Nintendo Wii Preview - Launch Games
It seems that now, more than ever, enjoying a game not only involves simply playing it, but also poring over every single screenshot, preview and piece of leaked information available, up to the title’s eventual release. In fact, actually playing games is something of a tedious formality; why on earth would I want to waste time playing through Halo 3, when I can sit in a darkened room watching its trailer on repeat in high definition all day?
Where was I going with this again?
Oh, right; perhaps not everyone is as completely preoccupied as I am with how many different weapons there will be in Lost Planet, or how Bioshock’s water effects will look when running in real time (awesome, I should think), but it’s a lot of fun to speculate. This is especially true at the moment, with the new console generation almost fully upon us. Although Microsoft's Xbox 360 has just celebrated its first birthday, Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii have yet to hit the streets of the UK.
However, the anticipation held for Nintendo’s Wii seems somewhat different to that of other consoles; beyond the screenshots and press releases, we want to know how these games are actually played, and more specifically, how the developers have taken advantage of the motion sensing technology to enhance the gaming experience. This is the reason why the current list of announced Wii titles is, to some extent, mystifying; aside from muddy developer descriptions and fleeting reports from those lucky enough to try the controller at various shows and conferences, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from most games. This is even true of highly anticipated titles from recognized franchises, such as Super Mario Galaxy.
Still, this won’t get in the way of the hype train, which gathers more momentum as the console’s launch draws ever nearer. Heavy hitters such as The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Ubisoft’s Red Steel have contributed to much of the excitement, not to mention the recent announcement of the emulated titles that will be available on the system’s Virtual Console. With all that said, the Wii launch day line up isn’t actually very good, which, to be honest, should come as a surprise to no one. Historically, most console launch day software line-ups have been terrible, and Nintendo certainly isn’t bucking the trend this time around. Many promising titles, such as Wario Ware: Smooth Moves have been mysteriously plucked from the release roster.
There are still some great games out on December 8th, but they are unfortunately flanked by a lot of uninspired cross-platform ports and licensed adaptations of various popular animated franchises; are people really buying the Wii to play a Spongebob Squarepants game? Thankfully, there are plenty of titles to look forwards to which have been slated for release the dubiously titled ‘launch window’; the period that starts in December, and extends to early next year. Although I could rattle off a list of high-profile titles like Metroid Prime: Corruption, I’ve decided to instead champion a collection of slightly less hyped titles that I’m really quite excited about.
Though not immediately obvious from its title, Excite Truck is the spiritual successor to the classic NES title Excitebike. Lack of clever rhyming notwithstanding, this new game seeks to takes the speed and high-flying stunts of the original, and transpose them from motorbikes to four-wheeled articulates, or as Nintendo of America’s President Reggie Fils-Aime put it, “big damn trucks”.
Although it would be easy to write off Excite Truck as yet another racing game (a genre that permeates every console’s launch line-up more prevalently than any other), its retro pedigree should suggest that Nintendo has spent time concentrating on the simple pleasure of throwing several tons of truck around a corner at breakneck speed, and then hurling it of a cliff.
Hopefully, the enjoyment of this will be enhanced by the intuitive controls; trucks are manoeuvred around the various tracks by holding the controller horizontally, and then rotating it like a steering wheel whilst using the 1 and 2 buttons to accelerate and brake. Being in mid-air is a different matter; the truck can be tipped in any direction by twisting and tipping the controller in the appropriate direction. The orientation of the truck upon hitting the ground is given a rating; for example, all four wheels touching down at the same time grants the player with a nitrous speed boost; an incendiary advantage over their opponents.
Excite Truck seems like an interesting proposition for a number of reasons, one of which being the marriage of various racing sub-genres. The game’s pure racing elements, particularly the sheer velocity at which vehicles tear through the various levels and muscle for rank, is clearly influenced by Criterion’s Burnout series, whereas its high-flying stunt mechanics share parallels with the weight-shifting world of dirt track games like Motocross Madness (an old favourite of mine), or even something as simple and curious as Funky Truck Arizona. However, where the latter sub-genre has often made it seem necessary to spawn an extra hand to facilitate extra pitch and yaw inputs, the Wii controller should not only bypass this issue, but also imbue players with a much greater sense of control.
If there’s something that Nintendo does very well, it’s taking a sport, distilling it into its most fun, vital elements, and then creating a game out of it. Usually, this somehow involves Mario and his usual cadre of friends. Although many gamers prefer the depth of ‘real’ sports games, it’s undeniable that above all, Nintendo’s simplified sports titles, whether they be football, tennis, or racing, come into their own in a multiplayer scenario. I can certainly testify that some of the most tense, competitive and profanity-laden multiplayer experiences I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in can be attributed to games like Mario Kart: Double Dash and Mario Power Tennis.
With the ‘everyone involved’ ethos of the Wii being pushed at every opportunity, it seems appropriate that one of the very first titles on the console is Wii Sports; a multiplayer-oriented collection of, well, sports games. Included in the package are Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Boxing and Bowling. However, rather than trying to translate the entirety of each sport to its virtual counterpart, Nintendo has instead thought about fun ways to use the Remote, and then translated these to each game, stripping away any elements superfluous to this interaction. For example, in Wii Tennis, your avatar moves to the ball automatically, leaving you free to concentrate purely on the act of swinging the racket.
