My initial Wii impressions

I finally got a Nintendo Wii this weekend. Wii’s are in fairly short supply right now, so I couldn’t find one at a reasonable price on-line. If you live in the Seattle area, here’s my Wii-finding tip: Fred Meyer stores get deliveries on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, meaning that calling a Fred Meyer store at 7am on Sunday morning to check if they received a new shipment is a good way to find a Wii.

The total cost, with tax, an extra controller, and a component video cable was around $350.

I’ve got Wii Sports, Wii Play, and will be picking up Mario Galaxy this week. The primary users will probably be my kids, although I am very interested in trying out Mario Galaxy.

As a former Xbox 360 developer, I couldn’t help comparing the Wii to the Xbox 360. So far I give the Wii high marks for:

  • It’s small and quiet.
  • It starts up quickly.
  • The dashboard UI is very clean and pleasant.
  • The low-res (480p component) graphics are quite good. I did occasionally see jaggies, for example on the edges of the bowling pins during close-ups in Wii bowling. But the Wii encourages you to play fairly far away from the screen, which masks the lower resolution.
  • The Wii remotes are great! I love the new gesture “verbs” that are available for game play, and I found it much easier to enter text with the Wii than with an Xbox controller.
  • The TV station metaphor for the top-level UI is a good metaphor. It makes it easy to take in the available options at a glance. And the Wii remote makes it low-effort to pick the channel you want.
  • Having built-in wireless was a nice touch.
  • The Mii avatars are pure genius. Both the fun of designing them and then having them appear in the sports-style games. This is something that the other consoles should copy, and I’m surprised they haven’t. Maybe it’s patented in some way that makes it difficult to copy.
  • I thought it was a nice touch that I could name my console, but I didn’t see the name used anywhere.
  • My two three-year-old daughters were strongly attracted to the Wii dashboard and games’ graphics and sounds, saying things like “pretty!” and “I like it!” They never said this about the Xbox 360 dashboard or games.
  • My five-year-old son really got into acting out the moves in the baseball game. And he has not yet played real-world baseball. It will be interesting to see how he does when he starts playing real-world baseball next spring.
  • The UI of the Wii online store is very good. The Mario themed downloading bar is pure genius – you know you have a good UI when people enjoy watching the download progress bar.

Some things I didn’t like about the Wii:

  • The UI for pairing a second wireless controller to the console was hard to discover. (I will give Nintendo big props for pre-pairing the in-the-box controller with the console. I’m sure that adds cost to manufacturing, but it makes for a great out-of-box experience.)
  • The network connection UI gave very little feedback on why the network connection failed. When you test network connectivity you get a 20 second “testing” animation, followed by a cryptic five-digit error code. I had to make two changes to my router configuration to get networking to work. I would have preferred the Xbox 360’s UI, that gives more step-by-step information about network connectivity issues.
  • My three-year-olds can’t handle the Wii controller very well. There are too many buttons to accidentally press, and the required gestures are too complicated for them.
  • No downloadable games demos. And very few downloadable games at all.
  • The walled-garden Internet channels are pretty weak, especially the Everybody Votes channel.
  • Not many current or upcoming games that I want to play. After Mario Galaxy, I don’t know what my next purchase will be. Luckily, the current games should keep my kids happy for quite a while. (My son’s been working his way through Cloning Clyde on Xbox 360 for the past year, I can only imagine how much fun he’s going to have with Mario Galaxy!)

In conclusion, I’d have to rate the Wii as a much better “family” console than either the Xbox 360 or the PS3. And by family I mean “small children”. I’m lucky that I like the Wii’s UI and game style, because I have a feeling I’ll be hearing and seeing a lot of it over the next few years. As for my trusty 360, I suspect it will be mostly relegated to “Media Center Extender” status. (Although I am definitely looking forward to Alan Wake and I have high hopes for the next Banjo game. And I might get “The Orange Box” – Portal and Team Fortress 2 look like a lot of fun.)