to me. They just don’t seem to be the right kind of game for the Wii. Of course not every quirky mini-game-extravaganza game will work either. I tried Super Monkey Ball briefly, and the few games I tried were lame. The on-screen instructions don’t explain the mini-games very well, and three of the four I tried didn’t control well, if we could figure out what to do at all.

— December 28, 2006

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