Hands-On with the Wii Controller
LOS ANGELES--With Nintendo's Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference and the show itself looming, we had the opportunity to pop by the company's booth and try out the Wii. During our brief time, we tried out a variety of first-party titles to get a practical feel for just how the unique controller is going to work. Though you'll find our impressions of the five titles we played, Wii Sports: Tennis, Excite Truck, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess elsewhere, we wanted to offer a quick run-through of just how the controller feels and how it's changed since we last saw it.
Before we start, we should note that during our play session Nintendo reps said that the controller we were playing was still considered a prototype, as the possibility for some fine-tuning still existed. That said, the controller we got our hands on wasn't radically different from what we tried last year at the Tokyo Game Show, though there have been some noticeable tweaks to the design. The most radical is the addition of a speaker that rests just below the three buttons that divide the controller in half. The small speaker came into play during the Legend of Zelda fishing sequence we played and complemented its built-in rumble during the parts of the demo where we reeled in our catch, as it emitted the sound of a reel turning. This addition has resulted in the controller being a bit longer, to accommodate the new feature.
The other more subtle differences revolve around the names for the buttons. The main button on the face of the unit is still named A, and the trigger button on the underside is still named B. The vertical row of buttons has seen some tweaks that differ from the official controller images Nintendo released during TGS, though. The first button, seen in photos as saying "select," now has the image of an arrow that's curved counterclockwise, similar to those seen in the refresh icon on a Web browser. The second button, labeled "home" in official images, now has the image of a house on it, similar to one you'd see in a Web browser. The third button, originally labeled "start," now has two horizontal bars on it that look like the pause icon on a music or movie player.
Nintendo displayed an image of the controller with different button icons during its E3 2006 press conference, with a minus sign on the left button, the same house icon on the middle button, and a plus sign on the right button. Below these three buttons and past the speaker are the two buttons that have been alternately labeled a and b (lowercase), or 1 and 2 on the controller variants we've seen in the past. The controller we tried at E3 had the 1 and 2 buttons.
The second part of the controller, the analog attachment that goes by the "nunchaku" moniker, had a more streamlined shape and featured a tweaked button design. The two shoulder buttons, named Z1 and Z2 respectively, have also been reshaped and renamed since we last saw them at the Game Developers Conference a few months ago. The top shoulder button, now called C, is a good deal smaller than the lower shoulder button, now called Z. The C button was oval shaped, while the Z button was a more traditional square.
Though Nintendo still considered the units we were using to be prototypes, we reckon they gave a pretty good sense of the unit's heft. The controllers we had in our hands at the Tokyo Game Show were wired and weighed almost nothing. The wireless prototypes have a decent heft to them now, though. They use AA batteries, which will further add to the weight. At the moment, the main controller feels about as heavy as a Nintendo DS. The nunchaku weighs about as much as a cell phone. Holding both units in either hand feels fine, and the buttons are easy to reach.
We expect it will take time before our fingers get used to the controller's unique landscape and feel totally comfortable sliding around hitting buttons, but so far the controller feels good. The only thing we noticed was that you may find yourself gripping the main controller a little too tightly at first while playing. We reckon this will be an unconscious thing in much the same way most people playing a racing game will lean into turns without thinking or grip their controllers in a vicelike grip when walking around the sky stage in a Mario game. We have to hand it to Nintendo: Despite the Wii controller's unorthodox appearance, the thing is dead easy to pick up and play.
So there you have it. Though we'll again note that Nintendo reps stated the controllers we played were prototypes, we expect that the final units will be pretty close to what we tried. Though we expect there will be tweaking, much like the DS underwent following our first look at E3 two years ago, we have to say that Nintendo has managed to create a controller that's poised to revolutionize how games are played.
