Nintendo has achieved the impossible: My 50-year-old, non-gaming father wants a Wii for Christmas. Either I've been whisked to Bizarro World, or The House That Mario Built is on to something big.
With the release of its oddly monikered next-gen system, Nintendo may just have revolutionized the way America will think about videogames. As promised, the innovative console immediately hooks anyone who plays it -- from hardcore fans to gaming-illiterate adults like my dad.
Low price notwithstanding, much of the Wii's success and appeal can be attributed to its blissfully intuitive controller. Part television remote, part computer mouse, this wireless wonder must be wielded to be believed. If you can use a laser pointer, you can master most games.
Publisher: Nintendo Price: $250 Score: 9 (out of 10)
The game that comes with the system, a six-in-one package with the econo-brand title of Wii Sports, serves as a fun introduction to the controller's vast potential. Depending on the game, your "Wiimote" transforms into a tennis racket handle, a golf club, or a baseball bat. A motion-sensitive "nunchuck" attachment occasionally makes the Wii a two-handed experience -- great for left-jab/right-cross combinations in boxing.
A nice touch is the remote's built-in speaker, which recreates the "whoosh!" of a golf swing. Subtle twists of the wrist even allow ball spin during "Wii bowling" -- an experience so realistic, you can almost smell the shoe-sanitizer spray. The only downside? I've actually got tennis elbow from playing virtual tennis. The Wii should come prepackaged with Icy Hot.
Also, trust me on this: Just wear the uncool wrist strap connected to the Wiimote -- unless you want your You Tube legacy to be "sweaty-handed gamer flings remote through TV screen."
The Wii even makes system setup fun. The console's main interface looks like TV screens tuned to different channels. One of them, the "Mii Channel," lets you create personalized South Park-esque avatars of yourself and friends. These playable mini-me's make Wii Sports even more immersive -- whether you choose to bowl as yourself or The Dude from The Big Lebowski.
When connected to Nintendo's free wi-fi service, you and your virtual persona can seek out friends online and send text messages. When your machine is powered off, your Mii character will even travel to other Wii consoles to "mingle" and meet friends. Cute, but have we learned nothing from Terminator 2?
Possibly the most joyous feature is the Wii's "Virtual Console." This service allows players to download old-school Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, and Turbographix-16 games for a couple bucks each.
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Throw in your Game Cube games (which work on the Wii), and you've got six memorable systems in one. With four new games available every Monday morning -- including Donkey Kong and Sonic the Hedgehog -- I finally have a reason to start the new workweek.
As its name implies, the Wii has the potential to bring people together like no system before it. Finally, "game night" with the family doesn't have to mean Boggle. And "drunken home run derby" is sure to become a new favorite on campus.
It was only after my mother kicked my ass at tennis that I realized the Wii destroys the notion of videogames as a niche club for an exclusive generation. Nintendo has stepped up its game exponentially. Now I'll have to step up mine if I hope to beat Dad in fake bowling.