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If You Want a Wii, Come to South Africa

Plenty of them in stock here. Only R2999 (about $440).

Wii Initial Impressions

I was in New York today not following Steve Pavlina's advice, and I had a chance to stop by the Nintendo World Store (Flash mandatory, ugh) in Rockefeller Center and spend some minutes with the Wii. After braving the "crowd" (~15-20 people playing on about 10 Wiis), I finally got my hands on the Wiimote.

The first game I played was Excite Truck. This is your typical off-road arcade racer controlled by holding the Wiimote horizontally and tilting it to steer. Aside from it being a touch sensitive, it was very intuitive and the new control style made what I would have otherwise considered a standard racing game a lot of fun. The graphics were noticeably subpar (below even my lowered expectations), and were only made worse by the beautiful ~37" HDTV I was playing on.

After one race, I stepped over to the next Wii and played Madden. Again, after playing Madden on the XBox 360, the graphics failed to impress. The controls, however, made the game really fun. Snapping the ball and passing it with motion were a lot more fun than simply pushing "A". The run game also becomes much more interesting and intuitive when I can shake the nunchuk or Wiimote left or right to juke/stiff arm instead of having to remember whether it's "X" or "LB". The only trouble I had was getting the kicking motion down. Luckily the tutorial available from the pause menu helped me a bit (though it still took me 8 tries).

Finally, I got a few minutes on Call of Duty 3. I'm sorry to say that this was a complete disaster. I just couldn't hold the Wiimote at the right position in order to get the controls to respond the way I wanted. I was often spinning around in circles or looking at the floor or sky. I eventually turned to sensitivity down but that just made it impossible to respond to enemy attacks. Of the three games, this was the only one where I was completely disappointed.

It's well-known that the Wii isn't a graphical powerhouse. I didn't think this would bother me that much, but I've gotten really used to pretty visuals (or mediocre visuals in standard def). The motion-sensing part of the controls works perfectly, but the pointing aspect needs some work. Also, even though some controls seem intuitive once you learn them, because of all the hidden motions that are possible, you're gonna have to pop out the instruction manual or run through the tutorials. For better or for worse, button mashing is over.

Still, I think that the awe of the new controller will keep me interested in the Wii for far longer than great graphics and shallow gameplay ever could. See you all in line Sunday morning!

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First Wii Kiosk Is In South Florida

Well how about that! A Gamestop in practically my backyard (well, some 20 miles from my backyard) is the first Gamestop in the country to set up their Wii Kiosk. It's too bad I won't be back in Miami until Thanksgiving, after the Wii comes out, or else I'd go check it out.

Now to convince myself that taking the Wii home for Thanksgiving is a good idea, despite the hassle TSA might give me ("Uh, sorry, sir, this is a, uh, banned substance. We're gonna have to confiscate it." Five minutes later: "Hey, Bob! I just scored a Wii! It'll go great with my collection of 50,000 lighters and 20,000 bottles of shampoo!"). Although it would be great to get some impressions from my family - who are far from being even casual gamers (well, except my mom, who loves FreeCell).

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Wii Launch Lineup of 62 Games Announced

Joystiq is reporting that the Wii launch lineup has been announced, and it includes a whopping 62 games (32 Wii games and 30 Virtual Console games). This is a far cry from the Nintendo 64's launch lineup of 2 games (which I played into the ground until another decent game finally came out).

I wonder what's keeping them from releasing everything in all three regions (except translations in Japan-only games). The US missing out on classics such as Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World, and Zelda: LttP. Closely mirroring the N64 release 10 years ago, the sole N64 game coming out is Super Mario 64 (which I've played recently on the DS and have no intention of buying a third time).

While I do think the Virtual Console will give the XBox Live Arcade a run for it's money, personally, I find the lineup in XBLA is much more compelling. Nothing on the VC list screams "casual game" (although I guess that's what the Wii itself is for), except Super Mario Picross, a great game in it's own right that I don't think saw release here in the US (I played it in an emulator). Maybe I've just been burned by nostalgia too many times (Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers and Inspecter Gadget just don't have the same attraction 15 years later), but I'd rather play simpler, more novel games on XBLA than pay for old classics a second or third time on the Wii.

