For most Wii owners, Wii Sports is the first game they ever play with their Wii. While initially expected by many to be more of a technology demo for the new motion-sensing equipment, Wii Sports has turned out to be one of the more popular titles for the Wii. In my house, despite having purchased several other excellent games, it is still is one of the more commonly-played titles. Here’s the reason: Wii Sports offers approachable, intuitive, easy to pick up and play gaming experiences that both fun and have surprising depth. This game is probably one of the main reasons for the Wii’s success–my wife and I decided to buy a Wii out of the blue after spending just one evening volleying tennis balls back and forth at a co-workers’ party.
There are essentially five different games available for the Wii. Within each, at least against the computer, the difficulty progressively picks up as you are able to defeat opponents. Below I describe each of the games and provide an evaluation:
is very straightforward: your 1. Tennis – In many ways, this is probably the most approachable of the Wii Sports games. The gameplayMii (an avatar that you can create and customize to match your appearance) will run back and forth on the tennis court to approach the ball, and you simply swing your Wii-mote when you want your character to swing at the tennis ball. If you time it right, your character will return the ball; if not, you’ll either miss or hit the ball out of bounds. There are some additional details; for example, depending on how you swing and twist your wii-mote, you can add spin to or vary the velocity of your return. But even if you never master those details, you’ll nonetheless be able to have a great time playing this game by just swinging when the ball comes to you.
The only real criticism one could levy at the gameplay of Wii Tennis is that you do not get to control your characters’ motion–all you do is tell them when to swing. For me, this was not a problem. Miis generally move to the correct part of the court (and they have great reach even if they’re out of position), and not having to worry about moving theMii lets me concentrate on the most enjoyable part of this game–hitting the ball! All in all, this game is great fun.
2. Baseball – Baseball is my favorite sport, and I’m pleased to say that Wii Sports’ baseball is a fun–albeit very shallow–way to experience the game. Of all the Wii sports games, this one probably is the least like the real sport. It essentially all boils down to the batter/pitcher confrontation. When hitting, you swing your wii-mote when you see a pitch that you think you can hit. Against easier computer opponents, all pitches will be thrown right down the middle. As you progress, pitch types become more varied, as do pitch locations, requiring you to be more selective. When pitching, you simply select a pitch type and location and then you "throw" the ball by quickly (or slowly, depending on the pitch you’re trying to throw) moving the wii-mote from a vertical to horizontal position, "throwing" the ball toward the screen.
These parts of the game work surprisingly well. Once you start to get the basics down, the process of trying to identify a pitch to swing at, or of fooling a batter with a breaking pitch just off the plate, can be incredibly satisfying. The place where this game disappoints a bit lies in the baserunning and fielding, in that both of these are controlled entirely by the computer. If these parts were reasonably true to life, that’d be forgivable. But in Wii Baseball, infielders don’t even have to throw the ball; if they catch a ball on the fly or an infielder quickly gets to a ground ball, it’s an out. If not, it’s a single, double, or triple, depending on how long the fielder takes to get to the ball. Baserunners go strictly station to station; you’ll never see someone go first to third on a single to right field. Nevertheless, despite all these faults–and there really is no reason for omitting something as basic as having the shortstop throw the ball across the diamond for the out–the strength of the batter/pitcher confrontation is satisfying enough that I keep finding myself coming back to play this game time and time again.
3. Bowling – While Baseball may be the least like its real-life counterpart, Bowling may be closest to reality. As you’d expect, the controls work just like real bowling: you hold up your Wii-mote at the start, and then swing it back and then forward again, releasing the B-button at the apex of your motion to release the ball. Nevertheless, there’s a surprising amount of depth to the game. You can add right- or left-spin, for example, by twisting your wii-mote as you release, and the speed with which you move your wii-mote corresponds to the speed with which you bowl the ball. It really does feel like bowling–so much so that even my parents (I’m 29, and they are about as far from being gamers as you can imagine) had a fun time picking up the Wii-mote and bowling a game or two.
4. Golf – Golf is very intuitively translated to the Wii, though it is dumbed down a bit. To swing, you hold down the "A" button and quite literally swing your Wii-mote just as you would a golf club. The speed of your swing is registered on a power meter, which corresponds to how far you’ll hit the ball. The game provides an aiming line, which includes tick marks for 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% power, so hitting the ball the correct distance is just a matter of swinging yourwii -mote the proper speed–and you can take as many practice swings as you wish. If (and only if) you swing too hard, and push the power meter over 100%, the ball will slice and hook on you unpredictably–so you can’t really use slices and hooks to your advantage. Also, there are only four clubs to work with–driver, iron, wedge, and putter–and you have no control over how you hit the ball beyond its velocity, so it really is just a matter of getting those practice swings to match the distance you want to hit the ball.
In general, the game feels good, with a swing dynamic that will make casual golfers feel immediately at home. There are two primary critiques I would offer. First, while long putts work well, the Wii-mote sometimes is not particularly responsive on short putts, making it hard to avoid over-hitting the ball from time to time; a tap-in option would have been welcome. Second, while the nine included holes are nicely rendered, I quickly found myself wishing for at least a full 18 holes–if not another course or two. As it is, this game feels like more of a demo than a genuine golfing game in and of itself.
5. Boxing – This is my least favorite of the games in Wii-Sports. Maybe it’s me. But the controls didn’t seem particularly responsive whenever I’ve tried it, both when trying to swing and when trying to block punches. You can certainly do jabs, hooks, and upper-cuts, but they don’t always seem to register when I go through those motions. As a result, the fights just seem to degenerate into the equivalent of button-mashing, except that instead of pushing buttons you’re basically shadow-boxing. It’s good for a workout, but ultimately isn’t much fun.
In addition to each of the five sports, there are is a training feature that will let you perfect specific skills that relate to each of the games. Tennis training lets you practice against a steady stream of balls, baseball training lets you participate in a home run derby, golf training lets you practice chipping onto the green, etc. These training features were very helpful in helping me get the timing down for the different games, especially in baseball and tennis. Finally, there is a Wii-fitness extension of the trainers, in which your performance in a set of three training games is recorded and used to calculate a fitness age. It’s just for fun, of course, but it still feels good when you first score a fitness age below your actual age!
Overall, for a game packaged with the console, Wii Sports is really outstanding. It’s addictive, does a great job of showing off what the Wii-mote motion controls can do, and really shines in multiplayer Wii parties. In this way, it may prove to be every bit as important as Super Mario Bros was to the original NES. The most notable downside is the lack of online play; if available, I have little doubt that it would have been wildly popular. It also should be noted that while the use of Miis was great, and the art style of the game is endearing, the quality of the graphics–especially in terms of the very noticeable pixelation in both the environments and the avatars–is far below what the Wii is capable of producing. Nevertheless, Wii sports does so many things right that continues to be the sports game by which most others on the Wii are judged. And while it will eventually be surpassed, it serves as the best introduction to the Wii console that I can imagine.