Wii, by Nintendo

Nintendo’s latest console has finally arrived, and it’s a doozy. It’s low on horsepower, sparse on features, and desperately lacking in online capability. However, it’s full of innovation, and the game lineup is solid.

When you first hook up the Wii, you’ve got the unit itself, the Sensor Bar, a power cable, and an RCA A/V cable. The sensor bar can be placed at the top or bottom of the screen, but must be level with the floor and centered horizontally to the TV screen. Useless trivia: the Sensor Bar is not a sensor, it is in fact the origin of the IR pulse. The sensor is in the Wii Remote, granting the device various rewards.

Then you’ve got the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The Wii Remote is a heck of a gadget: motion and tilt sensing, bluetooth wireless, a speaker, an IR sensor, and a rumble pack. You can connect up to four at once for four-player action, and each one has a set of lights indicating which player it is. The nunchuk attaches to the Wii Remote via cable, and has its own motion and tilt sensor, an analog stick, and a couple of buttons (but sadly, no rumble.) Both devices fit comfortably in my (fairly large) hands, and have been just as comfortable to everyone I’ve handed them to. I’d also like to note that playing without your hands tied together is far more comfortable than any controller I’ve ever used, and a very welcome change.

The next wireless function is in the internet connection. When you start up the Wii, your settings panel allows you to set up the wireless connection to receive firmware updates, game updates, Mii’s (more on them later), and to download content from the Wii Shopping Channel.

The settings also provide for switching between 480i and 480p, 4:3 and 16:9 widescreen, and Mono/Stereo/Surround sound, settings which affect all Wii games used with the unit. You can also set the sensor bar position (above or below the TV), and adjust the “Sensor Bar Sensitivity” – I put this in quotes because you are actually, of course, adjusting the sensitivity of the IR sensor in the Wii Remotes. This isn’t like the sensitivity in your mouse settings – it’s the raw IR sensitivity of the camera. You can reduce the sensitivity to try to eliminate the effects of high glare, or increase the sensitivity to account for a greater-than-normal playing distance.

The system also includes the Wii Message Board, which is a bit of a mixed bag. I was hoping for something vaguely resembling Xbox Live’s Achievements to but fit in there somewhere, but alas. It’s basically just a log of how much you play your games (sometimes an unwelcome one), and a way to leave messages for other users of that Wii. You can also send messages to other Wii units via the internet connection, though I have yet to get this to work.

Then there’s the Mii channel. Herein you can make a vaguely anime-esque 3D caricature of yourself and others; you can also share these with other Wii users, and use them as avitars when playing Wii Sports and (theoretically) other, future games. While this is a neat feature, I’d like to see it expanded in future updates with more options and a wider range of customizability. You can also copy your Mii to your Wii Remote, take it to another unit, and use your Mii on that unit with that remote. An interesting feature, but only slightly, since only Wii Sports currently makes any use of Mii’s.

Weather, News, and Web channels are in the works, but have not been released yet. Current announcements put all 3 being released by the end of January.

Speaking of things that haven’t been released yet, let’s talk about online for a moment. There isn’t any. You can download old games and play them by virtual console, but there’s no online multiplayer until next year, there’s no games making use of WiiConnect24 (which lets the Wii stay connected to the internet even in standby mode) until Elebits comes out “during the launch window”. I’m very disappointed. And it doesn’t end there. The unit doesn’t support DVD or CD playback either, though a revision has been announced for Japan only for 2007 to add DVD playback.

The graphics are… so-so. I’ve seen the 360 in hi-def, and while it’s impressive, I’m not one to see games as being all about the visuals. I got the Wii for the controller, and I’m happy with the tradeoff. But be prepared, because the games aren’t exactly gorgeous. Most fit their theme well, and games like Zelda: Twilight Princess are graphically impressive, just not on the scale of the 360 or PS3. So, if you’re looking for grandiose graphics, move on; if you’re looking for something new, I highly recommend the Nintendo Wii, for any one, any age, girls and boys alike. It’s a great system for solo and even better for multiplayer (as long as you’re all in the same room together.)

All in all, I’m very happy with mine.