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Sunday, November 12, 2006


I have played the Wii.

About four hours standing in lines at Festival Arcadia (still open tomorrow if you're in Montreal and want a shot at the Wii) netted be a precious 8 minutes of gameplay of "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princss" for the Nintendo Wii, both being scheduled to come out next week. It also provided my ample photo opportunities. But of course, neither myself nor my friend had remembered to bring a digital camera with us, so I dutifully attempted to wring every last bit of quality from my cellphone as possible. After a good deal of time adjusting my cellphone's exposure and lighting ramp for the environment, and knowing from prior experience that most of the photos wouldn't turn out, I began snapping furiously.

Luckily, despite the questionable quality of the phone's 0.3 megapixel camera, about a third of the photos turned out, with several being of excellent quality. Most of the photos of the Wii unit itself turned out brilliantly, and of the three videos that I took, one is at least "watchable" (although not pleasant). And so, I present to you, my Nintendo Wii media.

First off, a note, all these photos are from the same dungeon. While my game time was split up into a 3 minute and 5 minute session on two different units (the first unit had me as a wolf in a different dungeon), the second unit had a much larger screen and better display case, so all the photos are from this. For lack of a better term, I'm going to call it "The Forest Monkey Dungeon", which seems to be the second in the game after the "Wolf in Sewer" dungeon.

This first photo shows Link running across a bridge. Exciting, eh?

Let's get the other least interesting photo out of the way to begin with. This is simply Link running on grass. The tall grass in the bottom-right hand corner of the screen can be cut with a sword for items, as is normal in Zelda games.

This one is more interesting, at least. This shot is from the cutscene introducing a puzzle. Well, it isn't really a puzzle, because the game shows you how to solve it. Essentially, this dungeon involves rescuing monkeys, who then help you along the way. In this scene, the first monkey (which you free by whacking its cage with your sword) would like to free this second monkey. However, the second monkey is in a cage on top of a pillar that you can't reach. The monkey shows you the solution by rolling into the pillar, causing the cage to wobble. The player then rolls into the pillar two or three times until the cage is knocked off the top, freeing the monkey. It's a simple introduction to the use of a gameplay mechanic more than a puzzle.

Hurray! The player has freed the second monkey, and both monkeys now follow you around. In the gameplay I saw, they help mostly by giving you hints as to where to go, and occasionally providing access to unreachable areas by swinging you across gaps.

Up next, we have the highest quality photo of the game that I managed to take. Unfortunately, the only way to get this close to the screen (all previous shots were taking over the shoulders of the people in line in front of me) was to go to the side of the person playing, which accounts for the angle. However, it's still the sharpest shot. The bug standing behind Link is a bomb bug. These enemies turn into bombs when defeated, which can be used to blow things up. Much like the bomb plants in Ocarina of Time, the player doesn't have their own bombs yet, and so must rely on those that the level designers have placed for him.

And now, my shots of the actual console itself. These turned out amazingly well considering the difficult lighting environment for a cell phone camera. Essentially I turned the exposure as low as it would go, and set the light ramp for bright sunny environments. This helped with the blinding flourescent lights placed under the console. The end result is quite neat, and turned out way better than I thought they would.

But didn't I mention that I had taken a video as well? Yes, but don't expect much. The cell phone is a lot worse at recording videos than it is at taking photos. 25 seconds of footage (with sound) at the "max" resolution of 176x144 and 5FPS nets you about 475KB of video. That's right, about 150kbit for both the audio and video, compressed by an outdated cellphone in realtime. Don't say I didn't warn you, but at least you can sort of tell what's going on in the game.

The video file is in the 3gp format, which needs the QuickTime player to view. It also can't be embedded in a web page, it seems, so you'll have to download it yourself. It's under half a meg.


Now that all the media is out of the way, what are my impressions?

I had already planned to pick up a Wii on launch day (or as close to it as possible) with a copy of Twilight Princess. My fears at the awkwardness of the controls were unfounded. The wiimote and nunchuck were comfortable to hold (although I never had one in-hand for more than five minutes), and although I had virtually no time to get used to the controls or run through the training parts of the game, my experience with Ocarina of Time (I've been playing it on PC the last few weeks, previously I'd stuck to only 2D Zelda games) and the mass consumption of online media about the game permitted me to at least function without too much trouble. The controls felt fairly natural, and swinging the wiimote (which could be done with a quick shake instead of a full blown swing) seemed to fit fairly well.

