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Monday, December 31, 2007

Wii is the champion

Nintendo can't make 'em fast enough, but that hasn't kept rivals Microsoft and Sony from playing catch-up
Looks like the Nintendo Wii wasn't just a fad, after all.

Of course, that's just our opinion. Nintendo's rivals, Sony and Microsoft, may try to argue that the popularity of the Wii really is still just a fleeting craze - one that has spanned more than a year and has bridged two holiday selling seasons.

Whatever you want to call it, here's the truth: In an industry in which the "next big thing" seems to come around every few weeks, the Wii continues to be the biggest story in the video game world, despite being released more than 13 months ago. Nintendo simply can't produce enough of them, and, in a repeat of last year, Wii-hungry shoppers are again lining up outside stores in the middle of the night or overpaying on eBay and Craigslist just to get their hands on one.

But that hasn't stopped Microsoft and Sony from trying to keep up. After endless criticism of the cost of its PlayStation 3 (which came in models priced at $500 and $600), Sony dropped the price of its top-tier model by $100 over the summer, then last month introduced a version for $400 - which is still $150 more than the Wii. Further plaguing the PlayStation 3 is its lack of must-have titles - likely a key reason the system has sold under 3 million units in North America, compared with more than 6 million Wiis, according to analyst and company figures.

While Microsoft's Xbox 360 has chugged along, it hasn't been without its share of problems. The biggest: the so-called "red ring of death," the term given to Xbox 360 units that suffer total failure. (The front of each unit has four quarter-circle lights that form a ring; if three of them turn red, it means your Xbox 360 is dead.) Acknowledging the frequency of failed Xbox 360s, Microsoft in July extended the warranty of its game system to three years, a move that could cost the company more than $1 billion.

Even the launch of the company's biggest game of the year, Halo 3 - which took in some $170 million in sales the first 24 hours of its September release - didn't go off without one major snafu: In some versions of the game, the disc was improperly packaged, leaving it to slide around inside the casing, causing scratches. Microsoft agreed to replace scratched discs free until the end of the year.

All three companies have made strides in their online operations, but it's here where the Wii is weakest, offering mainly a back catalog of older games as paid downloads. Sony, through its PlayStation Network, and Microsoft, via its Xbox Live, have had stronger showings, particularly in downloadable content, from free demos of anticipated games to, say, extra songs - priced at a few bucks a pop - for the games Guitar Hero 3 or Rock Band. It's all evidence that the three companies have placed a higher importance on online integration. Hey, at least they agree on something.

Top 10 Video Games

1. ROCK BAND (Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3). We happened to have about a dozen friends and family members over to our house the same night Rock Band arrived. Within minutes of setting up the microphone, guitars and drum kit, we were rockin' out as if we'd been playing for hours. Then, we played for hours. It's simply the most fun I've had with any game all year.

2.BIOSHOCK (Xbox 360). Easily the most original game in recent memory, BioShock earns a place on this list as one of the few titles this year that exceeded expectations. Not only did it introduce a new take on the first-person shooter, but it engaged players with a moody, haunting portrayal of a retro-futuristic undersea dystopia of genetic experimentation gone wrong. Months after finishing the game, I haven't stopped thinking about it.

3.THE ORANGE BOX (Xbox 360, PS3 and PCs) - This one makes this list for value alone. Included on the disc are five games: Half-Life 2, its two expansion episodes, plus the puzzle-solving Portal and online multiplayer Team Fortress 2. However, it's Portal that had me captivated, with its physics-bending puzzles that you'll just have to experience on your own to fully appreciate.

4. GOD OF WAR II (PS2). It says a lot that the best game I've played so far on my PS3 is one I also could have played on my 7-year-old PS2. Little was changed from the original God of War to its sequel, which was a good thing. Let's just hope they remember that for God of War III.

5.SUPER MARIO GALAXY (Nintendo Wii) - Nintendo took the decades-old Mario and made him feel new again. By launching the portly plumber into space, Nintendo opened up dozens of new, imaginative worlds for Mario while mixing in just the right amount of wiggling and wagging its Wii has become known for.

6.HALO 3 (Xbox 360) - They don't come much bigger than Halo 3. They also don't come with much more hype. As one of the year's biggest releases for nothing, it gets points for still being a benchmark among first- person shooters. However, it's the third in the series - still good, if not groundbreakingly so.

7.MASS EFFECT (Xbox 360) - If there's one area in which I hope Mass Effect has a mass effect, it's video-game dialogue. By changing the way players choose which lines their characters say, BioWare, the game's developer, eliminatied halting pauses in dialogue, making conversations between game characters appear more natural. Oh yeah, and the rest of the game isn't bad, either.

8.ZACK & WIKI: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Wii) - Don't let the cuteness fool you: Zack & Wiki is a devious, little game. The goal of each level is simple: to get to the treasure chest by using objects and contraptions found only in that particular level. It's the execution - which could involve shaking the Wii controller like a bell or turning it like a crank - that's difficult.

9.THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS) - This Zelda is a model of efficiency: You use the DS' stylus and touch-sensitive screen to perform nearly every action in the game, from moving around the hero Link to making notes on the many dungeon maps. It's one of the handheld system's best games so far.

10.CALL OF DUTY 4: Modern Warfare (Xbox 360, PS3 and PCs) - Yes, the multiplayer rivals Halo 3's as the best that the Xbox Live online service has to offer, but the single-player portion of CoD4 - which ditched the World War II-era weaponry in favor of current technology - was a joy, even if it was too short.


The Wii (pronounced as the English pronoun we, IPA: /wiː/) is the fifth home video game console released by Nintendo. The console is the direct successor to the Nintendo GameCube. Nintendo states that its console targets a broader demographic than that of Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3,[3] but it competes with both as part of the seventh generation of video game systems.

A distinguishing feature of the console is its wireless controller, the Wii Remote, which can be used as a handheld pointing device and can detect acceleration in three dimensions. Another is WiiConnect24, which enables it to receive messages and updates over the Internet while in standby mode.

Nintendo first spoke of the console at the 2004 E3 press conference and later unveiled the system at the 2005 E3. Satoru Iwata revealed a prototype of the controller at the September 2005 Tokyo Game Show.[5] At E3 2006, the console won the first of several awards.[6] By December 8, 2006, it had completed its launch in four key markets. During the week of September 12, 2007, the Financial Times declared that the Wii was the current sales leader of its generation.

Nintendo hopes to target a wider demographic with its console than that of others in the seventh generation.[3] At a press conference for the upcoming Nintendo DS game Dragon Quest IX, Satoru Iwata insisted "We're not thinking about fighting Sony, but about how many people we can get to play games. The thing we're thinking about most is not portable systems, consoles, and so forth, but that we want to get new people playing games.

This is reflected in Nintendo's series of television advertisements in North America, directed by Academy Award winner Stephen Gaghan, as well as Internet ads. The ad slogans are "Wii would like to play" and "Experience a new way to play." These ads ran starting November 15, 2006 and had a total budget of over US$200 million throughout the year.[34] The productions are Nintendo's first broad-based advertising strategy and include a two-minute video clip showing a varied assortment of people enjoying the Wii system, such as urban apartment-dwellers, country ranchers, grandparents, and parents with their children. The music in the ads is from the song "Kodo (Inside the Sun Remix)" by the Yoshida Brothers.[35] The marketing campaign has proved to be successful: pensioners as old as 103 have been reported to be playing the Wii in the United Kingdom.

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