Thanks to a five year-old, it’s like 2006 all over again in the Johnston household.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 02/26/2013 10:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

I was an early adopter of Wii.  Drawn in by the promise of a new control scheme, and backwards compatibility with my existing GameCube library, I parted with the little black cube and stood in line on a cold November morning outside a Toys “R” Us to get my hands on one of the first of Nintendo’s motion-controlled wonder. The line wasn’t terribly long that day; it would be a few weeks still before the hype grew so powerful that one would almost never see a Wii sitting on store shelves.

From the get-go, the magic of the system was apparent thanks to its basic but polished pack-in minigame collection: Wii Sports. Charming in its simplicity, the collection of games was at once a glimpse at the promise of Wii and a chance to experience sports in ways no console had been able to. Bowling felt real, tennis smooth, and golf was better than it had ever been. Perhaps the greatest testament to Wii Sports (or the greatest condemnation against quick cash-ins) was how many standalone bowling, tennis, golf, boxing, and baseball games that came out years later yet were inferior in their controls and execution.

For most of us, the sports compilation gave us some good times in the early days of the system, but eventually it became relegated to the back of the cabinet to gather dust, supplanted by five years of gaming that stretched from Twilight Princess to Xenoblade Chronicles. In the interim, my wife and I welcomed two daughters into the world, the first born in the frigid first weeks of 2008.

Wii Fit box artThat eldest daughter turned the milestone age of five at the beginning of 2013, and the many hours trapped indoors in the winter led her to acquire dawning awareness of my video games. Her early efforts to wield other console controllers were predictably awkward, the controllers’ mass of buttons

and sticks too much for her mind to handle. She did try a few flash games on the computer, but they suffered the opposite problem, quickly growing too simple for her.

We finally decided to have her try her hand (or, rather, her feet) at Wii Fit. I dusted off the board hibernating under our TV stand, put in a quartet of AA batteries, and powered up the game. After the on-screen board scolded me for being away for two years, it was off to the races for my daughter, who took her turns at hula-hoops, bubble gauntlets, soccer balls, and snowboarding. Yet even there it was clear that many of the games still lay beyond her abilities– she avalanched on the slopes, burst a lot of bubbles, and couldn’t hit a soccer ball to save her life. Yoga was a non-starter. (Oddly, though, she suddenly figured out how to use a real hula-hoop.)

It was clear after a week or so that Wii Fit wasn’t working. The physical demands of the game were still beyond where her motor skills were at that point, and she was getting frustrated enough that I figured I should find something more accessible for her, lest she burn out on games altogether.

Then one night, I put in Wii Sports.

It was a revelation. Baseball and tennis she grasped early on; bowling came later, once she got the button timing down.  he putting game in golf is still a project, but she’s driving well. (I’ve generally avoided boxing, given the logistics of putting on the nunchuck and my general fear that she’s going to flail her younger sister.) While I consistently thrash her in baseball, she’s gotten good enough to give me a run for my money in tennis, and on a few early occasions her unassuming “just throw it right down the line” bowling attack actually outscored my once-vaunted, now-rusty delivery. My form is better now– if not yet back to the lofty 2006 heights that included a mountaintop 300– but hers continues to be solid and can run a score creeping in on 200 when the stars are aligned. She is knocking on the door of pro status on bowling and is not far off the mark in tennis.

She’s been playing Wii Sports for a month now, and already we’re seeing fascinating changes in her that have implications beyond gaming. Her posture has improved while she stands to play the game, and her hand-eye coordination has grown to the point where she can make some genuinely wicked tennis volleys. If the hula-hoop/Wii Fit episode is any indication, I will be very curious to see what all this translates into athletically when we take to real sports in the front yard in the spring.

Always, mindful of history, I cannot help but be aware of the timing of all of this. Wii is, for all intents and purposes, a past tense console. With Wii U well into its maiden year, I can’t imagine Nintendo’s 2006 experiment, much less Wii Sports itself, is getting much playtime in 2013.

Yet most evenings after dinner, my daughter asks to do just that. Together, we experience good father/daughter time, bowling and serving and pitching and having all the simple pleasures of a simple game. For her, it is magical, just as it was for so many when Wii debuted in homes six years ago.

And for me, too. It’s been so long since I’ve played– and it’s so infectious to be playing with someone coming into it for the first time– that I’ve rediscovered the sense of wonder that I had six years ago.

Wii has made a revival, and it’s a blast.

2 Responses to “Wii-vival”

  • 192 points
    Robin Wilde says...

    This is a nice story and it’s interesting to see when people come to a system a few years later than it launched and still find it fun.

    I saw an XKCD comic about a guy who plays video games on a five year delay – that is, when they’ve been out for five years they’re ‘new’ and he can play them, thus retaining the joy of improving technology but saving money in the process. I’ve had the idea of doing something similar, but having to write about new games gets in the way.

  • 849 points
    ejamer says...

    Having recently started playing Wii Sports again as a way to get some (very light) exercise during my lunch hour, it was interesting to read this report. The game has some rough edges – boxing isn’t good, putting doesn’t respond well – but is still fun and approachable.

    Somehow, I get the feeling there will be many classic games “rediscovered” on Wii years down the road.

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