Although it seems like this would make for overly simplified versions of each sport, we can probably expect that the nature of the remote allows plenty of room to improve and master each game, whether that involves a subtle flick of the wrist to throw some mean backspin in Wii Bowling, or giving your swing a little more follow-through to get under par in Wii Golf.
Wii Sports is bundled with every new console, an announcement which took many people by surprise when it was made back in September, despite making perfect sense; the various sports have been designed from the ground up to take advantage of the motion sensing controllers, and it will serve as a good introduction to using the remote for the first time. On top of this, it’s certainly the kind of thing people will use to show off the console to their family and friends, and it seems simple enough to get non-gamers involved. With its innovation and accessibility, the quality of Wii Sports is sure to secure its place in history with other great console launch pack-in titles; Sonic The Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, or possibly even Klax.
If I’ve learnt anything from the relatively little information that exists about Elebits, it’s that electricity isn’t a natural phenomenon, but that it radiates from tiny creatures known as Elebits. Although once happy to serve humanity and power all manner of appliances, the Elebits have decided that they no longer wish to serve mankind, and have gone into hiding. Luckily for us, the Wii runs on pure magic rather than electricity, and so will be a vital tool used by intrepid players to recapture the mischievous little critters.
Of course, restoring power to televisions, blenders and dishwashers of the world isn’t going to be that easy; you’ll need to look practically everywhere for the titular creatures, both indoors and outside. Players will, however, have the use of an energy beam that can be used to manipulate any objects that may be harbouring Elebits. This makes the gameplay a kind of fusion between Pikmin’s herding/collecting mechanic, and Half-life 2’s gravity gun.
All of this action takes place in a suburban domestic setting, the kind of which has proven popular in Karamari Damacy, No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, and other several other quirky Japanese action-puzzle titles that have emerged over the last few years. From what I can glean from screenshots and demonstration videos, the early parts of the game have you pulling open drawers, opening refrigerators and searching underneath various appliances for the elusive energy beings. In later parts of the game, the scale of your search is increased considerably, permitting players to elevate houses and activate other huge objects using a more powerful energy beam.
The world in which Elebits takes place is very much one of cause-and-and effect. Not only can objects be picked up and thrown around with the energy beam, but the player can also directly interact with various appliances; placing a bag of popcorn in a microwave and switching it on will have an obvious effect. Although it seems unclear whether these aspects have an effect on the gameplay itself, the sheer number of possibilities that the various environments present sounds intriguing in its own right
Elebits represents one of the early takes on using the Wii’s controls to create a refined and effective method of control from a first-person perspective on a console. Although the importance of ensuring that these controls feel responsive and intuitive is vital, the charm of the game’s eponymous characters and their ability to strike a chord should also contribute significantly to the title’s success.
Trauma Center: Second Opinion
The second game in Atlus’ medical drama simulation series was originally titled Trauma Center: Relapse, which I think would have been far more appropriate, given the crushingly difficult, yet amazingly addictive nature of its predecessor. Name aside, this title has a lot to live up to; it’s not often that a handheld title is so critically acclaimed and innovative that it spawns a home console sequel.
With that said, this isn’t actually a true sequel, but a reimagining, a Wii-make if you like, of the original game. Much like the DS adaptation of Phoenix Wright, Trauma Center: Second Opinion includes the missions and narrative of its predecessor, intertwined with several new features; updated graphics, new characters, new story elements, and several Wii specific objectives that take full advantage of the platform.
Of course, the most significant addition to the game will be the control method, which sees players using the Wii Remote to perform the various surgical tasks. Rather than simply translate the movement of the DS stylus to the remote, the developers have altered the functionality of several instruments to take full advantage of the console’s motion sensing technology. There are even some new tools at the player’s disposal. For example, the Remote and Nunchuck can be used as defibrillator pads; thrusting both controllers towards the screen simultaneously delivers a kick-start to the heart of an arresting patient. I’ve also noticed from various demonstration videos that the remote has more subtle ways of affecting gameplay; the on-screen cursor reflects the natural movement of the player’s hand very closely; every shake and falter is translated to gameplay, so the steady-handed approach that real surgery demands is, to some degree, reflected in the game.
Elements such as these are what make me excited about Trauma Center: Second Opinion; the developers could have easily created a fairly straight port of the DS game, substituting the stylus for the Wii Remote, but have instead opted to improve the gaming experience by rebuilding the game around the new control scheme. Atlus’ innovative approach could be a shot in the arm for developers who are unsure quite how to bring their games to the Wii whilst remaining faithful to their established franchise.
You’ve no doubt noticed that I’m quite preoccupied with how these various games are controlled; it strikes me that the developers of these titles have put a lot of thought into exactly how unique methods of player interaction can be used to enhance gameplay. Although the practical implementation of these new controls may not be perfected this early in the console’s lifecycle, their efforts are certainly a step in the right direction. The long term success of the Wii won’t depend solely on the technology that’s inside the box on launch day, but rather developers embracing the control method as an integral part of their software, rather than simply adding as an afterthought, or shoehorning it into an unbefitting genre.
Personally, I think that I’ve read just about as much I can about the Wii for the time being, and I’d really like December 8th to arrive so I can get finally my hands on a console to play for myself. Only hands-on experience will prove just how much mileage the Wii’s technical innovation will possess, and as we’re constantly reminded by Nintendo’s PR department, playing is believing.