I was standing up, which wasn't ideal, but I expect that sitting down will feel even more comfortable; several journalists have stated as much. I didn't really get to test out the pointing ability of the wiimote, where it acts like a laser pointer. The limit of that was when I took out the slingshot and aimed it at things, letting off a few random shots, just to try it out. Many people were having difficulty aiming with the wiimote at their hips, which is a stupid way to aim anything. Aiming the wiimote with your arm fully extended makes it much easier. It seemed to be fairly accurate, and there was a bit of a snap-on for targets (although that might have been imagined).

What about the game itself? Well, visually, I'd classify it as "good enough". The game is graphically a GameCube game, since it'll be released for both platforms with zero enhancements visually on the Wii. So, oddly enough, despite it being a launch title, THE launch title that will sell the console, it doesn't show off the Wii's visual or processing prowess in the slightest. Still, the visuals were good enough for me. My last console was a SNES, and the most advanced non-PC gaming device I own is a DS. The graphics in Twilight Princess looked nice, and I'm satisfied. To be frank, it's so much of an improvement over the N64 games (the only realistically styled home console Zelda games before this one) that the graphics don't really matter. Besides, I'm buying the Wii for the control scheme, virtual console, price, and all that other stuff, not graphics.

So, my overall experience? Very positive. I want one.

Now, for some general experience of the other games that I saw. I only barely caught glimpses of Ubisoft's "Rayman: Raving Rabids", a minigame oriented game for the PS2 and Wii. I saw a person playing it on the Wii, using the wiimote as a lightgun to fire plungers at cowboy rabbits in a western themed environment. It looked amusing, although I'm not sure if I'll pick it up. I'll need to try a demo myself first.

Wii Sports (which comes bundled with the Wii, a first since the N64) looked neat. Everybody who played baseball struck out on almost every swing, or hit foul balls when they did hit. Tennis looked fun, but without having tried it, I know now that the game is almost entirely automated, and you don't even control what way you hit the ball. I didn't really see the boxing close up, although I managed to sneak a glimpse from a distance.

I tried out Metroid Prime Hunters for DS, a game that came out ages ago (a DS launch game even, I think). I was really surprised by how well an FPS could be pulled off on the DS. It was much nicer, to me (a PC gamer) than using a console controller for the PS2/XBOX/360. Of course, it's a DS game. I probably won't buy it, as the game itself was confusing, and the architecture was extremely repetitive.

Swinging by the Ubisoft booth, my buddy took a turn at "Rainbow Six: Las Vegas", which is scheduled to come out later this month. The game looked quite fun, but my enthusiasm was dampened when I realized just how hard such a game would be for me. The initial trailers of the game looked really neat, but I'm horrible at tactical shooters on PC, so I'd be even worse at them on a console.

Another cool game we saw was "Gears of War" for the XBOX 360. The game came out just a few days ago, but I don't know anybody with a 360, so it was a first look for me. I even took a turn playing it for quite a while, as the Microsoft booth was horribly disorganized with no employees imposing time limits. The graphics (the game uses the Unreal 3 engine) were frankly amazing, and really show off the console's capabilities (we're told to expect even more as developers get more familiar with the hardware). I wasn't very good at the game, although it seemed like some practice could improve things. It was sort of a tactical shooter and halo mixed together. I snapped one photo of the game, but the LCD's high contrast setting washed out the bright spots. Suffice it to say that the visuals are more impressive than any PC or console game currently available.

I think that about wraps it up. Arcadia in general was a very unpleasant experience. We only went to see the Wii, and we achieved our primary objective. We were hoping to try out Red Steel for the Wii (another launch title), but were told by Ubisoft that the demo wasn't ready (finished) yet. The lineups were enormous, the event was overcrowded (the venue was simply too small, and two or three times the space was needed for the same number of attendees), the food prices were exorbitant (It cost me about $15 for three slices of pizza and a coke), and we had to line up for almost an hour just to LEAVE the event, since they had a mandatory coat check service. We were also almost deafened several times by announcers screaming into microphones and sound effects pumped through loudspeakers that were quite obviously way too loud. I've been to concerts that were deafeningly loud. This was way worse. I walked around with my hands clamped over my ears to stop it from HURTING.

Will I go back to Arcadia next year? Probably not. They won't have such a glut of unreleased content (as in, an entirely new console from Nintendo), and since this is their second event, I imagine the next one will be just as badly organized and managed as this one. But for us, and this one event, all the trouble was worth it just for those 8 minutes of Wii.

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