Hands on with Nintendo's Wii controller

Alright, we briefed y'all on what we knew so far about the Wii controller early this morning, but now that we've gotten our paws on the Wiimote itself, we wanted to let you know how it is in the flesh. Nintendo and millions of fanboys are betting a lot on this concept, and Nintendo itself said that "playing is believing" every other sentence of their keynote, so the real question is: do we believe?

The short answer is that we're just not sure yet. The first chance we got with the Wii was for a golfing game (the shortest line we found, go fig) and as soon as we got our hands on the Wiimote we knew it was something special. We slipped the wrist lanyard on so we didn't fling the remote across the room, and held in our hands the light weight, ergonomic, and simply beautiful controller. If this was as far as we'd gotten we would have gone home happy. The controller allows plenty of leverage for the trigger "b" and the large "a" button, and only slipped out of our hand once from a particularly aggressive sword strike in "Red Steel." Click on for the rest.

Unfortunately, we soon realized a flaw in the control scheme for golf, in that there was no frame of reference or feedback for our motions. A traditional analog stick lets you know how extreme your motion was, but we just couldn't quite get a feel for how much power we were putting into our putts. Nintendo's "Tennis" game was quite enjoyable by comparison, but it automates a lot of the control such as the movement of your character. You also can't miss if you time your swing well enough, so we can't say this really tests the controller. That said, it was quite fun and provided a whole new type of play experience that we look forward to more of in the future. Next up, the "Obstacle Course" tech demo, which was so painful to play we almost swore off the controller altogether. Yeah, that fast. The sensitivity was so high that we couldn't keep our character from bouncing all around and losing all his coins, but our opponent managed his character fairly well, so perhaps we just don't got game.

Our hopes were buoyed by the sight of Ubisoft's "Red Steel," but were quickly dashed by the incredibly awkward FPS aiming that this game is banking on. The controls were great and easily learned, and we were soon slashing, parrying, ducking, shooting, reloading, opening and pushing with more convenience than we can ever remember in a shooter, and never had to look down to find a button once. But our aiming could be best compared to that of a hyperactive drunkard, and we seemed to get worse at aiming as the demo progressed. This is bad news for FPS fans who thought they might have found a new home on the Wii, but we have heard that games will allow you to set the controller sensitivity yourself, and Ubi obviously has some polishing time left before release.

We had a much more enjoyable experience aiming in a simple Bomberman mini game in which we shot at balls of lava, but weren't required to pan the camera or anything fancy. The other Bomberman mini games were equally enjoyable, including a balancing act, and a old school Sonic-like tunnel run that had us twisting our wrists in some rather uncomfortable ways -- in a good way. We didn't get to Zelda or Metroid, but we heard conflicting reports as to the ease of aiming in both of those games, with one complaining of the oversensitivity of Zelda, and another claiming Metroid to be the very pinnacle of the series and singing the praises of the FPS control.

The overall story seems to be that Nintendo's Wii controller (along with the expertly crafted and very intuitive nunchuka attachment) is all it claims to be, but software manufacturers still haven't figured out how to get this wonderful hardware to control their games as easily as the gamepads of yore, and our skills have not yet progressed beyond a shaky noob. It might turn out that the controller is just too abstract for some actions, and too hard to hold and control for others (let's hope FPS doesn't fall into that category), but we're going to reserve judgement until the software is more mature and we get a Wii in our living room for a few nights of practice.

So, first impressions in a nutshell: mixed bag. Are we hopeful? You bet. Are we floored? Not yet, but we're not willing to rule anything out. We're expecting to get some more play time this week, so we'll check back with you.