Over the years, I've tried as hard as I can to avoid console game-playing machines, but it's nearly impossible with the Nintendo Wii. With that gyroscopic accelerometer controller, which conveys both motion and direction, it offers such an odd and new experience.
One game, "Wario Ware: Smooth Moves," is all about using the controller in all sorts of strange ways — each weirder than the next. Kids love this game, and I have to admit it's fascinating.
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But it's not my favorite. That honor goes to a game that comes bundled on the Wii Sports disc: the bowling simulation.
Unbeknownst to most readers, I was a 200-average bowler in high school and college and found myself on the University of California at Berkeley varsity bowling team (yes, they had such teams). I was also on two championship intramural teams.
I mention this only to give myself some standing in evaluating the Nintendo bowling simulation, so I can better convey that Nintendo has done a stupendous job of coding.
Did I say "stupendous?" Yes I did.
I took on this bowling game figuring it would be like all the rest. It would make a lot of bowling sounds and it would look like a barroom bowling machine, where you slide a hockey puck-like "ball" down a short wooden ramp — shuffleboard-style.
Instead, I found a simulator that was so much like the real game, I got completely fascinated with it and developed five or six characters — you design your own bowlers from scratch — each with totally different styles and hook patterns.
Except for my inability to create a hook pattern that would give me that weird 1-2-4-6-10 split, everything the simulator did was absolutely correct. That said, I couldn't do this split in real bowling either.
The pins fall just as they do in a real bowling alley with a real 16-pound ball. That includes sweeping five-pin strikes. High-waterfall strikes, which don't even make sense in real life. Brooklyn strikes. 5–10 splits. Solid 5 pin, solid 9. You name it, you get it.
Left-handed, right-handed, straight ball, curve, hook, slow, fast. All the calculations were on the money, to an eerie extreme.
I can't believe they actually coded the simulator to reproduce pin action this accurately and in real time. And all this in a game console that's no bigger than a disk drive.
But here comes the downside, something that could cause problems for the Wii in the long term: tendonitis.
Because there's no resistance and the controller often requires a hard snapping motion, it begins to beat you up.
With the bowling game, one of my personas gave me such a sore wrist and shoulder (that's my real wrist and shoulder), I had no choice but to switch to my left hand.
This will be a huge medical issue. They'll call it Wii Syndrome, or some such thing. It wouldn't be so bad if Nintendo's design didn't encourage such extreme motion, speed, and snapping actions.
Those news reports about people losing control of their controller and hitting the dog? They seem to stem from the baseball simulation, where you create a 100-mph curve ball by letting go of your controller while it's still strapped to your wrist. And you thought real pitchers had it tough.
On the other side of the coin, there's actually some physical activity involved. Instead of kids sitting there doing nothing, they have to be up and moving and often jumping around to play many Wii games. It's quite odd to witness.
In fact, the Wii controller is an obvious slam dunk for calisthenics. Nintendo has announced a Wii Health Pack that, unlike other such systems, can't be dry-labbed.
In other words, the controller can tell if you're running in place or doing jumping jacks or whatever. You can't just sit and watch someone else exercise on TV.
So my experience with this toy tells me that a fundamental change has taken place in game play — and it's all down to the controller.
People were all pumped up about it before it came out, and now I can see why. It changes all the rules and will dominate the future of gaming. You watch.
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