Last week, I was finally able to get a hold of a Nintendo Wii. Somehow the Wii resonated with me since details about it were first announced (and when it was still codenamed “Revolution”), and for the past few months I’ve been eager to try it out first hand.

Traditionally, I’m a PC gamer, and the types of games that I tend to enjoy most are RPGs and first person shooters. However, over the past years I have become a much more casual gamer, and I’ve played more on my Xbox and less on my PC (although this is also due to other reasons, such as the fact that I normally run Linux at home, and that I try to avoid using the mouse for too long because it hurts my wrist). But these days I tend to play more in bite size chunks, since I have a job, a wife, and kids.

I thought about buying an Xbox 360 last year, but couldn’t quite justify the $399 expense. The PS3 with its astronomic price tag was out of the question… But even aside from the price, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly compelling about these new consoles. Sure, they’ve got upgraded graphics and sound, which certainly makes a big difference, but I feel that the more significant breakthrough needs to be made on the gameplay side. And significant innovations on that side have been very sparse…

The Wii promised to change this by taking a different approach: Instead of investing into graphics and pure processing power, Nintendo focused on completely revamping the user interface for console games, and I dare say that they strongly succeeded at this! After having played with my Wii over the weekend, I can honestly say that the Wii is all that it’s cracked up to be. The controller is amazingly powerful and sensitive, and enables whole new types of gameplay. In conjunction with the Nunchuk attachment, it offers many of the same inputs as a regular console controller. However, it also supports motion sensing and acts as a pointer device. Both methods are surprisingly accurate.

Wii Sports acts as a great demo for the console and showcases the way the controller can be used in innovative ways. In Bowling, you swing the controller like you would swing your arm, and let go of the “B” button when you would normally release the ball. In Golf, you hold the controller sideways and swing it like a Golf club. In Baseball, you similarly swing it like a Baseball bat (although I have to admit that Baseball on the Wii is about as boring as Baseball in real life…). Same with Tennis, which is my personal favorite. Boxing adds the nunchuk to the mix: You hold the controller in the right hand, the nunchuk in the left, and these essentially become extensions of your hands that translate all your movements into the game. If you hold your hands up, your player holds his hands up. If you duck sideways, so does your player. If you swing one of your hands into the opponent’s face or body, your player takes a swing - you get the idea. All the sports games have excellent physics, very cute graphics, and while I normally hate sports and would never consider buying a sports game, I have to admit that Wii Sports is a lot of fun. Another Wii feature that Wii Sports introduces is the Mii. The Wii includes a feature to create avatars, called “Mii”. These can be used in various games. They can also “travel” to your friends’ consoles, which is a fun little gimmick.

Of course I have also bought Zelda. I have only played it for about two hours so far, but it is a lot of fun. And even though the graphics can’t compete with next generation consoles, they actually look very nice. Then again, I don’t even have an HDTV, so what do I know… ;) The controls are perhaps a bit more cumbersome than they need to be, and many people are saying that they have essentially been bolted on a game that was originally designed for the GameCube, but overall it controls quite well, based on what I’ve seen so far.

After playing Wii Sports and Zelda, it is becoming pretty clear to me that the Wii would be an excellent platform for immersive RPGs or strategy games. The controller’s pointing feature is pretty much equivalent to mouse input on the PC (if not better, due to the tactile force feedback whenever you hover over a button, etc.), and the nunchuk and motion control add additional methods of input. I’m very curious what is going to happen on that front.

Last not least, the Wii includes a virtual console, which allows you to purchase (for $5-$10 each) and download classic games. I downloaded Super Mario 64, and the process was very smooth and the game plays well. And of course the Wii is also backwards compatible with the GameCube. Since I never owned a GameCube, I certainly plan to tap into this as well and pick up some classic GameCube titles.

All in all, I am extremely excited about the Wii. I am sure that the next generation of Wii titles will provide an even better example of what this console is capable of. Nintendo also recently announced that Q2 2007 will see the first Wii games with online multiplayer, which is sorely missing at this point. It remains to be seen whether it will compete with Microsoft’s Xbox Live service in this arena, but I’m hoping for the best.