The Nintendo Wii was released in North America on November 19th, 2006. It was an immediate hit with the public and was in short supply for months after launch. I wasn’t able to secure my own until May 13th, 2007, six months later.
The launch window had many interesting titles, but with the exception of Wii Sports, no killer app. I was endlessly curious about what this new era in motion controls would bring, but week after week, there were no systems available. But I’m a fairly patient person. As I waited, I was mostly cool, calm, and collected. But one weekend, the promise for what was to come was screaming too loudly in my ear. I HAD to somehow experience what the Wii had to offer NOW.
I broke down some of the unique features that the Wii offered.
- Controller with 1:1 screen pointing
- Controller with sense of 3D space relative to screen
- Motion controlled gaming
Using my accumulated video game collection, I would bring together a set of experiences that would prepare me for my eventual Wii ownership.
1:1 Screen Position Pointing
To pseudo-experience this Wii feature, I figured my best bet was playing some light gun games. From the sturdy utility of the NES Zapper, to the precision of the Namco GunCon, I had a wide range of games I could experience. I played a few rounds of Duck Hunt and Gumshoe, then I worked forward in time to play a bit of Time Crisis and the Dreamcast’s The House of the Dead 2.
Somewhat prophetically, the Wii’s library was eventually home to many light gun style games, both in ports from the arcade and newly developed games.
This was all really just a warm up though. The game I felt gave the purest sense of what the Wii remote’s pointer could do was Whack Ball. Doesn’t sound familiar? Well you might better remember the controller used to play it.
Whack Ball is one of the games featured on the 6-game Menacer pack in cartridge. It is a Break-out style game, but instead of being in control of a paddle at the bottom of the screen, you control a puck in the center of the play field by aiming the Menacer gun at the screen. Using your puck, you are tasked with manipulating a bouncing ball or balls around the edge of the screen, hitting each tile and changing its color. Later levels introduce hazards and power ups.
Control is surprisingly smooth. The gun’s sensors are able to read scan-line data on the CRT to create precise positioning. On both Whack Ball and Pest Control, another game on the pack-in cartridge, this positioning is updated constantly during the game play, not just when the trigger is pulled. This creates the same 1:1 pointer experience that would eventually be one of the Wii remote’s hallmarks.
3D space relative to screen
For the next experience, I was able to use an NES accessory and compatible game that I had purchased years ago, but never actually played with. I’m talking of course of the Power Glove and it’s most compatible game, Super Glove Ball.
I had played with the Power Glove back when it was originally released and I knew it was ‘so bad’, but literally though. We tried playing several games with it and found it to be a giant hindrance. We even had Bad Street Brawler, one of only two games to feature additional Power Glove features, but it was a poor experience as well.
In the years since, I found a boxed Power Glove (adult sized) at a local pawn shop. I didn’t really want it, but it was cheap, so I picked it up anyway. Sometimes your collection is in charge of you. I then tracked down a copy of Super Glove Ball. This was the only other title that was made specifically for the accessory, and I was curious. Both of these items were stored and not played until the weekend in question.
Super Glove Ball is a Rare developed, Mattel published title and is another Break-out style game, but this time it takes place in a 3D room with breakable tiles on all four sides and the back wall. You have control of a floating hand in the room with which you can deflect, grab, and toss the bouncing balls, in an effort to clear all of the tiles. It is playable with the control pad only, but it was made to take advantage of the glove. I started it up not expecting much, but shockingly, this game controlled very well! Using your glove you can move the on-screen hand in all directions laterally, but by moving your hand towards the screen, the hand moves in towards the back wall too! Even playing it for the first time in 2007, it was very impressive. Not a terribly fun game, mind you, but very impressive nonetheless.
Motion controlled gaming
The only game I owned that might qualify as motion controlled was Samba de Amigo. I had other ‘active’ games, such as DDR and some Playstation EyeToy games, but they weren’t really an apt substitute.
The Wii’s break out title was Wii Sports. While I didn’t own any games at the time that would give a taste of motion controlled sports, some did exist. Besides a myriad of arcade machines, there were already several products released for the home video game market.
BatterUp was a baseball bat shaped controller, released in the mid-nineties, compatible with several baseball titles. I have an overall low interest in most sports games, so I never picked one of these up.
Real World Golf was one of many golf simulators, but one of the few tailored to the broader consumer market. I didn’t have this at the time but was able to pick one up on clearance a few years later.
XavixPORT was a line of fitness games with motion control at its core. Games available for the system, among many others, are Tennis, Golf, Baseball, Boxing, and Bowling; the entire Wii Sports lineup! This is a fascinating system, especially owing to the fact that it was released in the US in 2004, years before the Wii. This was marketed and sold as a fitness product and as such it was never meant to be a competitor in the video game market. I didn’t learn about this system until years later.
Honorable mention: The Sega Activator released in 1993. This is another item the I’ve never owned, but seeing footage of people flailing about while playing a boxing game sure reminds me of Wii Sports Boxing.
My weekend was nevertheless a satisfying and satiating time. It wasn’t too much longer that I found myself waiting outside Best Buy on a cool Sunday morning. There was a rumor that they would finally have Wii’s in stock. The rumor was correct so small group of us got our new Nintendo system.
Roughly a week after I finally acquired my Wii, news broke that the Dreamcast’s Virtual Tennis had been secretly playable with motion controls for seven years! I just had to chuckle to myself as I read the blog post because I understood. I understood the drive to test boundaries. I understood what it means to glimpse the present through the lenses of the past. I had recently completed a similar quest.
I’ve been carrying this story for over a decade so thank you for allowing me a place to share it. I’ll have a similar, but more recent story to share here soon.