GameSpot Editor Gut Reactions
Build around the Wii's strengths
After watching the Nintendo pre-E3 2006 press conference, I was more convinced that the motion-sensitive Wii controller might actually work out. Just watching Miyamoto, Reggie, and Iwata playing tennis with contest winner Scott Dyer, it seemed like they were having themselves a blast, and I wanted in on that. I made my way into the inner-circle of the Nintendo booth first thing Wednesday morning, making a bee-line to The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The very, very first thing I noticed when actually holding the Wii controller for the first time was that it seemed kinda, I dunno, small. I guess after looking at dozens of super-high-res images of the controller for nearly nine months now, I figured it would be about the size of the universal remote in my living room.
As I started in on the demo, it began to dawn on me that, although I was enjoying the experience, perhaps Twilight Princess wasn't the best game to be retraining my brain on how video games work, especially not with a long line of rather voracious Nintendo fans standing behind me. Not that the game didn't control well, but I've played so much Zelda that having those familiar controls transplanted into this very unique control scheme took quite a bit of getting used to, sort of like the first time I tried playing Quake with a mouse and keyboard instead of just the keyboard.
The games that were designed with the Wii in mind from the ground up, on the other hand, were some of the most intuitive and easy to use games I've played in a long time, Wii Sports: Golf in particular. This is the ultimate challenge that the Wii controller faces--games designed specifically for it seem to have the potential to flourish, while ports of other, more traditional game types will have to struggle to fit in.
Better than the treadmill
After spending some extended time with the Wii controller at a Nintendo developer event on the first night of E3, I'm convinced of one thing: I need to head back to the gym. Checking out games such as Wii Sports: Baseball, Golf, and Tennis were good warm-ups, as they got you into the spirit of using a console controller as something other than an object to hold stationary for long stretches of time. And hey, wiggling the remote during our batting stance in Baseball let us practice our impression of Nomar's freaky warmup routine.
In the end though, it was Wii Music Orchestra that really got my heart pumping. Pumping the Wii controller up and down like a particularly thick conductor's baton made for a surprisingly brisk cardiovascular workout and I'm more than a little ashamed to say I was a bit winded at the end. Thank goodness the only two tunes available for conducting were the theme to Bizet's Carmen and the Legend of Zelda theme. Had it been Flight of the Bumblebees I might be laid up in a hospital instead of sitting here typing this now.
It's growing on me
So far I've had a chance to use the Wii controller with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Madden. The controller's met my expectations in that it's interesting to use, works ok most of the time, and has a bit of a learning curve. It only took me a few minutes to get acclimated to aiming and shooting with the remote with Samus, and it was even easier to throw passes and kick the ball in Madden. Madden actually seemed to have pretty advanced controls with the remote as I was easily able to gun or put touch on passes as appropriate, and quickly learned how to put some hook or slice on kicks in order to compensate for wind. But the remote also met some of my negative expectations; in its current iteration there are some fairly serious flaws that should be addressed before the Wii ships.
The main issue I noticed was with Metroid--it seems as though the sensor array you attach to the TV expects your hands to be on a certain horizontal plane before it will respond to your movements. If you drop or raise your arms below the "strike zone" for any reason (for example, you put down the controllers to go to the bathroom, or drop your hands in disappointment after dying, or just get a little tired and drop your arms), then reacquiring the signal can be a tricky affair. In the meantime, the screen goes crazy and constantly spins you around or points you in one direction, not unlike an optical mouse that's going haywire. This issue came up more than a couple of times during my 10 minutes or so playing Metroid. When the sensors are locked in, the aiming and action with the remote and nunchuk work just fine. But the casual and non-gamers that Nintendo is supposedly trying to attract with this device may become frustrated if the kinks aren't worked out of the remote sensor.
That caveat aside, I came away from my experience with the Wii more interested in the console than I was when I came to E3. If Nintendo keeps the price point low (as in $200 or not much higher), then I will likely pick one up at launch. I freely admit being wrong about the DS's touch screen and dual screen, so despite the remote's current problems, I'll give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt this time.
I totally don't hate it. Honestly.
