The event, by the way, was held in the Hard Rock Café in Citywalk, part of Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. The venue was quite large, well-managed, and had quite the aural set-up ... not that I cared, or anything, but others seemed to. More on that later.
The doors opened at six, and my roommate and I arrived with about ten minutes to spare. Of course, that guaranteed us a spot in line at around ... oh, I don't know ... seven hundred. They accepted us into the building quite speedily, however, and thanks to my finagling skills, managed to play three of the four available titles within thirty minutes.
That's right, I said four. Which brings us to the biggest disappointment of the night: inexplicably, Metroid Prime 3 was not available for play on the show floor, despite its previous appearances around the country. When asked, a nearby representative told us that while they had it in the "truck out back", they decided not to bring it out due to the long lines it would create, and the fact that there was no easy way to regulate people's playtime. Further probing seemed to imply that something "messy" had happened quite recently on one of the stops, and the rep would say no more. The only games being shown were Wii Sports (tennis), Wii Play (shooting), Excitetruck, and WarioWare: Smooth Moves. Well, I wasn't going to let it ruin my night. I managed to play all four of the games, and even snag a few free Wii guitar picks to boot.
WarioWare: Smooth Moves
You've probably played the WarioWare series before, and the tried-and-true ultra-fast minigame formula remains the same. However, the addition of the Wiimote and the absolutely ridiculous things the game requires just ratchets the whole experience up a notch or three, and the game was an absolute blast. It seemed to elicit the most reaction from the crowd, as grown men were seen frantically hula-hooping or performing a squat-thrust in front of hundreds. Brilliant.
Wii Play (shooting)
The demo, quite similar to the revered Duck Hunt, was the first game I played. I knew that the Wiimote didn't require wide, sweeping motions to aim, but holy God, is this game sensitive. Corner to opposite corner on the TV screen was barely a turn of the wrist, and I worry that gamers with less-steady hands might be in for some trouble ... the nearby rep, however, assured me that the final release will come with a sensitivity option in the menu. It was, however, precise as hell, and yours truly scored a 331. That score would only be beaten by one other out of around two hundred players through the night, and that poor gamer now lies facedown in an alley out back.
Call me spoiled, but growing up on the franchises of F-Zero and Mario Kart may diminish this game a bit. It's certainly decent, and the graphics were the best on display, but it's lacking a certain panache to help it stand on its own merits. The controls felt too rally-car drifty, and after convincing the rep to let me try the hardest (and longest) level, Scotland, I wasn't entirely sure what would keep a gamer coming back to play. This game gets a shrug out of five.
Wii Sports (tennis)
I'd be willing to hazard that at least fifty percent of people who purchase the Wii on day one will come home, boot up Wii Sports, and play a game or two of tennis. Deservedly so; this game embodies the tenets of the Wii console in a veritable fragfest of tennis balls. The controls are simple beyond belief (the gamer in you almost begs to press a button, but nay, you must resist), and shocker of shockers, they actually work. Wii Tennis was the only multiplayer game on display, and the trash-talking was audible even over the din and cacophony of the concert. It's natural, it's easy, and it's why you might actually be able to get your girlfriend to play a videogame for once. I'm glad Nintendo decided to pack this game in, because this is what the system is all about.
Oh, right, there was music as well. Since this is a personal piece, I'll just go ahead and comment that even calling that nonsense "music" is being quite generous indeed, and Nintendo should really rethink its bands of choice next time. I interviewed four gamer stereotypes while waiting in line; their responses on whether they cared about Hawthorne Heights:
Frat guy: "No."
Gangsta: "Is it Snoop Dogg?"
"Um ... no."
"Then hell naw."
I swear on all that's holy that those last words were actually said. Since I was interested, I went near the stage and asked a total of fifty scary weepy-looking children whether or not they cared that the Wii was being demoed across the way ... the final count was 12 yes, 38 no. One commented, "Give it one year, and it'll go the way of the 3DO." Ouch. Well, screw that guy.
I ran into some interesting people, as one is bound to at such an event. Aside from the guy dressed like Mario and an extremely angry winner of last year's Joystiq pumpkin-carving contest who has still not yet received her prize (I'll look into it, Amy!), I managed to run into a team of programmers who had working on Madden Wii for quite some time at EA Tiburon, in Orlando. They refused to give me the secret cheat code, but they seemed genuinely excited for the game they'd worked on. If the jaded code-monkeys still think the game is fun after hammering away for several months on a keyboard, well, you've got something there.
Of the dozens of actual gamers to whom I spoke, I could find none that were disappointed with the Wii. Admittedly, these are Nintendo fanboys, but not a one was disillusioned with what they had seen. Neither am I. From one gamer to another, the Wii is the real deal. It's not just a stupid gimmick, nor an unnecessary addition to existing standards. It is next-gen gaming ... or "new-gen", whatever, you hype-mongers, but it's true. Get ready, folks, because on November 19th, a new era begins.
See you there.
(An apology, by the way, for the lack of awesome pictures of me playing the Wii. Those guys were like ninjas with specially-honed camera-sensing powers.)