Some time ago I blogged about how the Wii was looking like the way forward for the gaming industry. The Xbox 360 and PS3 may have the better graphics, but the Wii has its motion sensitive controller, possibly the most revolutionary item of gaming hardware since the joystick was invented. I was interested to re-read my words from back then, because I raved about how the Wii looked great, while the PS3 looked dead in the water, and that I wasn't that impressed with the Xbox360. Yet, as you will notice by scrolling down the page a little, the other day I got me an Xbox, not a Wii. Why? Well to answer that question, we have to talk about the Wii version of a game called Rockstar Presents Table Tennis.
The game was first released on the Xbox 360 over a year ago, and made a big impact due to it's outstanding graphics, addictive gameplay, and cheap price. In fact, the existence of the game contributed to my decision to buy an Xbox360 rather than a Wii or PS3, in that it is part of a large catalog of excellent games that I wanted to play, that were only available for the Xbox. The news that it had been ported recently to the Wii made me feel a little sick - surely the idea of actually being able to *play* virtual table tennis, crafting shots with a motion sensitive controller, would make this version superior to that on the Xbox? In which case, had a just bought the wrong console?
Well, from reading about the game, and from having played around a bit with other games on Wii, it would appear that my fears are unfounded. Yes you can use the motion sensitive controller to play table tennis, but in a completely unrealistic way. You don't hit the ball as you would do with a table tennis bat, you have to learn to make the correct gesture in order to hit the ball in the desired direction - it doesn't even separate the different swings for forehand and backhand - and to impart spin (crucial in table tennis) you have to resort to pushing buttons on the controller body. Basically, you still have to learn an artificial control scheme before you can actually play the game which, for me, rather nullifies the point of having motion sensitive controller.
The other big difference is the fact that there is no online play in the Wii version. Playing another human being is vastly more satisfying than playing an artifical intelligence, and online play gives you a greater opportunity to do that. Lastly, the graphics are crap, at least compared to the almost-lifelike quality of those of the Xbox verion. I know this shouldn't matter, but when you're comparing two versions of the same game, there's no doubt that it does.
I must admit that, in general, and having played it a bit at a mate's house and in FNAC, I'm quite disappointed with the Wii. Yes, it is a significant milestone in computer gaming. Yes, it has been a commercial success. Yes, it has drawn in grannies and mums and all sorts of people that never thought they would play a video game, ever. And you have to applaud Nintendo for achieving that. Yet all it has managed to do is pull the wool over people's eyes, glossing over the necessity to learn an artificial control system by making it seem more real - but real it is not, and learn it you must. For those of us less scared of traditional console joypads, the wiimote is actually a regressive step, offering less precision and less opportunity to practice and master a game's interface.
So although the Wii is a step in the right direction, I'm happy with the Xbox for the time being. Eventually, somebody will develop a commercially viable controller that is able to properly mimic the motion of a virtual table-tennis bat, and let you play near-as-dammit real table tennis against some random person in another part of the world. That would be worth paying money for.