Once the Wii's network settings are set up, the system is designed to be constantly online through Nintendo's WiiConnect24 service. The Wii can use WiiConnect24 to automatically download system updates, additional game content, and even weather and news.
Wii Channels: Media and online capabilities
The Wii's navigation is done through a series of pages called Wii Channels that take advantage of the WiiConnect24's always-on design. Among the Wii's default channels are a weather-forecast channel, a news channel, a message channel, a photo channel and the cute, avatar-generating Mii channel. The channel home page is the system's default gateway, which also provides access to the disc-based Wii/GameCube games and Virtual Console titles. As noted, Nintendo's online channels weren't ready to test, so we could only use the Mii and photo channels.
The Mii Channel lets users create and modify Miis, cute little avatars for use online and in certain games. The Miis are cartoony and extremely simple, but the Mii Channel includes enough customisation features for users to create Miis that look like themselves, their friends or even celebrities. (Our Wii is currently populated with characters from The Big Lebowski.) Miis don't seem that useful, but they can be used as characters in games such as Wii Sports, and as avatars in the Wii's Message Channel. Since Miis are so simple, players can use their Wiimotes' 6KB of storage to carry around as many as ten Miis and use them on their friends' Wiis.
The Photo Channel was a pleasantly useful surprise, though something of a misnomer. The channel can display and edit photos. Nintendo claims that the Wii can also play MP3 music files and QuickTime videos, but these features feel like afterthoughts -- MP3s can be played only in a photo slide show, and we were unable to load a QuickTime movie on our Wii. Fortunately, the Photo Channel's emphasis is clearly on image viewing and editing. Once up to 1,000 of your photos are loaded through the SD card slot, you can view them individually, browse them in an album view, or watch a slide show of them. The Photo Channel also includes a basic image editor, though it's clearly built more for fun than serious editing. With its upbeat background music and some very cute image options, the editor feels much like the old SNES classic Mario Paint.
While on the subject of media, it's worth noting that the Wii does not play audio CDs or video DVDs, which is something of a disappointment. Yes, everybody already has a DVD player, but with DVD playback capability being standard-issue since the last generation of game consoles, its omission here is something of a conundrum. Nintendo claims it was to keep the price down, and the company's last-generation console, the GameCube, also lacked DVD playback. Nintendo also hasn't indicated that it's going to launch any sort of downloadable video or music store, and -- with the Wii's lack of a built-in spacious hard drive -- that doesn't seem like it would be on the schedule anytime soon.
The Message Channel is the Wii's system message and online communication centre. It's used to send messages to other Wii owners online using their systems' unique Friend Codes, but we were unable to test that feature without Nintendo's online service. The Message Channel can also give players a variety of reports about changes in their Wii system settings, how much time they spend on different games, and other interesting pieces of information.
The Wiimote controller
Wii Sports also doubles as a tutorial for familiarising yourself with the system's unique wireless controller, which is what really sets it apart from competing consoles -- and all the game systems that have come before it. The Wiimote, as it's been affectionately dubbed, is a sophisticated motion-sensing controller that connects wirelessly to the Wii via the Bluetooth wireless protocol.
This revolutionary design isn't completely wireless: to function, it requires the placement of the Wii's sensor bar either on top of or beneath your television screen. Fortunately, the sensor bar is extremely unobtrusive, and we forgot it was even there minutes after setting up the system. The sensor bar is a small and light plastic rectangle about the size of two pens laid end to end, and it connects to the Wii with a very long cord (about 2.5m), so its setup is simple and flexible. The sensor bar comes with a tiny, clear plastic base with adhesive squares on its feet, so you can stick it securely on the top of your television, even if it's a narrow flat-panel screen.
Accelerometers inside the remote sense how the device is being held and if it's being moved in any direction. These sensors control actions such as baseball bat and golf club swings in Wii Sports, Link's sword slashes in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and even steering trucks in Excite Truck. Moreover, you hold the Wiimote differently depending on the game: grasp it like the hilt of a sword in Zelda and Red Steel, as a baseball bat or tennis racket in Wii Sports, or hold it horizontally as a steering bar for Excite Truck.
Because the Wiimote is so light, these controls and movements can take some getting used to. Fortunately, a speaker and a force-feedback module built into the Wiimote can provide additional tactile and audio feedback for your actions and add an extra bit of immersion to the Wii experience. For example, the remote's tiny speaker makes an audible 'clang' when Link swings his sword, and it rumbles when Link strikes an enemy. Even menu selections on the Wii are signalled by helpful little vibrations of the Wiimote.