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The Wii: Cupboard Filler or Gold Medal Winner?

The Wii’s success in shifting loads of consoles to new gamers is in no doubt. The Wii’s motion sensors have also changed the way many games are played, and a handful of Wii games offer great gameplay.

So far, so good. But how many of those Wii Fit’s have been sitting in cupboards since Christmas, and where is the clutch of killer titles to draw gamers back again and again. Sony and Microsoft have their own motion sensor systems now and high resolution graphics to go with them.

The XBox and the PS3 certainly appear to be gaining the upper hand, because they can bring impressive titles to market on a regular basis and the hardware still has lots of potential. The Wii’s hardware is adequate but a distant Wii 2 is in danger of getting caught up in a hardware head-to-head with two big hitters.

Is there any hope for the Wii? Probably not as a ‘videogames’ system set in direct competition with large hardware and software producers. It’s a different matter in the family market. The simplicity of the motion detection, quick discounting of older titles and plain fun may save the Wii.

Most PS3 and XBox titles are single player or ‘play with your pals’ titles. Many are set up in bedrooms and studies. Much of the gameplay is focused on online death and destruction.

Bringing the family together to play in the living room. Setting up a sports contest for a birthday party or playing Sims 3 in the local library are, for now, better suited to the Wii. A ‘family console’ set up in the living room has a lot to offer parent’s of younger kids.

Instead of disappearing into a handheld console or their bedrooms, kids can play with and talk about games with their families. There are many benefits on offer in terms of learning language and social skills, even when just using sports titles.

Beyond that there’s a core set of games that can provide valuable skills for 3 to 13 year-old kids. Everything from basic vocabulary and literacy picked up by following plots, through to decision making and critical thinking. There aren’t all that many titles that really fit the bill but a few more are on the way. Taken together, the skills, social interactions and entertainment available for the Wii is well worth the money compared to many alternatives.

The Wii might get put in the cupboard when the kids get older but it looks like a winner in the family and ‘background learning’ arena over the next year or two. Titles that stand out include:

My Sims Kingdom

Young kids like this kind of introduction to Sim type games. It’s colourful, there’s lots to explore and you can spend ages deciding what you’re going to wear. They may tire of searching for this, that and the other, after a bit but some parental interest can get good value out of the game.

Zack and Wiki

Has the loudest most colourful introduction to puzzles a kid or teacher is likely to find. It can get a bit frustrating for kids on their own but works well in classrooms and with a bit of parental help.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Not the best or the most fluid graphics but a real winner in terms of plot and action. The storybook, Field Guide and movie tie-ins can make this a favourite for kids. They barely notice the research skills and plot devices, as the three kids battle to survive.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10

Fun and learning in sports title. Learning doesn’t have to be obvious to be of benefit and, more importantly, there’s nothing wrong with having fun. The fun here is in the accuracy and sensitivity of the control system. Play is surprisingly like being on a golf course and using a fade or a draw on your shots actually works.

The Sims 3

Sims 2: Pets and Sims: Castaways are both great titles plagued by slow loading times. These games allow kids to explore all kinds of different situations in worlds that are safe and often funny. Whole careers and lives can be played out, so the possibilities for learning are pretty limitless.

Between the loading, and Sims’ chores in Sims 2, the best bet is to wait a little longer for Sims 3. The PC Sims 3 is excellent and players’ roles are far more player-defined than in Sims 2. Want to try parenting, learn several roles to become an astronaut or sit down and become a bestselling author. Sims 3 will take you there and let you try life – without the sharp edges.

Zelda Twilight Princess

Twilight Princess brings together 25 years of videogame and RPG development. The result is a blend of almost every videogame RPG standard and device ever published. That could make the game seem over familiar or repetitive but Twilight Princess rises above its predecessors. Fairly good graphics guide players on a fantasy ‘save the world’ journey that is plain good fun. Parents and kids can work together to find solutions and the Wii’s sword-wielding controller provides plenty of novelty.

Kids can’t avoid learning in Zelda when they read the story, complete tasks and explore several different environments. It’s also great value for money, with many more hours of play than most titles.

Half-a-dozen family titles isn’t enough yet. Wii Sports titles, a couple of decent First-Person-Shooters in Resident Evil and Heroes 2, (and the tantalising prospect of Assassin’s Creed 2 on a Wii-mote), might keep the Wii in living rooms for a while. Wii Zelda 2 and an Okami 2 would also help.

However, without more high quality family titles from major studios the Wii risks losing its new audience. That’d be a real pity, because the kids you were talking to and playing with in the living room are going to retreat to their bedrooms to slaughter zombies.