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September 15, 2006 ・ Blog

Just been to the European Wii press conference; you know, the one where Nintendo revealed the European release date and price of its new console. You’ll probably already know them but these are the big details:

Price: £179 / $249
Release date: 8 December

Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski played a bit of tennis onstage (real and Wii) and sports presenter Gabby Logan did some presenting, much to the indifference of the many European mainlanders in the audience. But all was redeemed when Satoru Iwata turned up. Man, he must have had a busy couple of days. He’s the best.

Little is different to what was presented at the other two worldwide press conferences other than the later release date (US is 19 November; Japan is 2 December) and the usual inflated price compared.

The “Channels” idea – a main menu that takes you to whatever game disc you’ve inserted, your retro games, weather, news, Opera web browser, calendar, message centre, photo browser, shop and more – makes a little more sense now. It seems to be Nintendo’s drive to make the Wii a digital hub for the living room. Not the media hub that the PS3 and Xbox 360 are aiming to be, but a social, entertainment and information hub. Naturally, my laptop has provided all that for several years, but Nintendo’s thinking is that Channels is for attracting its fabled new demographic of families.

Some quick games impressions after the click.

After the presentation, dear old Mr. Iwata (self effacing as always; we saw a little “Mii” caricature made to resemble him. It was ever so sweet) beckoned us all across the stage to tens of demo pods. Some impressions:

Super Mario Galaxy: Watching someone else play it looked dauntingly complicated to control, but once I started it was actually rather straightforward. Seems to have multiple paths through the levels, which consist of routes through systems of mini planets. It looks beautiful – colourful, smooth and sparkling – and was lots of fun. Really looking forward to this one.

Metroid Prime: Corruption: I’ve heard about some sort of “expert” control mode, which is meant to be as responsive as a keyboard ’n’ mouse, but I don’t think I used it on my go. Actually it feels very similar to the GameCube Metroid Prime system, and it worked well, as long as I wasn’t pointing the Wii remote off screen and into control oblivion… Looked a bit more polished that the GameCube games, and contained all the variety of play styles that we know and love, with the added bonus of the grapple, which is very nicely physical to use.

Elebits: Lots of fun – you explore a house, using the remote to open doors and fling stuff around to find little brightly coloured things. Lots of little puzzles, like finding the right item to put into the microwave.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz: The levels were longer and more meandering yet much safer than in previous games – just as well because the control scheme, based on tilting the Wii remote, made it incredibly difficult (to a newcomer) to control.

Battalion Wars 2: Pretty fun running through the heavily directed level blasting enemies with an infantryman, though was obvious the level available to play lacked most of the final tactical features, such as switching to different units.

Things I didn’t play on included Red Steel, which looked pretty ropey to be honest, complete with strangely disembodied gun wielding arm. Zelda: Twilight Princess was there too – the queues were always too long – but looked very nice. I want to save this one up to sit on my own to play. Call of Duty looked pretty rough around the edges and definitely lacked the visceral punch of the 360 version. Sonic the Hedgehog was very on-rails but looked like it flowed better than DC Sonic Adventure. Great sense of scale, too.

All in all, the presentation felt confident and the variety of games, all of which utilised the Wii’s unique controller, is good – from involved gamers’ shooters to casual playthings. Nintendo is keen to suggest that Wii is going to open up videogames to new audiences on a grand scale, and Wii Sports (bundled with the console) and Wii Play are going to be pretty attractive diversions for family and casual play. I suspect, however, it’s not going to entice my dad to play…