Still, the Wii brings a much-needed shakeup to the video game industry, which has been riding on rehashed formulas and prettier graphics for far too long. It appears that Nintendo will finally have the perfect launch they've always vied for, with plenty of units on shelves and a strong library to match.

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DigitalLife 06

I attended the DigitalLife show this past Saturday. I got a chance to see some interesting little toys, get some hands-on time with the PS3 and got a chance to hang with Robert Heron, Patrick Norton and Jim Lauderback of dl.tv/PCMag. Here are some of my impressions:

  • The new Treo 680 is a nice (but incremental) improvement over the 650. It definitely does not reflect the two year gap between the 650 and the 680. It loses the antenna, but keeps the awful VGA camera and same processor.
  • Dell was everywhere. I didn't see many non-Dell/Alienware machine on the floor.
  • The 20" Dell notebook is a hoss. I can't imagine anyone buying it and actually taking it anywhere. If it would actually fit on an airplane tray table, I can see the table just snapping off under the sheer weight of this machine. Even for LAN parties, I think a Shuttle box and separate display might be easier to manage, and would be a whole lot more upgradeable.
  • While I didn't get to hold the controller, I did see the Wii on display. The system is about the size I expected, but the controller looks a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Elebits was the game on display, and while it didn't look particularly fun, it did do a good job of showing off the Wiimote.
  • The PS3 controller is a nice incremental improvement over the PS2 controller. I like the way R2/L2 were converted to semi-trigger buttons and the slightlly smaller grip felt a bit better.
  • Sonic on the PS3, although 70% complete, was pretty buggy. Lots of clipping issues were apparent and the 360 version (85% complete) felt a lot faster. The graphics on the PS3 were great, although they didn't seem that much better than the 360.

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Monday Links

Some from last week:

A map of soda/pop/coke popularity by county. Some interesting little pockets of "soda" in the mid-West and I didn't know most of Florida preferred Coke, but with only 120k respondents across the U.S., maybe it's not too accurate.

A McDonald's billboard features a sundial. Too bad it's McDonald's because the ad is pretty cool. Total calories consumed before 1pm according to the ad: over 3000.

Pacman for Excel. For some reason I have had this page open for a few days and have yet to download it. Weird.

The Wiimote retail box unveiled. Nintendo's Apple-like design approach has extended to the Wiimote box, which looks a lot like the new iPod nano enclosure.

Interesting coincidences while watching the 6 Star Wars movies simultaneously. Some are a bit of stretch and I doubt that any of them were planned.

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DS Lite Success "Hinges" on QA

It seems that the Apple-inspired Nintendo DS Lite is having quality assurance problems that also seem to be inspired by Apple.

Reports are coming in that the hinge on the new DS Lite is all its cracked up to be (man is this post too punny or what?). Worse yet, Nintendo is claiming that this isn't covered under warranty and is charging users the standard $50 fee (~$40 of the cost of the system) to repair it. This series of events eerily echoes Apple's stance when there were early reports of MacBook Pro and MacBook QA issues (though they've since changed their stance).

Both the DS Lite and the Apple laptops are considered by many to be the pinnacle of industrial design. Is this the unifying factor between the two that is causing these QA problems? Is it still possible to design something aesthetically-pleasing and have it last until at least the end of the warranty period? How much longer will consumers be willing to brave these issues to have something pretty to look at in their hands/laps/desks?

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New Super Mario Bros. First Impressions

nsmb.jpg

I just picked up New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS and have been playing it for about an hour and a half now. It'sbeen the longest gaming session I've had since I played the World of Warcraft trial last November, so that should say something.

Difficulty

Notwithstanding, I'm already on the first castle of the second level in the game and have 29 lives (coins are way too abundant). I've also collected all the star coins in the first world (of which there are 3 per level; most on my first run through the level). I haven't had to try any of the boss battles more than once. Bowser Jr. is easy to kill with fire and one jump; the Bowser Sr. "battle" is the classic Mario Bros battle where you have to drop the bridge. The game is way too easy, at least up until now.

