Fancy a Wii whack in the head, old sport?

Wii Sports (2006)

They always manage to get you, do advertisers. We think of advertisers as snake oil salesmen, wearing suits that almost seem to shine. A lot of them tend to look incredibly young, perhaps on a Patrick Bateman morning routine, except their demeanour is impossibly sleazy. They’d never in a million years make a sale, you’d think.

And yet some of them, the best ones, the only ones worth a damn, they prove incredibly adept at delving into your psyche and, crucially, making away with your hard earned cash. Think of a younger, much less foul-mouthed Ricky Roma and you’ll get near to the stereotype.

Ricky and other con artists like him were out in force in 2006, when I attended a local trade fair show called Toys for Bigger Boys. I had already said back then that the GameCube would probably be my last games console, and that it was time for me, the typical 15-year-old who plays the mature young adult role and thinks the world is all on his shoulders, to finally grow out of gaming. It’s probably therefore worth noting, then, that in 2017. as I went into to buy the Nintendo Switch, I told myself the exact same thing. If ever there was a marketer’s dream, it’s me.

I’m too lazy to install any kind of adblocker, which means YouTube and all manner of other websites have their wicked 4Ps way with my delicate bum, advertising things I’ll never need, though that doesn’t include local MILFs in the area. And I was really finished when Facebook and the like became really big, listened in on all of your conversations and thanked you for your scrumptious data – and I’ll take no argument that that’s not exactly what they’re doing. You know about once being happenstance, twice being coincidence and all that? What about seventy times? Seventy conversations being recorded, and hey presto, there’s that exact product being advertised to you the next day.

Anyway, away from MILFs and Facebook for just a second, when I played the Wii for the first time at that show, and was handed what appeared to be a white TV remote instead of what one would have to call a ‘regular controller’, I was absolutely amazed. When I partnered up with a chap for a game of Wii Sports Tennis against two other strangers, I was hooked. And better than that, when the Wii would eventually be released in November of that year, this quirky Nintendo title of five different sports would be included for free.

Well, blood and stomach pills! That was Christmas 2006 sorted out in my house, and indeed millions of other houses worldwide. Honestly, they were the thing to have that year, and you just couldn’t get one. I was insanely lucky to receive one, and it was one of the funnest Christmas days at home that I can remember.

Now, of course it wasn’t long before I turned my attention to the properly massive game that kicked off the Wii, Twilight Princess, but first it was a nice frolic through the five included sports with the rest of the family. And, since we’ve both got a minute, let’s spin through each of those sports in turn, shall we?

First up is Tennis, and given you’re gonna be pretending to swing a racket around, I’d say this is the best chance of getting whacked in the head, or smacking someone yourself. I would also speculate that this game is responsible for more broken televisions than any other game, or even televisual event in history. Yes, even the ending of Game of Thrones. For better or for worse, Tennis is the one that everyone remembers from this package. It was probably the one that famously got your sister, your mother, your father, even your granny interested in a game or two.

No wonder the Wii Remote came with straps, if only we would bother to put them on occasionally. It’s comical swinging for the tennis ball with all your might, especially if you play doubles against an opponent. But the control scheme really was a stroke of genius – no tricky buttons or combinations required, just take the Wii Remote in hand, thrun your ball up in the air and whack it. As intuitive and natural as the game of tennis itself, and with nowhere near as much running, white getups or nasty tennis elbow.

Of course, it didn’t take altogether long for us all to realise just how limited the Wii Remote was in what it could do, and how casual games were going to be a bit of a norm. This is what led to us Nintendo fanboys hailing No More Heroes of all things as some sort of hardcore saviour. You could say, then, that Wii Sports set a very bad precedent. But who says you can’t enjoy a bit of casual, no-straps fun? And anyway, what do your grandparents know about console wars?

Second on the disc is the surprise of the bunch for me, the Wii Sports variant of golf. This is automatically more enjoyable than any other golf game in the world, if only because you strictly cannot play as Tiger Woods or some other naff jumper-wearer, and that can only ever be a good thing.

You’ve also got some spiffing motion controls, which do bring you a little bit uncomfortably close to actually being out there on a golf course- but the force ten gales that seem to crop up on every second hole will bring you straight back to your living room reality. At this point, you might be wishing to bring up Mario Golf as an antidote to my Wii Sports golf poison. But I have to imagine that, in those games, you’d have Thwomps flattening the courses at regular intervals and all of that – leave It out.

Boxing – more difficult to play this two player, as you’ll need a bit more hardware in the form of what Nintendo delightfully called the Nunchuk. You could probably pick one up for pennies now, but in days gone by I could never being myself to spend a score on what was essentially a stick and two buttons. Anyway you’ll get a proper rush out of this game when you land some good blows on your opponents, although you come at your opponent really like some sort of starfish, points and appendages everywhere, trying to bypass their guard. Just imagine it’s a movie called ‘Bend It Like Balboa’ and you’ll be alright.

Keep winning bouts and increasing your score to a 1000 and you can take on the infamous Matt, world heavyweight champion of Wii Boxing. The points are a bit arbitrary, but scoring them is what represents progression for Wii Sports, although in Matt’s case I fear you’ll have your progress very rapidly halted as he downs you in three punches. 

Baseball can be a surprisingly good laugh, even if you don’t fully know the rules. You’ll get the greatest laugh from the camera scene at the beginning that pans through the players, who are all Miis that reside on your console. This means that nearly every game will feature at least one Adolf Hitler pitching the baseball to you. Desperately offensive I know, but it was an unwritten rule that every Wii out there had to have a Hitler Mii, as a means to breaking in the console. What does get annoying about baseball is how often your players (and only ever your players) will suddenly develop a bad case of pilchard hands, and as a result, Zoidberg keeps dropping the ball.

If Tennis hasn’t finished off your TV, then Bowling will smash it and any other glass surface in a 300 yard mile radius. I’m sure there’s a technique to Wii Sports Bowling, spin and gully and turkey and all the rest of it, but I could never figure it out. I just flung the thing as hard as possible (and I still sit mercifully on zero smashed TVs to this day) and I hoped that would get ’em all. Sometimes it did, and sometimes I threw the ball backwards into the crowd, and you have to laugh.

The bowling game is iconic, and the training game that eventually puts you up against 100 pins even more so. Better than that, playing this game will prevent you from having to wear those godawful shoes, always ghastly and uncomfortable, and I’m awful at bowling anyway without the childlike barriers being pulled up. With Wii Sports, I can throw a few balls and not worry about being the only one who looks a proper idiot, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Wii Sports, along with its sequel Wii Sports Resort, may have kicked off and personified that dreadful old era of casual Nintendo. But as a pack-in title, as a marketing device, as a short burst of fun, this game is legendary – and also legendarily ludicrous is the Wii U’s attempt to make you pay for the same game a few years later. The advertisers probably won the war, but Wii Sports was a battle won by the consumer – a free piece of ambrosia, nectar to the gaming masses, that is now so nostalgic it almost hurts.

12 July 2022

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