The Nintendo Wii is the most inexpensive of the current generation of gaming consoles. It provides motion sensing controllers and 480p graphics. We tested the Wii before its launch day (I'm a game reviewer), and we had our own unit in our home the morning of launch day. Here are our findings.
The Wii is designed around a menu of "channels". There is of course the game-playing channel, where the Wii will play any Wii or GameCube game. Simply load the disc in and go. There is a Mii channel where you set up a profile and avatar to connect to all your game playing. The Photos channel lets you look at photos on your TV. Other channels for news, weather, and online shopping require an interent connection; the news and weather were not actually working at launch time.
The system does NOT have a regular network cable port, which both the PS3 and XBox 360 have. Instead, it works with built in wireless or with a USB network adapter. I am a firm proponent of wireless - less clutter! So I am thrilled that they offer wireless automatically. With the PS3, you have to pay extra for the 60 gig unit to get this built in. The XBox 360 requires extra hardware as well.
It's hard to generalize gameplay on any console - it really depends on what games you buy. That being said, the comes-with-it software of Sports is really quite fun and is about as basic as you can get. You swing at baseballs, lob tennis balls, bowl, box and play golf. A "fitness" mode puts you through a variety of tasks and then calculates your fitness age, sort of like how Brain Age keeps track of your mental age. If you did both every day, you could aim to be as fit mentally and physically as possible!
In a world where video games = couch potato, it really is quite amazing to have a game where it natively expects you to move and be active. You don't lounge back and gain pounds here while playing games. Boxing can be quite strenuous, jabbing, blocking and weaving in real life. Tennis involves quick reflexes and strong arm movements. Bowling might be the most relaxed of the sports, but even there you are standing, moving, swinging. You get your heart going at least a little, and get some exercise. My boyfriend had a sore arm after playing for a number of hours, in a good way, as he would from exercising.
The 480p resolution is certainly not high def 1080p like the other two systems. It's something you accept when you're paying such a low price for the console. But really, it's not that big a deal. I still play the old Zeldas and love them for their gameplay, even though you can't see the pores in Link's face. If they are going for the cartooney characters and environments, 480p is DVD quality and is quite good. If you really, really crave high definition super realism in your games, then the Wii might not be the best choice for you. However, if you're fine with playing games with a more impressionist / cartooney look to them, the 480p can show that quite nicely. For example, there aren't fans in the stands for baseball - there are colored blocks.
Nintendo has always been known as a "Kid's Console" - but I really do think with the Wii that they have become a "Family Console". It's not just kids who will enjoy this. Seniors can have fun bowling without knowing anything "Tricky" about how to use a video game unit. It's very intuitive. Moms can easily play with their kids, each with their own Wii profile. Adults having parties can have fun passing the controllers around. Family groups can share slideshows on the big screen while hanging out and drinking wine. Every person who has come over - from 8 to adult - has instantly understood and enjoyed the Wii, without much explanation at all.
With the price tag being so low, a gaming household that "needs" a higher end system can easily save up their money to get that XBox 360 or PS3 - and still be able to justify to get a Wii for the fun, casual gaming stuff to share with their non-gaming friends.
Well recommended! Since I own all three systems, and am playing all three wirelessly, feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.
Update: One year later, and the Wii is still going strong! It's really funny how many people said the Wii would bomb because it wasn't as good as the PS3 or 360 - and here we are a year later and the Wii is still the system that people are really wanting to get. Hospitals are getting Wiis for their patients to play with. Senior centers are getting Wiis for their residents to play games together with. I was just on a cruise ship and they had Wii tournaments going on every day! This is a fantastically fun system that we really enjoy playing with and that literally the whole family can have fun with. There are great games for kids, great games for teenagers, great games for adults. I am really very pleased with how the Wii has held up and the game set available for it.
Update 2: 2 years later! Our Wii is still adored in our household, used just as much as the PS3 and XBox 360. I was just at a bar and they had two Wiis set up for people to play with, and everybody loved them. This really is an "every person's gaming system".
I'm running out of space here, but my nintendo.bellaonline.com site has full articles on exactly what you get in this box, and what else you should buy so you have a full system to play with.