So the Wii comes with a free game. The question is, is it any good? Or is it like those free tissue packs people in front of grocery stores give out, rough around the edges and non-reusable? The answer is that Wii Sports is not only the best free thing you've ever gotten, it's actually a good game in and of itself that is a worthy addition to your Wii collection.
Of course, that's the big thing here, right? Being the opening game for the Wii, it's the question on everyone's mind. Fortunately, with one exception, Wii Sports does not disappoint. Not only are the controls responsive, varied, and fun to use, but they actually mimic the real games very nicely. So what are those games? Wii Sports comes with five games, which I'll go over in detail now. All of these games, by the way, are meant to be played standing up. You can potentially play them sitting down, but that officially makes you a tool (or disabled). Also, it utilizes the Mii's (the Wii's personalized avatars) so you can make cartoony versions of yourself and your friends and further the illusion that you're actually playing sports. Now video game geeks can be jocks, too!
First on the menu is Tennis. Tennis can be played with up to four people in a doubles game. Gameplay wise, it has been brought down to the basics. You don't move your character around the screen, it automatically runs to where the ball is. You only have to focus on swinging. The swing is accurately tracked by the Wii, so it knows on what side of your body you're swinging. It's possible to swing just using small quick wrist motions, but it's easier and much more entertaining to perform the full follow through. Like in real tennis, timing is everything. Hitting the ball at different times can send it in different directions. Mastering the timing is central to mastering this game, but you don't have to be a pro tennis player to jump right in and have fun. Because you don't have to focus on controlling your character's movements, volleys are easy to set up and maintain. I assure you, however, you'll find yourself jumping across your living room to try and hit that ball. The game really sucks you in.
Next up is Baseball. Baseball is the simplest of all the games. Like Tennis, you swing your controller, only here the mapping is more precise. You have to get both your timing and your swing speed down to be a pro at this one. The game knows how hard you're swinging that controller, and you've got to swing hard to get those homerruns. The game will map your movements with the bat nicely, so you can wind up or tap the plate to psych out your friends. The swing always goes to the same place, meaning you can focus on swinging and timing and not on aiming, which is nice, because it makes the game simple and fun. Even so, the game retains its difficulty. The game also lets you pitch, which consists of performing a throwing motion with your controller (thank Nintendo for those wrist straps). Pressing one of the controller's buttons as you throw can curve, screw, or split your pitch. Baseball can be played with two people, taking turns between batting and pitching. The game gives bases based on how your ball lands, so you don't actually have to control the catchers or the running.
Golf is the third game offered, and I personally count it as their best in terms of overall fun.
There are nine holes, and you can either play all nine or play a group of three for a shorter game. It very closely simulates actual golf. You can choose your club, which changes the potential distance, which is shown you on a handy mini map that stays open throughout gameplay. Hitting the ball too hard causes it to splice to the left or right. You also have to deal with wind direction (again, it is kindly shown to you) and, for putting, the slope of the land. This game, as you might imagine, is all about the swing. You can take practice swings before each shot. When you're ready to actually do the real thing, you hold down the A button while swinging. The swing uses very precise controls. Changing your speed just a little bit will affect how hard the ball is hit. Putting is very difficult in this respect, as it is in real life. Golf is a hard game, but loads of fun. The environments are pretty and serene, and best of all, you don't have a bunch of other golfers milling around the course, making you wait for hours to finish a hole and talking about the 'good old days' when everyone wore plaid.
Now we come to bowling. Bowling is the most realistically recreated of all the games, where the twisting in your hand as you release the ball puts a corresponding spin on the ball. How hard you swing the ball determines its speed and accuracy. You can also move your avatar to change your aim. That's the controls. Simple and great. It even shows you a quick replay of each shot and there's nothing more satisfying than watching those pins bounce into each other. No complaints where bowling is concerned (except that my Mom beat me by 200 points, but that's not Nintendo's fault).
The last game is Boxing, and sadly, it's the bastard fifth child of Wii Sports. Boxing had potential to be a great game, but it feels tacked on and incomplete, much unlike the other games. The biggest problem is that it doesn't read your movements precisely at all. The basic idea is to hold your controller (with nunchuck attachment) in closed fists and then punch and jab and uppercut and roundhouse to your heart's content, whilst your avatar does the same on screen. However, while all those moves are in there, getting the game to recognize that you're performing them is not worth the effort it takes, especially when your opponent is beating the hell out of you and you're trying to focus on dodging and blocking as well as swinging and aiming. Dodging works well, fortunately, and is much easier to control (you tip your controllers to one side or the other). Blocking, however, has the same problem as the fighting (you position your gloves to intercept the attacks). Mainly, the game seems to have trouble figuring out exactly where your gloves are. So gameplay quickly disintegrates into jabbing your controllers at the screen over and over and hoping that something connects. When playing against another human, this isn't so bad, because both of you are having the same control issues and the game becomes a mixture of chance and timing. But when up against the higher level of computer players, the game is extremely difficult. For those who remember "Punch Out!" the difficulty will seem frustratingly familiar. Finally, I still am not quite sure how to stand up after you've been knocked out. I think you're supposed to wave the controllers around and hit the A button a lot, but the instruction book doesn't say, so it's anyone's guess.
The Extra Stuff
The other two modes available in Wii Sports are training and a fitness program. Training mode
has you performing in pre-set scenarios that teach you the controls of the games, and also train abilities specific to each game. Each game has three scenarios. They're also nice to play for fun and your Mii is awarded medals if you do good enough.
The fitness program can be played once a day per Mii, and it basically lines you up with three random training missions in rapid succession (it's more tiring than it sounds, or maybe I'm just lazy). The fun part is that you then get an "age rating" based off how you did. The first time I did it, I was estimated to be 76 years old. But I'm glad to report I've now brought it down to 32, which is within ten years of my actual age. I feel the burn, baby, oh yeah!
That's okay. I don't either. It's the plight of being a video game player. I won't lie to you. The Wii definitely shines as a group system, even more so at present, where every game but Zelda is multi player. But it doesn't mean you won't have fun by yourself. People golf and bowl by themselves. They even get pantomimed in movies like the Big Lewbowski and Happy Gilmore. So just think. One day there could be a movie about you, playing your Wii by itself, and all the innuendo that that implies.
Honestly, though, Wii Sports is still fun. The computer difficulty is based off your recorded skill level for the Mii you're using, so things are always winnable, but also challenging. It's a great game to pick up any time you feel like moving around and having fun.
Believe me, I thought Wii Sports was gonna be a one time sort've thing. Something to show off the Wii's capabilities that you pop in your system once and never again. Or something to impress the old folks with. But it surprised me with its versatility and fun. It may not be a glory house of graphics, but uh, were you expecting it to be? The graphics are simple and fun, like everything else in this game. Except maybe boxing. But hey, for something that's free, I'm willing to let that one slide.