The Simple Dollar’s Wii Buying Guide for Christmas 2007

wiiUsually, I don’t write about specific luxury goods, but over the last two weeks, I’ve received about twenty emails about buying a Wii as a Christmas gift, so it’s probably reasonable to expect that there are a lot of other readers out there with similar questions. If you’re completely not interested in a Wii this Christmas, you can skip this post completely.

I will say this much: as a 29 year old, I’ve had far more fun with the Wii than I’ve had with any video game console since perhaps my Super Nintendo back in my early teenage years. Even better, it’s given me hours and hours of fun and bonding time with both my wife and with my nephews. It really is an impressive gaming device for busy people like me and for the family.

Anyway, as many of you may have already found, the biggest challenge is actually getting ahold of the system. If you’ve already got your Wii, you’re far ahead of the pack, as all of the games and accessories are pretty easy to find.

If you don’t already have a Wii in hand, Wired Magazine has a great guide to scoring a Wii. It mostly repeats the best ideas for finding any gift, with a few specific Wii tips. I’ve helped three people in the area find a Wii this year, and the best success I’ve had is with stopping at Target at the moment they open on Sundays, bolting straight to their electronics section, and asking for a Wii.

Please note that I’m going to link accessory and game titles to Amazon.com so you can read more reviews if you wish. Wii games, for the most part, have identical prices on Amazon and at your local retailers, so if you have coupons at your local retailer (like our handy 10% off your whole order coupons we get for Target), buy the accessories and games there. You can also sometimes find 5 to 10% discounts on accessories and games at warehouse stores like Sam’s Club, BJ’s, or Costco.

Most Useful Accessories
The basic Wii controller is the remote – it looks like a television remote control. Every game uses this as a controller in some capacity, and there are other devices that plug into the remote for some games. The most common plug-in device is the nunchuk, which is used in the majority of games (but not all of them).

The Wii system comes with one remote (needed for all games), one nunchuk (used in many games), and a copy of Wii Sports (a tremendously fun game). The first thing you need to ask is how many people might be playing the Wii simultaneously on a regular basis? For us, that number was two, so that means we bought another Wii remote and nunchuk. If you have three regular users, get two remotes and two nunchuks. Before you buy a remote, though, read this whole post.

You may want to also get a battery charging system, because the remotes use two AA batteries. I have had a lot of success with converting all of the AA and AAA battery devices in my home to the Energizer e2 rechargeable batteries – these batteries work really well even after a ton of recharges, though the individual batteries are a bit pricy.

If you have wireless internet access at home, the Wii will be able to hook up to it and you can use the Wii to download inexpensive classic video games originally made for the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, N64, and Sega Genesis. All of the old Super Mario Brothers games are available for download, for example. These are paid for with Wii points, which you can also buy at the store in the form of small cards which have a code on the back – entering that code . A Wii point basically costs a cent, and you can permanently download games for 500 to 1000 points. If you plan on doing this, though, you may want to get a Wii Classic Controller, as some of these games require a controller for more buttons (games originally released for the Super Nintendo, N64, and Genesis require the classic controller; NES originals – like the four original Super Mario Bros. games – do not). I’ve had a lot of fun playing these old games, but they may or may not be of interest to you. This old game download stuff is not necessary at all to use the Wii, just an interesting side excursion.

Bargain Games
The best game bargain for the Wii is Wii Sports, which comes free in the box. It is an amazingly fun game and extremely simple for anyone to pick up. It uses motion control to simulate playing five simple sports games – bowling, baseball, golf, boxing, and tennis. For example, when playing tennis, you just swing the remote to hit the ball. With bowling, you swing the remote with a bowling motion and release a button to release the ball. With baseball, you just swing the remote like a bat. It’s quite fun for everyone – my wife and I play bowling and tennis quite a bit, and my oldest nephew loves baseball and is far better than I am at it.

Wii Play has the normal $50 game price, but it has a very nice freebie in the box – a Wii remote. Since the remotes list for $40, that means if you’re going to buy a Wii remote anyway, Wii Play costs $10, a pretty good deal. Wii Play is a collection of simple mini games – they’re fun, but not exceptionally good. Some of them are far better than others and the game should provide a few hours of entertainment.

Link’s Crossbow Training is a new release costing only $25, and it comes with a “light gun” that, when attached to the Wii Remote, transforms it into something similar to the old Light Zapper for the original Nintendo. The game itself is pretty fun and easy to pick up – it’s basically a series of target practice games set in the Legend of Zelda universe. You basically use a “crossbow” to hit targets of various kinds from various distances, with growing levels of difficulty.

By default, the Wii can play any games made for Nintendo’s previous system, the GameCube, provided you have a GameCube controller (which can be found for just a few dollars). Since the GameCube wasn’t a big-selling system like the PlayStation 2 or the XBox, GameCube games can be found on the cheap, and there are some real gems for the system. For under $10, you can find games like Super Mario Sunshine, Wind Waker, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Sands of Time, Pikmin, or the amazingly compelling (and sometimes extremely emotional) Animal Crossing.

