While Sony and Microsoft have gone for grunt and multimedia extravagance on their next-gen consoles, Nintendo has gone down a different path. The Nintendo Wii, which was launched in Australia today (7 December), is certainly much less powerful a box than the Xbox 360 or the upcoming PlayStation 3. But it does feature an innovative new control system which aims to take the complexity out of playing and bring on-gamers into the fold. Has Nintendo succeeded?
The Wii is much smaller than a 360.
Those expecting their next-generation games consoles to be big and bulky (a la the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3) will be more than surprised when they see the Wii in the flesh. The console is smaller -- much smaller -- than either the 360 or the PS3. Although not as petite as a slimline PS2, the Wii is compact and discreet enough to be a nice fit in most living room situations. Just like the 360, the Wii can either be stored flat or on its side. Nintendo have provided a special grey stand for those wanting to store their Wii sitting up -- this stand lets the Wii sit on an attractive angle.
The unit itself is available only in pearl white in Australia. The smooth exterior of the Wii looks quite appealing, and is overall a much better finish than the off-white the Xbox 360 comes in. Most of the unit's surface is clutter-free. The front of the Wii features the disc loading slot, which glows a nice shade of blue when inserting or removing discs. The top of the unit (top when you have the Wii stored on its side, that is) features a power and reset button, while the bottom has an eject button. Along its edge is a discreet panel which can be lifted open to reveal the Wii's SD card slot and Wii remote sync button.
Along the top edge of the unit are another two panels that hide one of the Wii's best features -- full GameCube backwards compatibility. The first panel hides four slots for GameCube controllers, while the second features two GameCube memory card slots. The back of the unit is similarly clean, with only a power, AV Multi-Out and sensor bar slot present.
While we're on the topic of sensors, the Wii's main point of differentiation from its next-gen competitors is its wireless controls. Instead of the typical controllers you usually find with game systems, the Wii's main method of interaction is via rectangular-shaped wireless devices which look remarkably like remote controls for TVs, DVDs or other home entertainment devices. These remotes share the similar pearly white finish of the console itself, and feature only a few buttons. At the top is a power button, and just below it is a four-way control pad. Below that are a large opaque A button and three buttons for volume and main menu access. The other features of the remote control are two more game control buttons, a small speaker and four blue indicator lights which indicate which number controller that particular remote is (the Wii can have up to four remotes synched to it at once). At the back of the remote is a large trigger-like Z button, while the bottom houses a removable casing for the remote's two AA batteries.
The remote will be all you'll need to control basic navigation and some games with the Wii, but for many other titles an extra attachment is needed. The 'nunchuck' attachment comes pre-packaged with every Wii, and is connected to the bottom of the wireless remote via a short cable. The nunchuck itself is pearl white (once again), and is shaped like a small, curved club. A small joystick adorns the top of the nunchuk, while two buttons can be found along its top edge.
Wireless connectivity between the controllers and the console is neat, but unlike the 360's built-in wireless sensors, the Wii's more sophisticated system requires an external sensor bar to be placed near your TV or screen. The sensor bar itself is a thin, long and black piece of plastic which can be discreetly placed on top of a television or at the bottom of an entertainment unit. The cable that connects the sensor bar to the Wii, however, is rather thin and flimsy. Care will be needed to ensure you don't accidentally rip the cable.