http://wii.ign.com/articles/748/748526p1.html Wii Thoughts and Suggestions Nintendo's new console is a smash hit and we love it. But is there room for improvement? We explore the question. by Matt Casamassina December 1, 2006 - Finally, Nintendo's new generation videogame system is on store shelves - at least in theory. The console is the jewel of the mainstream press and has already won over more than 600,000 players in the Americas alone. Although the Big N is continually restocking retailers with more bundles, Wii sells out just as fast as it comes in, and thus not everybody reading this article has their very own unit yet. We've been playing with our systems for weeks and during that time we've had the chance to explore many of the Wii's intricacies, from the functionality of the Channel-based interface and the Virtual Console to the Mii and Photo Channels and the memory management configuration. Overall, we're in love, but that doesn't mean there isn't any room for improvement. We play devil's advocate and focus a critical eye on the aforementioned features in today's article. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A Mess of Channels When you turn on your console, you will be treated to the Wii Channels interface - a series of icons designed to look like television stations. Nintendo has undoubtedly taken this layout approach, which is simple and easy to understand, because it presents a quasi-familiar environment to non-gamers. After all, few people would complain that browsing television is too daunting. The interface is a huge win for Wii, so far as we're concerned, because it successfully marries clean, unobtrusive aesthetics with the precision of navigating menus and icons with the Wii remote. The mere process of exploring the Channels interface is enjoyable, which is not something that can be said of all GUIs. The interface is able to display 12 Wii Channels per page and you can scroll to the right - either by hitting the + button on the pointer or by clicking on the right arrow with the device - three times for a total of 48 Channels. Nintendo is slated to release official new Channels, such as the Opera web browser, every so often and these additions can be downloaded from the Wii Shopping Channel. In our experience, though, the majority of the Channels on your pages will probably fall under the Virtual Console category of classic games. When you buy and download a new VC game, it automatically appears in your interface as an individual Channel. As it stands, you can drag and drop your Wii Channels around so that they are arranged in whatever order you desire. Notice that in the screenshot above we've added F-Zero to the first page of our Wii Channels - an area that we normally reserve for official offerings such as the Mii, Photo, Shopping, News and Forecast Channels. Building a custom layout is a welcomed feature, but Nintendo hasn't enabled any level of deeper customization, which is disappointing. Although 48 selectable Channels seem like a lot, that number will very quickly dwindle for people who purchase a spectrum of Virtual Console titles. In less than two weeks, we've downloaded about 16 Virtual Console games, completely filling one of our four usable spaces. In the next two or three months, we estimate that all of our Channels will be filled, creating a cluttered mess of classic games. A simple new customization option could easily solve this problem. If you could create sub-Channels you could easily eliminate clutter and conveniently categorize your Channels. For instance, let's pretend that you are a Mario fanatic, which shouldn't be a stretch, and that you've downloaded Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario 64. Normally these classics would show up as five individual Channels. But what if you could alternatively create a Mario Channel and store all five games within it? Or, maybe even NES, S-NES and N64 Channels to separate all of your libraries by console? These choices seem both simple and obvious to us so we're hoping that a future system firmware update will open up the possibility. Limiting the Functionality of the SD Card Nintendo's Wii console features only 512 megabytes of internal flash RAM, which is a far cry from, say, the 60 gigabyte hard drive on PlayStation 3. But luckily, you can buy external SD cards - up to 2 gigabytes in size, according to official Nintendo documentation - to boost your memory. Unfortunately, Nintendo has put some limitations on how the SD cards can be used with Wii. Although it's possible to store Wii Channels, including Virtual Console games, on the cards, the classics can't actually be played from the SD format. Only Channels stored in Wii System Memory - that 512MBs, in other words -- are accessible by the console. So while you can indeed store your favorite games to SD Card, using the format as a backup for your library, you'll have to copy them back to the Wii System Memory before they'll become accessible in the Channels interface. Click here to see what happens when you copy F-Zero to the SD Card and then erase it from Wii System Memory Above: We copy our F-Zero Channel to SD Card and then erase it from Wii System Memory The result is that the game disappears entirely from the Wii Channel interface; only by copying it back from the SD card will it show up and be playable again The process of copying Channels to SD card can take anywhere