One Man's Wii-pinion

, circa 1998.

Before you rock me like a hurricane, Nintendo fanboys, hear me out. I look at Nintendo, at this stage in their life cycle, the same way I look at TiVo. Ask anyone: we all love TiVo. From conception to its current dotage, TiVo users are rabidly loyal and overly accepting. But TiVo has failed. They offered a dual-tuner box while the world was clamoring for an HD TiVo and they offered a half-assed HD TiVo with cable card after folks decided to start using PVR cable boxes. The thinking was “at least it’s HD” but that wasn’t enough. They missed an early adopter window by a mile and they will suffer for it.

We still own a Series 2 TiVo and we use it daily. But why? Because its easy to use and does just about everything we need it to do. If we’re in front of the TV when something HD is on, we’ll switch inputs and watch it in all its glory. We’re working around TiVo’s limitations simply because they are going through mini-evolutions in hopes of grabbing some niche audience that may or may not exist. We’ll use the Series 2 until I get around to installing Myth TV on some small-form-factor box in the living room.

Note the key phrase above: mini-evolutions. Notice I did not say revolutions or mini-revolutions. The revolutionary days of video gaming are over. Consider the XBox vs. the XBox 360 or the PS2 vs. the PS3. These consoles are big, manly steps forward. They may still be sub-par on some levels, but Sony and Microsoft are essentially saying let’s let the previous generation consoles molder on the shelves and give them something new. This is not a one-off upgrade. It is a retooling using all the latest gear available on the market.

Now, look at Nintendo. Their draw has always been the games. They have a loyal fan base of 30-somethings — myself included — a nostalgic audience of teens and a growing army of kids at their disposal. They don’t have to aim their wares at the folks with cash, the way Microsoft and Sony do. They simply have to put out another Zelda game. All of their games are backwards compatible so they can sell both portable and home console games from a few years ago with impunity. They don’t need — nor do they want — to rock the boat. They want to blow a whistle and have the boat come to them.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to consider hardware. The Wii is an elegant and peppy little machine, but next to my 360 and even my PS2 — on a God of War day — it’s rinky-dink. The improvement over the GameCube is negligible, similar to the improvements in the Gameboy DS over the Gameboy Advance. But John, you’re saying, you’re a huge dick! What about the nunchuck?

Touché, mon ami. A point well taken. But the Wiimote is another baby step. I think something revolutionary was controller vibration. It added a strange sense of realism to once-static games. The Wiimote, while clever, only shines in a few games, Zelda included. On driving games it sucks the rock and on shooters, well, it is failing. Sure, game manufacturers will soon wrap their head around the controller and make something amazing, but Elebits was essentially a half-assed Area 51 sans aliens. The Wiimote is a gimmick, a test bed for future interface systems.

Will my friends and I get baked/drunk and play Smooth Moves? You betcha. Will we enjoy a bit of Wii Sports now and again. Absolutely. Is this the best Nintendo can do and is this the console we deserve from the grand wizards of gaming? No, it isn’t. It’s a console that shows us the promise of the future but does nothing to improve on the present. Is it worth $249? If you love Zelda, Mario and the crew and don’t mind games that would aimed at the neo-natal set, you’re good to go. But if you want to see the future, don’t look to Nintendo this year.