Best Games
If there is a single “must have” game for the Wii, it’s Super Mario Galaxy. It has the basic structure of most Mario games – run around, jump on mushrooms and turtles, save the princess – but the 3D graphics are gorgeous and the game is very long and in-depth. There’s a huge amount of variety within the game as well. Beating everything in the game will take countless hours and it will be a lot of fun doing it.

Aside from that, there are a lot of very good Wii games. I recommend any of these:

Guitar Hero III or Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party These games have a lot in common, so I’ll lump them together here. They’re both “rhythm” games, meaning that the game basically consists of hitting buttons in a rhythmic pattern in time with the music. Guitar Hero III comes with a controller that looks like a guitar and the songs are rock and roll oriented – the vast majority of the songs will be familiar to people who have ever listened to a classic rock station. Dance Dance Revolution uses dance club music and the control is handled by a floor mat that comes with the game – these songs are distinctly less familiar to my ears, but are quite catchy and very appropriate for the game. DDR will get you up off the couch, though, as it requires you to “dance” on the mat, hitting the buttons with your feet. I like both of these games, with a slight preference for Guitar Hero – my wife vastly prefers Guitar Hero because she doesn’t like dance music at all.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess This is a very long heroic quest game, excellently done from beginning to end. It has a multilayered adventure story that deals with self-identity, morality, and other such issues in a genuinely fun and still thought-provoking context. I’ve become engrossed in the depth of the world – one of the side quests allows you to go fishing extensively, and I’ve spent most of the time lately playing the game just fishing.

Madden NFL ’08 This is the sports game for the system – if the person you’re giving the Wii to enjoys football at all, they’ll like this game. If you’re interested in playing along, it includes a “family play” mode (you’ve probably seen the ad for it, featuring an old lady in the middle of an NFL game shouting “This is my house!”) that greatly simplifies the controls so that anyone in the family can just pick it up and play. The regular version of the game is much more complex and nuanced, offering a lot of game to play through and master.

What Would I Do?
What would I buy if I were giving this system as a gift (besides, obviously, the system)? I’d give rechargeable AA batteries (along with a recharger), a single nunchuk controller, a copy of Wii Play, and one or two more games (depending on how much I was willing to spend). As default choices, the games would likely be Super Mario Galaxy and Guitar Hero III. As a parent, this would be my child’s Christmas gift, period.

If that’s too expensive (the total bill for the above would be close to $400), particularly if the system was for a child who would likely play by themselves, I would get the system, a GameCube controller ($10 or so) and a couple of the best GameCube games listed above ($5 to $10 a pop). That will provide a ton of gaming fun for now and keep the total bill under $300.

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  1. Avlor says:

    Thanks for posting this. It is a a bit away from what you normally post. But I appreciate it, because we just bought one as a family for Christmas with money from our parents, instead of asking for lots of individual presents. We’re new to the Wii scene so it’s nice to know what is useful and what people like. (We’re gamers and it will be fun to head away from PC gaming to something I feel we can do more as a family and with friends.)

  2. Patrick says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head as far as having a Wii being half the battle. They are easily selling for around $500-600 on the secondary market. Even at those prices, they can be hard to find.

  3. Diane says:

    We bought the Wii system in May and I must say that it is the best money we have ever spent on entertainment. My husband has a high stress job and would come home and fall asleep after work every night. Now he is rocking out with Guitar Hero and hitting homeruns on Wii Sports. Our 20 something boys play with their Dad for hours on the weekend too. It is truly a wonderful game.

  4. Mark says:

    I signed up for wiialerts.com, they send you a text message when they are available on Amazon.com for retail price. They usually last about 10 minutes, but I got one this way on Friday.

  5. Mark says:

    I put the feed from http://www.xpbargains.com/wii_locator.php into my RSS reader and checked it several times a day; systems came available every day or other day in various bundles and configurations, but I missed a couple of opportunities by being too slow to decide which games I wanted to bundle in and to commit to ordering it. If you go this route (more reliable than trying to find it locally, I would say) decide ahead of time what games you most want to buy with it. From what I saw the bundles might save you about $10 over buying the accessories and games separately – the primary purpose is to make you buy everything in one place.

    Also, regarding the classic controller for virtual console games, many of them can be played with a GameCube controller (get a used Wavebird, takes AAAs, for ~$20 to maintain the Wii wireless controller experience). I went with that because I wanted to pick up cheap gamecube games, but I haven’t tried any VC stuff yet. I was also disappointed to find that in order to save your progress in GameCube games, you need a GameCube memory card. I haven’t picked one up yet, so Metroid Prime is still languishing on my shelf while I play Mario Galaxy instead.

  6. Mang says:

    We’ve got a Wii at home, but this Christmas, we are hoping to find a copy of Guitar Hero 3, but they are sold out everywhere! It’s an extremely popular title.

  7. Solid guide. For what it’s worth, here is how I found my Wii.

    Check the ads online for ALL of your local stores. We found the Circuit City Sunday ad online on a Saturday night. In small print it mentioned that we could get to the store 1 hour before the open and get a voucher to come back for a Wii when the store opened. Arriving a few minutes late, we were about 5th in line and easily got our voucher. We came back an hour later and got our Wii without any hassles.