from 15 seconds to a couple of minutes. When you factor in that you have do it twice - once to your SD card and then again back to Wii System Memory - you could probably save yourself the trouble and re-download your purchased game from the Wii Shopping Channel. Furthermore, every Channel you download, whether it's the Opera browser or Virtual Console games, is specifically linked to your console's Wii number and you will not be able to copy any of these offerings to an SD Card and play them on a different Wii. Had Nintendo created its network around user accounts and not Wii numbers, you simply could have signed in with your account name from a friend's Wii, at which point you could have temporarily accessed games and other data that you had purchased. We don't specifically understand the reasoning behind Nintendo's method, except that it was probably easier to realize, but it's nevertheless an area that could be improved upon. One shortcoming that has us particularly baffled is that while you can save your favorite Mii characters to your Wii remote - it'll store up to 10 of them at a time - you can't save them to an SD card. The latter option isn't a necessity because you can always trade Miis with friends and family using WiiConnect24, but there is at least one benefit to it. The ability to store Miis to SD would open up the possibility to also upload them an Internet database where anybody - not just your friends and family - could access them. Imagine that you wanted your very own Mii version of Carrot Top but understandably didn't want to waste any time designing the character. Ideally, you could search for his Mii on the Internet. A simple update to the system via firmware could allow for the fix. WiiDisconnect24 Nintendo has repeatedly trumpeted the fact that Wii is always on and always connected. The company has cited numerous examples for how this might seamlessly bridge the gap between the online and offline experiences, including system updates that transpire while you sleep and the ability to instantly send messages and photos to friends and family. So far, however, WiiConnect24 is simply not living up to its potential. Not only do we feel disconnected from any of our friends and family, but even the process of receiving a system update is not nearly as transparent as Nintendo promised. Hardcore fans will argue that comparisons to Xbox Live are unfair, but we don't believe that to be true. In many ways, Nintendo is aiming for the same goal as Microsoft. For instance, both services offer a virtual store that sells downloadable games and community aspects. However, Live is thus far accomplishing these feats in a much more seamless, intuitive manner, which is a real issue since one of the major selling points of Wii is its simplicity of use. WiiConnect24 is, in fact, not really connected at all. Xbox Live, meanwhile, is doing exactly what Nintendo promised. Xbox Live Marketplace and Arcade items are cached to the system throughout the day so that the process of browsing the stores is speedy and invisible. If data is being downloaded between the menus, you don't notice it. It feels as though you are simply looking through items already on your console, for the most part. On Wii, it's an entirely different story. When you click on the Wii Shopping Channel, you must endure between 30 and 35 seconds (we timed it) of loading and "Connecting. Please wait…" screens before the main interface pops up. Loading each additional menu takes about two seconds. And exiting from the Wii Shopping Channel back to the main interface requires another 10-15 seconds (again, we timed it). Absolutely nothing about the experience gives you the impression that you are always connected. Click here to see footage as we connect to the Wii Shopping Channel And as a side note, compared to Live, the Wii Shopping Channel has a decidedly thrown together and clunky feeling to it. For example, on Microsoft's service you can queue multiple downloads at a time and status bars show the progress of each download. On the Wii Shopping Channel, you can only download a single game at a time and instead of a progress bar you are treated to an animation of Mario collecting coins. Don't get us wrong - it's a fun animation, but you will rarely have any idea how long a download will take you on Nintendo's admittedly still-early service. Meanwhile, you are unable to download free demos of games, at least not yet, which is standard on Live. Is There Anybody Out There? In all likelihood, more than four million people will own Wii consoles by the end of the year. The overwhelming majority of these people will be able to go online, play games, download software, and both send and receive messages. But will you ever see them? And will you be able to jump into a game of Red Steel 2 and deatchmatch against a couple dozen people you've never met? Well, Nintendo isn't making it easy. The Nintendo DS works on a friend code system. For every DS title you buy, you have to exchange new friend codes with people you want to play against. Only when you and the second party have sent and received one another's codes can you finally play. The good news for Wii owners is that DS games like Metroid Prime Hunters and Mario Kart DS do enable you to jump in and play against people you don't know, and thus there's hope for Nintendo's console. Wii operates in a similar fashion. Instead of individual