Music

The music is good, but I haven't put in enough time in the game to really have it stick in my mind. The Super Mario Sunshine music wasn't that catchy either. And maybe it's because I've put in way more time into Mario 64, but I know that music a lot better. The classic underground music is still present, but I wish they included more of the traditional Mushroom Kingdom music in the first world to get the nostalgia flowing.

Controls

The controls are standard Mario controls, but "run" has turned into "dash" which takes some getting used to. The main difference is that Mario doesn't speed up right away, you need to get some distance to pick up speed. Not much else to be said here.

Powerups

The new powerups are too gimmicky, in my opinion. The mega mushroom is a flashier invincibility star, and you get 1-ups after it runs out depending on how much damage is done. The mini mushroom is only useful to get into the smaller pipes, it doesn't have much other in-game utility. I haven't really figured out what the blue shell is useful for since a butt stomp can be used to open blocks on the ground where shells used to be needed. I find myself going back to the fire flower time and again since there's nothing better to use (where's my flying powerup?).

Conclusion

I can't say I'm too impressed with the game thus far. Maybe the level design will get more interesting and the game harder later on. If the rest of the game is like the first world and a half, I'll be sorely disappointed. I'll have more later as I continue playing.

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Catching Up

Being back home in Miami Beach has kind of put a damper on my blogging. The change of environment has me preoccupied with other things and I've only been skimming my RSS feeds and skipping over a bunch of my daily reads.

Another thing I feel has kept me from writing is the fact that there's a ton of stuff going on. Google released a couple of new apps and E3 has brought a ton of new gaming news. I feel that if I do blog, I'll miss something and I'd rather not worry about that. Instead, I prefer to know that I've missed everything :-)

I have been keeping up with Joystiq's Nintendo Wii coverage and I think there is an underlying theme that can be summed up by two sentences: "The controls are cool, but too sensitive and the developer should be able to fix this. The graphics are okay, but not great."

Microsoft seems to be siding with Nintendo, having stated something to the effect of: "For the price of a PS3, one could buy both a Wii and a 360." I think it's good for the industry that all three companies are taking different stances in the market. Nintendo is going for the the casual gamer looking for cheap, innovative fun; Sony is going for the hardcore gamer looking for the high-end, "ultimate" experience; and Microsoft is going after a little of both (good games with next-gen graphics and casual games via XBox Live Arcade).

Strangely enough, it's Sony that appears the most stereotypically Microsoft-ish in this industry: They're creating a long list of features (with a price to match) that users may or may not want in hopes that the gaming industry equivalent of the Megahertz myth (i.e., that better graphics = better games) still applies.

In other news, AOL has launched its competitor to MySpace called AIMpages. I haven't had a chance to really check it out, but a quick look at the configuration for the friends shows that none of the people on my buddy list are eligible anyway.

There is a Philadelphia Bloggers meetup a week from this Saturday, two days after I get back in. I'll probably make it out to this one since I won't have much to do then, unless of course my self-diagnosed Social Anxiety Disorder kicks in and I become deathly afraid of meeting even geeks in person.

That's all for now.

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Nintendo Revolution Renamed Wii

The official Nintendo Revolution website has announced that official name of the Revolution will be Wii. While I think Revolution was a cool enough name (and the abbreviation RS nicely watched the DS), and aside from all the PS/XBox fanboys making wii-wii jokes, it is an alright name. Nintendo has gone out on a limb with the focus (originality over graphics) and the controller and the name is just a reflection of this.

One thing is for sure: the Google Juice will be strong with this one. Since 'Wii' is not a real word, even just a little press will jump Nintendo's 'Wii' straight to the top of search results. Compare this to 'Revolution' which would have to compete with the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, et al for Google pole position.

Update: Chris Kohler at Wired posted a more in-depth defense of the 'Wii' name. He basically argues that Wii doesn't sound anything like a video game, and that's what Nintendo is trying to do with the system – make it like no other video game system ever.

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