Nintendo has ventured off the beaten path with its newest system, and the company knows it. While the Sony PlayStation 3 and the Microsoft Xbox 360 both emphasise their impressive graphical capabilities, Nintendo downplays the importance of graphics on its new console. While the Sony and Microsoft consoles keep the branding of their respective predecessors, the oddly named Wii is a semantic departure from Nintendo's more literally named 2001 console, the GameCube. And while the PS3 and the Xbox 360 both use conventional gamepads bristling with buttons, control sticks and directional pads, the Wii uses a device that looks more like a TV remote than a gamepad to control its games.
These strange choices could have spelled failure for Nintendo's newest endeavour. Underplaying processing power, using a strange new controller setup, and giving the whole package an odd name could have been major mistakes for Nintendo. (Consider some of the company's earlier attempts to go against the grain: the Power Glove and the Virtual Boy.) But if our early experience with the Wii is any indication, this particular Nintendo gamble seems likely to pay off. It's strange, it's new and it's not as powerful as its competitors, but the Nintendo Wii succeeds in its primary mission: there's no nonsense, just fun.
Opening the box
The Wii box includes everything you need to hook the system up to a standard television: the Wii console, a wireless controller with nunchuk adaptor, the sensor bar, a cradle (for mounting the console vertically), the Wii's modestly sized power adaptor, and a set of composite AV cables. Unfortunately, composite cables don't support the Wii's top progressive-scan resolution of 576p, so HD Ready TV owners will want to also purchase a set of Wii component cables (sold separately).
The Wii console itself is downright tiny -- easily the smallest and lightest of the new generation of game machines. At 44mm high by 159mm wide by 216mm deep (when oriented horizontally), it is -- as Nintendo promised -- about the size of three DVD cases. The initial model is available only in iPod-white, but it's a safe bet that we'll see plenty of other colours become available in years to come. As with the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, you can lay the Wii horizontally or stand it vertically (either by itself or, for added stability, in the included plastic cradle). Like the PS3, the Wii uses a slot-loading mechanism. It accepts the Wii discs (full-size 12cm) and older GameCube discs (mini 8cm), without the need for an adaptor.
The Wii includes 512MB of internal memory for storing saved games, downloaded Virtual Console titles and other data. If that half-gigabyte of onboard storage isn't enough for you, the system has a standard Secure Digital card slot for additional storage. SD cards are cheap and plentiful, and the Wii's support of them is a refreshing change of pace from the proprietary memory cards used by older game consoles.
While it doesn't come with a memory card or component-video cables, the Wii does include one pleasant surprise in the box. The system comes with Wii Sports, a simple but infectious sports compilation that lets users get a feel for the Wii's capabilities without investing in additional games. Wii Sports uses the system's wireless controller as erstwhile sporting equipment, letting users swing and mock-throw it to play baseball, tennis, golf, bowling and boxing.
The different games can support up to four players at a time, but most modes require more than the system's single controller for multiplayer options. Players can swap the remote back and forth for golf and bowling, but players who would like to box or play each other in a tennis match or a baseball game will need to purchase at least one more controller. Wii Sports feels more like a collection of five minigames than a fully fleshed-out title, but it lets users have fun straight out of the box and showcases the system's potential.
The Wii's simple design makes it very easy to hook up. The back panel of the console has only five ports: one for the power adaptor, one for the proprietary AV cable, one for the sensor bar, and two USB ports for future accessories. Just plug in the sensor bar and put it either on top of or under your television, plug the video cable into your TV, and plug the power cable into the wall, and you're ready to go.
Once everything is hooked together, just turn on the Wii to go through the software setup. Settings such as time and username can be easily selected with the remote control's pointer. The only remotely technical setting most users will have to deal with is the network connection, and the menu system practically walks users through the setup. The Wii's Wi-Fi connection can work with secure WEP and WPA encrypted Wi-Fi networks, so you don't have to make your network vulnerable just to play online. We had no problem connecting to our open wireless router, though we couldn't test the network connection beyond that. If you don't have Wi-Fi at all, Nintendo is said to be offering an Ethernet adaptor that interfaces with one of the USB ports. While Nintendo's servers were not ready at the time of this review, we will update our evaluation of this feature as soon as we can go online.