friend codes for each game, you exchange your Wii system number - you only have to do it once, which is nice, but it otherwise has the same limitations of the online setup for Nintendo's handheld. For instance, only after you've sent off your Wii system number and received one back from your friend will your console even enable the two of you to communicate. And Nintendo's always-connected machine isn't even very consistent or speedy about the whole affair. Even if you telephone your pal and tell him to enter your code at exactly the same time you do his, it can take hours - in one case, we entered the codes before going to bed and the systems still hadn't validated each other's codes when we woke up the next morning. You store Wii system numbers in your Address Book, which is itself located - almost hidden, really - within a sub-menu of your Message Board's option to "Create a Message." Friends and family that we can interact with are bolded. We sent our Wii system number to buddy Cory Lewis and he sent us his several hours before we snapped the above screenshot. Notice that Cory Lewis is still not active, which means that we are unable to send him messages, photos or Mii characters. If there were online games available for Wii right now, we wouldn't be happy, to put it mildly, about the prospect of waiting hours upon hours for friends to become active so that we could finally play against them. We think we understand Nintendo's position. It doesn't want to create a wide-open community of players because there is always the chance that one of them could have less than respectable intentions. Specifically, by designing an enclosed network of friends, you won't have to worry about seemingly innocent "players" who are really child molesters, serial killers, axe murders, killer clowns, or worse. But if this is the position the company wants to take, it needs to at the very least ready a network that is much faster about validating friends so that we're not all waiting around for entire afternoons before we can finally contact our buddies. And if this really is Nintendo's position, why is it releasing the Opera browser for Wii? After all, there are many more dangers lurking on the Internet than there are on WiiConnect24 - that much we can guarantee. Sending Messages WiiConnect24 does enable you to send messages to people who don't necessarily own Wii units, which means that you could send your mom's Hotmail account some e-mail. Again, though, there are limitations. The first is that both parties have to agree to this new virtual relationship before you can send a single message. Once you register a friend's e-mail account, they will be sent a message inquiring as to whether or not they want to maintain correspondence with you. To effectively say yes, all they have to do is reply to the message. To say no, they needn't reply at all. The second issue is that while you can export pictures from the Photo Channel and send them to other Wii consoles, you can't send pictures to standard e-mail accounts. And on top of everything else, the amount of text you can send in messages, whether it's to another Wii user or a traditional e-mail account, is roughly the equivalent of four lines. Below, we send ourselves an e-mail. You can see what it looks like when it arrives in you inbox, too - it's very quick and dirty, but it more than suffices. Not Picture Perfect The Wii Photo Channel is a lot of fun. We love the interface and the ease in which we can manipulate and edit pictures. The mood and fun settings extend the functionality quite a bit, too. We're not embarrassed to admit that we've spent too much time doodling and putting the pieces of a picture puzzle back together. That noted, what's up with the compression? Even if you add incredibly detailed 8.0 megapixel photos to your SD Card, the Photo Channel both drops them in size and compresses them before they are ever displayed on your television. In addition, if you actually want to send some of these photos to your Wii Message Board, they are compressed even further. We added this photo to our SD Card in 8.0 megapixel glory, but Photo Channel compressed it. As you can see, zoomed out, it still looks pretty good... But look what happens when you try to pull in just a little closer Stretch-o-Vision We have to hand it to Nintendo because the Virtual Console lineup is, even a couple of weeks out, already looking pretty good. And with some 30 titles scheduled to be available before the end of the year, you're going to have a wide spectrum of classics to choose from. However, if you're either a videophile or a purist and you've got a 16:9 television, you might run into some snags when you go to play those games. When you configure your video options in the Wii Settings menu, you can choose to display in either standard 4:3 or 16:9 modes. If you choose the latter, all of your Virtual Console games will be stretched to fit the widescreen format, which doesn't always look so hot. Observe super fat Mario Bros. in the screenshot below: The only way to correct the problem is to go back into your Wii Settings and change your video output from the 16:9 to 4:3 display format. It's clunky and we're hoping that Nintendo will enable different video options within VC games going forward. Don't Be So Mii-n, Nintendo Nintendo's Mii Channel is one of the Wii console's greatest and also most limited features. Amazingly, gamers