It's hard to believe it, but the Nintendo Wii turns 10 this year. While Nintendo's popularity has waned over the last few years in comparison to Sony and Microsoft, when the Wii was first announced it put Nintendo back in the spotlight and their tiny little miracle box dominated the console market despite its technical specs being weaker than the PS3 and 360. In terms of sales and media coverage it even overtook Nintendo's own NES; there were news stories of people queuing around the block to buy it. At the time, motion control was the hot new breakthrough in video games, with Sony and Microsoft eventually attempting to emulate the success of the Wii Remote. Even though it's seen as old hat nowadays, motion control could make a return with the rise of VR, the latest dare-I-say gimmick in gaming. On a more substantial note, the Nintendo Wii (alongside the equally popular DS) expanded the video game market to so-called “casual” players. While casual games eventually shifted to the smart phone, Nintendo laid down the groundwork and still make video games that attempt to appeal to a broader audience. I can say from experience that the Wii was a welcomed addition to house parties at the time.
Part of what made the Wii such a success was the wise decision to bundle it with Wii Sports, a set of games that showcased just what the Wii was capable of, introducing players to the concept of motion controls (and to a lesser extend, the creation of Mii avatars). Now that I've gotten the historical details out of the way, it's time to see if Wii Sports still holds up on its own.
For the most part, Wii Sports certainly stands the test of time. As a casual game it is specifically designed to be played a few minutes at a time, but beneath what appears to be a shallow gimmick lies nuanced, carefully crafted mechanics that many “me too” copycats failed to incorporate. Individually, the games vary in depth, but overall the Wii remote controller is very responsive to the player's motion-based commands. In my opinion, the weakest of the five games is Tennis, since it simply requires the player to swing the Wii remote when the ball heads towards them; the opponent A.I. Is highly persistent and at times can be frustrating. The Baseball game has a similar problem; the player has to angle the Wii remote in a specific position to get a decent hit at the ball while the rest is down to the simplistic A.I. However, it undeniably feels satisfying to get a home run. My personal favourite game is Bowling. It's the most “casual” and relaxed out of the five games, though it has substantial player agency beyond simply “throwing” the Wii remote. The player can make slight adjustments with the D-pad before they bowl, and can even tilt the Wii remote to curve the bowling ball down the alley. The most involved and physically active game is Boxing, which requires the Nunchuk to play. As well as performing jabs, uppercuts and other punches, the player can also weave from side to side to avoid being hit. The training games for Boxing provide a decent workout for anyone looking to get exercise. Finally there is Golf, which is by far the deepest of the five games since it offers nine courses to play on. Like with Baseball, the player has to accurately judge how hard to hit the ball – hitting it too hard can throw you off balance. Out of all the games, Golf is the one that had the potential to be expanded into a full game.
It's well-known that the Wii was graphically inferior to the 360 and PS3, but that doesn't stop Wii Sports from being a pleasant game to look at. The graphics are crisp and sleek, even if they are simplistic, sitting comfortably on the left-hand side of the Uncanny Valley. The music is inoffensive enough, but nothing to write home about. One of the neat little features of the Wii remote is the built-in speaker, which Wii Sports takes full advantage of.
It's hard to deny to cultural influence of the Nintendo Wii and Wii Sports in particular. It welcomed new and otherwise inexperienced players into the world of video games and was so successful it encouraged the games industry to cater to casual players, exponentially expanding the video game audience. To a lesser extend, Wii Sports also reminded players the importance of local multiplayer. For many people the Wii remote was the first controller they ever picked up. While many casual gamers have moved onto mobile and Facebook games, it was Wii Sports that popularized the idea. Even if it's just for a few minutes, Wii Sports is still engaging and fun to play ten years on. While not as deep as other landmark titles in gaming history and the novelty of motion control has long since passed, Wii Sports definitely earns its place as one of the most influential games ever made.
If you didn't pick up a Wii when it first came out it can be bought with a copy of Wii Sports here.