Since its introduction into our home courtesy of my wife and her awesome bargain-finding skills, the Wii has been a central focus point for my leisure time. It’s odd to see how my gaming habits have changed with the arrival of the end of the year 2007. I rarely fire up my Xbox 360 anymore, and it’s almost guaranteed that whenever I do, I’m playing Rock Band and nothing else.
The rest of the time, I’m playing the Wii.
I think what makes the Wii so compelling for me is that it really is something I can share with my family. It is of course my “Nintendo machine,” by which I mean that the vast majority of the games I play on the thing are first-party and are franchises that I’ve been experiencing for the better part of my life. But it’s also very accessible in a way that other contemporary games aren’t. It’s less complicated, for one. The games skew a bit younger and a bit more appropriate, for two (don’t get me wrong, I like my shooters as much as the next guy, but with four kids in the house, they don’t get a lot of play).
And lastly, there’s a certain appeal to sharing what were formative media experiences of my childhood and adolescence with my kids and with my wife (who wasn’t necessarily a gamer when she was younger). Working with my kids to progress in Super Mario Galaxy has been one of the more enjoyable things I’ve done in a while (I’ll talk more about Galaxy at length in a future post).
What appeals to me the most is the Virtual Console, which for me is like a window into the past and a sweet reminder of how far the medium has come in recent years.
Look at what happened tonight. I got home from a really long day, spent my evening time chatting with my wife and catching up on a few things (and one episode of I Love Lucy), and then after she went to bed, I came downstairs to wind down a bit before turning in for the night.
In nights past, I would have flipped on the Xbox and played something like Call of Duty 4 or Halo 3. But what happened tonight? The Wii came on, and I took a rip through Punch-Out!! (making it to Soda Popinski before being crushed mercilessly by a few well-placed uppercuts). Then, I decided to see how far I could progress in Super Mario Bros. on a single play.
(For the record, I made it to World 5-2 before an ornery Hammer Brother did me in.)
Playing Super Mario Bros., I was reminded of some of those early game experiences and the sheer wonder that accompanied them: the first time finding a Warp Zone, the Bowser castles that are mini-puzzles of their own, the timer – which usually goes unnoticed until the music speeds up to “frantic” tempo and makes you nervous, realizing that if you’re super, you can kamikaze Bowser and grab the axe—it’s not often that a game makes me feel like that anymore as I’ve become increasingly jaded and cynical about the evolution of the medium. (Galaxy scratches those itches, in case you are wondering.)
I find it amazing, powerful, and exciting that something so technically underpowered yet lovingly-designed is winning the hearts of people who may not even have played video games in the past. Hearing about the wide demographic appeal of the Wii makes me happy, if only because I find so much joy in playing with the thing and I hope that other people feel the same way. Before the Wii entered my home, I never would have considered hosting a Tecmo Bowl tournament at my house on Super Bowl Sunday. Now, it’s one of the highlights of the day that I can’t stop talking (and joking) about.
Simplicity is back.