have been able to largely work around its many limitations to create some truly dazzling Mii avatars, but that doesn't mean the Channel's shortcomings should be ignored. We adore the Mii Channel's ease of use and the fact that we can usually create a nice caricature of any friends of family members that happen to float through our collective minds. However, we don't think anybody would argue with us when we write that the Channel could use both more variety and flexibility when it comes to create Miis. Take, for example, the above screenshot. That is the shortest and fattest body type that can be created in the Mii Channel. That person looks more bulky than he does fat and we're not even sure why Nintendo didn't enable more flexibility. It's not as though these body types are being used for collision detection purposes in games like Wii Sports. The Wii Sports offerings generally throw out the body types altogether and simply place your head on pre-fabricated bodies. You may have noticed that you can't even change the color of your Mii character's pants. Why not? Apply similar limitations to just about every facet of the Mii creation process and it becomes impossible to ignore that there is a lot of room for improvement. You can't even add more than one type of skin layer to the faces of your Miis. You can choose face stubble, but then you can't have smile lines. Or, you can choose rosy cheeks, but kiss that stubble goodbye. We tried to create Gerry Block, our IGN Gear editor, but we couldn't because there is no way to add a mohawk to Mii characters. The Mii Parade is an interesting idea. We always enjoy popping into the area to see whose new Miis will randomly show up. Still, other than that, we're not entirely sure what purpose the mode serves. When there are one or two Miis walking around, you can easily browse through them, but when you've got 25 or more, you barely have enough time to see who people are before they walk off-screen. We suppose the point is that if you like one of these Mii characters, you can send them to your Mii Plaza and use them in your games. But watch out because for some crazy reason you're not allowed to edit any Miis that you haven't created yourself. In the screens below, we take The Dude of Big Lebowski fame and add him to our Mii Plaza. He looks pretty good, but we'd like to make some adjustments. No such luck. Nowadays, we've already amassed several pages of friends in our Address Book and by today's count we have created or imported 66 Mii characters. That's a lot and we're just getting started. We're running into a daily (and particularly annoying) limitation on how many Miis we can send to our friends, though. The Mii Channel doesn't appear to receive sent Mii characters on the fly. If you're already in there doing something, you'll have to jump out of the Channel and back in again to receive any Miis your friends and family might have recently fired off. Not a big deal, except that as soon as you enter the Channel again you'll have to wait for each Mii to be introduced, fall into the Mii Plaza and perform a quick animation. When you get 10 or more Miis at a time, this can be a time-consuming process. We think Nintendo set a limit on how many Miis could be sent daily in order to stop potential Mii spammers from locking up their friends' systems for several minutes at a time. Why everybody has to suffer for the potential, still unproven bad moves of a select few is beyond us, but this seems to be the Wii motif. Watch what happens when we try to send Tal one of our latest Mii creations. 20 Miis a day sounds like a realistic figure, but if you've got a lot of friends and family who own Wii consoles, it'll go in a flash. We know because we hit our limit every single day. Picture this scenario: you have 30 friends in your Address Book and you want to send the bulk of them your latest Mii creation, the Analizer (a tiny, gray-style alien who loves to probe). You can hit your daily limit in a matter of minutes. Or, alternatively, you have five friends and you want to send them five Miis apiece. Not happening. This is an especially odd limitation because it should be your choice. If you want to accept Miis from your friends and family, it's not Nintendo's fault should you have to wait five minutes when you open your Mii Channel. But rather than risk it, a network-wide limitation is imposed. Final Thoughts We've listed the majority of the shortcomings we've found with the Wii Channels, WiiConnect24, Address Book, Message Board, Photo Channel, Mii Channel and Virtual Console games thus far. When you think about it, there's quite a lot to cover and we've spent about four pages doing so. If it reads like we're "hyper critical," we're not. We could have written a 10-page piece about everything we love, games included, but we've already detailed all that. You've seen our glowing impressions. You've read our reviews. You know the Big N has a hit on its hands. The fact of the matter is, Nintendo has released a spectacular system, but like any console, it's not perfect. The great part about Wii, however, is that everything about the interface can be improved with future firmware updates. Bearing that in mind, we want to make our issues known and we ask that readers do the same. If you're not happy with something about the Wii interface, or if you've encountered other problems, send us an e-mail and we'll look into it.