Here's the thing I decided after sampling a few of the Wii's available titles: you need to be very clear on how sensitive the controls for your game ought to be, otherwise you're going to end up frustrating a lot of people. Key examples on either side of the equation: Mario and Excite Truck. Super Mario Galaxy, in my mind, was one of the tightest and most enjoyable games shown in Nintendo's booth. I really liked the spinning mechanics used to send Mario flying from planet to planet, and the boss fight I tried was a great deal of fun. Conversely, I can't say I loved Excite Truck. I think there's a great deal of potential for that game to be fun, but something about the sensitivity of the steering in that game seemed overwrought. It's like, yeah, it took some serious getting used to just to adjust to tilting the controller, rather than using a D-pad to steer the damn thing. But even once I got used to doing that, I still felt like I was in terrible danger of oversteering with even the slightest tilt too far in one direction.
I still need to try some games like Zelda and WarioWare, as I've heard both make very good use of the Wii controller. But from my initial impression, I do actually think there's a great deal of potential for the thing. However, this system's success, more than any other in history, is going to rely heavily on developer creativity and skill. Maybe that's how it ought to be, really, but it could also be quite the risky proposition if not enough of the right people get their hands on this thing.
The Most intuitive gaming experience ever?
Brad goes Wiiiiiiii
Heading over to the Nintendo booth for a little Wii action on the first day of E3, I was somewhat confident in the concept of Nintendo's motion-sensitive controller, but I wasn't sold on its execution as a device that's actually fun to play with. Then I played 30 seconds of "Table Tennis," one of the tech demos they had on offer, and I was convinced. They made me a believer with one little controller exercise. I kind of flubbed my first attempt to make contact, but the very next time, I was batting that ball across the table over and over without even having to tell my hand what to do. It was one of the most intuitive gaming experiences I think I've ever had.
Then again, some of the more game-y games at Nintendo's booth are not as compelling as those designed specifically for the Wii. Traditional games with a few motion-based actions shoehorned in are not going to carry that system. Basically, it's the same situation as the Nintendo 64 and the GameCube: Nintendo's come up with a radical and good idea, but most likely, they'll be the ones to best exploit that idea. But who cares? We'll all buy it anyway.
Set the Wii free!
I got my hands on Red Steel to see if the Wii's motion-sensing controls were quick enough to make the shooter experience as responsive as a mouselook world. When I first picked up the controller, the first thing I did was swing the controller in a barely controlled left-to-right arc to see if I could do a quick 180. The crosshair had a promising start flying across the screen, but then the crosshair hit the edge of the screen and the turning speed slowed to a crawl, reverting back to D-pad turning speed.
I needed a couple minutes to adjust to aiming with the controller. Trying to carefully move the gun reticle over each target resulted in a shaky crosshair, kind of like using a laser pointer, but aiming got much easier once I started snapping the controller at my target and timing the firing click, like doing a snap AWP shot in Counter-Strike.
Overall, the analog stick movement and aiming felt fine, but I was disappointed by the constrained turn speed in Red Steel. It felt like the game screen was designed to cage the controller. It looks like I'll have to wait for a Wii game that keeps the crosshair in the center of the screen no matter where you look.
It's a natural for sports
I tried out the Wii Sports Baseball game on the show floor and I managed to crack a few balls out of the park within the first few swings. Nintendo's Wii controller is remarkably easy to learn. Swinging the controller like a bat felt instantly natural, so much so that I found myself slipping into a normal batting stance without even thinking about it. I could rotate my wrists and wave the bat in tiny circles and see the actions mirrored on the TV screen. I'm sure I'd get tired after an hour or so taking cuts in the batters box, but maybe that's a good thing. Of course, I could probably also swing the controller by just flicking my wrist, but that wouldn't be nearly as much fun.
Excite Truck proved a little more challenging since I had to hold the controller sideways in two hands and act like I was steering a car with it. I exaggerated my turns at first with dramatic controller tilts, but quickly discovered that small adjustments are much better for keeping the truck under control. Sure, holding a candy bar shaped controller might not be the most physically satisfying experience, but it worked well enough to get the job done. I'm really excited about the Wii's prospects, and can't wait to try out more of the games and how they handle with the new controller.