For people who did most of their videogame playing back in the 80s and 90s, the intricacy of modern games throws up a substantial barrier to reentering the hobby. When I first played the GameCube at a friend's house five years ago, after having not played any games in the preceding three years, the controls felt so confusing that within minutes I gave up. Of course, I greatly enjoy current videogames now that I've had the time to get used to them, but I can relate to the intimidation that many people must feel upon encountering a modern game controller.
Seen in this context, Wii Sports comes as something of a pleasant surprise. Going against the longstanding trend of increasing game complexity, Nintendo has created what is arguably the most accessible videogame ever made, rivaling the likes of Pong and Pac-Man in sheer simplicity. Although the game suffers from dull visuals, a dearth of options, and a motion-sensing remote that lacks the fine sensitivity afforded by a standard controller, its initial entertainment value and unparalleled approachability nonetheless stand as an incredible achievement.
Wii Sports consists of five separate games: bowling, tennis, boxing, golf and baseball. Each is played by holding the Wii's wireless motion-sensing remote (boxing requires the "nunchuk" attachment) and mimicking the motions of the actual sport—e.g., swinging the controller like a tennis racket. No longer do players have to memorize which button swings the racket or blocks a punch. Simply perform the movement, and the remote senses it.
In bowling, players swing underhand while adjusting the spin of the ball with a flick of the wrist. This fine-tuning feels quite natural, and the high precision that can be achieved gives bowling the most depth and longevity of all the games. Tennis, on the other hand, offers the most fun up front. Players control the direction and speed of the ball with the timing of their swing, and the subtle rumble and "thwak" of the remote's built-in speaker add a nice touch of realism.
For boxing, players simply take the Wii remote and nunchuk in both hands and jab away. The punching and blocking can seem imprecise and unresponsive at times, but this is partly offset by the fun of pummeling friends and family in the split-screen multiplayer mode. Although the Wii's controller cannot reproduce the feedback of connecting a punch, the overall effect is still credible enough to be entertaining.
In golf, players specify the direction to face and the club to use (driver, iron, wedge or putter) before swinging the remote golfer style. There are only a small handful of courses, however, and the swinging mechanic never felt as reliable as I would have liked. Swinging the bat in baseball feels a bit tighter by comparison, allowing for some decent control over hit direction. But sadly, the computer controls so much of what happens on the field—everything except batting and pitching—that I got bored with it faster than any of the other four games.
Wii Sports has a highly simplistic 3D presentation. The toy-like characters—known as "Miis"—can be edited to resemble almost anyone via a menu of preset physical features, the results of which can make for some pretty entertaining tennis and boxing matches. Yet the environments just seem too plain and few in number. Taken together, the characters and settings appear cumulatively dull. Given that the Wii can produce far better graphics than this, the cartoonish visuals were apparently meant to keep the focus on gameplay. While I have nothing against simple graphics per se, I believe the game would have benefited from a more interesting and varied look.
Presentation aside, Wii Sports still leaves much to be desired in terms of options. Except for being able to change the difficulty level and the number of matches, players aren't given very many choices. There is no overall context or direction to the action, either. Instead, each match feels like an isolated demo. The single-player mode has several mini-challenges—e.g., hitting the tennis ball in a specific direction or knocking down different arrangements of bowling pins—but these don't do much to extend the game's longevity.
Whatever longevity Wii Sports may have will depend entirely on its multiplayer, which allows up to four players at once. So far, the game has been a big hit with both my gamer and non-gamer friends, prompting many to consider buying a Wii based solely on their initial impression of the game. Yet even when there are others to play with, I now find myself losing interest after a few minutes, preferring instead to sit back and watch others play. When there is no one around to show it to, my copy of Wii Sports just sits and gathers dust.
There is certainly something commendable in what Nintendo has managed to pull off with Wii Sports. Creating a game with such broad appeal is an impressive achievement. For me, however, the motion-sensing remote feels too imprecise to make this a lastingly enjoyable experience. The remote's somewhat loose way of detecting movement limits the precision that can be attained with the various actions; after that, the rest comes down to chance. Without room to keep improving one's skills, the motivation to continue playing vanishes. Since the Wii was designed to work with such a wide variety of television setups and living spaces, a trade off may well have been made for more flexibility at the expense of sensitivity. I hope this is not a sign that future sports titles for the Wii will be similarly hampered by intrinsic control limitations.
In the end, the greatest strength of Wii Sports—its unparalleled accessibility—ends up being its greatest weakness. Although the game initially feels like a breath of fresh air, the failure of its novel control scheme to provide the sensitivity needed for continued growth and mastery ultimately sucks much of that air right back out.