    Funny thing was, there was a long line at the Toys R Us about two blocks away because they ran an ad that Wii’s were in stock. There were easily 50 people in this line while the Circuit City employee had extra vouchers when we were there! If these people had checked more ads they could have had their Wiis and not even waited in line.

  8. Eric says:

    Use itrackr.com. I have and got 2 Wiis…last December.

  9. Samantha says:

    Don’t forget to add Metroid Prime 3: Corruption to your gaming list for the adventurous types. I was fortunate enough to get on the Wii bandwagon last Christmas when it first came out. (Our family has the best time with it, but we’re a gamer family.)

    On another note, this article appears on the heels of discussions on the “it” toy. I think this speaks in favor of “hype” as last year, when there was no hype, the Wii consoles were easy to find. Many people wouldn’t have discovered this wonderful entertainment outlet if it weren’t for the hype. (Anyone else getting “Wii-Fit” when it comes out next year, btw?)

  10. My boyfriend got me a Wii for my birthday in late August. Part of the reason for the Wii shortage is that Nintendo usually doesn’t move game systems until the holiday season, so it never had to provide a steady stream from the factories during the rest of the year. This time, because the Wii is such a great system and so popular, a lot of the reserve inventories had been depleted before Black Friday. The Wii is totally worth the trouble of finding it, though.

    My recommendations for Wii games, besides what you’ve mentioned:
    – Cooking Mama’s Cook Off. Great family game, but only 2 players max.
    – WarioWare Smooth Moves. A collection of “micro-games” that makes for a great group activity (up to 8 or 12, I forget how many).

    And another great GameCube game – Mario Kart Double Dash.

  11. Jason says:

    My wife got me a Wii for my birthday and it is a blast. My 5 year old bowled a 248 the other day. This is a great gift for the whole family. My Grandma and mother in law love playing Wii sports with my son.

  12. Drew Dockery says:

    Also worth noting that in almost all cases, you can use a Gamecube controller instead of the classic controller. I prefer the Wavebird to get rid of those wires!

  13. J.D. says:

    As you know, my wife and I are huge Wii fans. Kris has never liked video games of any sort, but she loves the Wii. We were obsessed with Wii Sports for a long time, but since picking up Dance Dance Revolution and a spare mat, that’s our game of choice. It gets mediocre reviews, but I don’t know why. It’s a blast. I like Guitar Hero, too, but Kris doesn’t. I’d rather play DDR, so that works out okay. I have Super Mario Galaxy and think it’s a lot of fun…

  14. Jeff says:

    For remote batteries, we got the Wii Charge Station by Nyko (http://www.amazon.com/Nyko-87000-Wii-Charge-Station/dp/B000LFJNF2/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=videogames&qid=1197225924&sr=8-1) which is really nice. You can just stick the remotes onto the dock whenever you’re not using them, so it’s much easier to keep them charged, you don’t have to worry about swapping batteries, etc.

  15. bill says:

    I was ‘santa’ at two events in the past two weeks. Wii was the primary technology requested; next was Nintendo DS.

  16. Josh says:

    I’ve been disappointed with the Wii. I can’t get into the casual games and aside from Metroid, I haven’t gotten much use out of mine. There just seems to be a lack of games for me.

    My advice for more gaming bang for your buck, is get a Playstation 2. The system, the games the accessories are all very low priced and with the thousands of games to pick from, you’ll have plenty of selection.

    That’s the way I’d go, especially if you’re thinking of buying a Wii to play Gamecube games.

  17. dawn f says:

    Hello-
    We have marble madness & love it for the wii.
    I had heard that there’s a problem with the sound (mono only) for guitar hero II on the Wii. have you noticed this Trent? We also like Game party although ping cup looks a bit like a game I used to play in college… and mario olympics a real work out!
    Aloha
    dawn

  18. southerngirl says:

    @Mark – I was just about to extol the virtues of Wiialerts.com – it can take a few tries for the timing to work out (i.e. you have to be near a computer when you get a text message about it) but after only about two weeks of updates I FINALLY scored a Wii this past Friday, and it’s coming on Tuesday. I’m so excited, it’s my birthday/Christmas/everythin present to myself since I’m not giving or getting many gifts this year. (It’s also taking all of my willpower not to eBay it as soon as I get it, for the easy profit!)

  19. jtimberman says:

    I was able to get my Wii by having the nearest Super Target search local Targets (Denver metro area) for the Wii department code (DPCI), 207-25-0001. A nearby Target had some in stock, and I got there before they sold out. I recommended this method to several people, all of whom were able to track down a system.

    Best Buy seems to be another good place to get them IF they advertise in the Sunday circular ad. If its not in the ad, don’t bother. If it is, they could have up to 100-200 systems at local stores. I confirmed this with three managers at two different stores locally.

    As for games, my recommendations:

    Excite Truck – absolutely silly, but addictively fun.

    Super Paper Mario – miss retro platform gaming, ie the original SMB games? Get this. Awesome game-play.

    I’d probably second the Metroid Prime 3 and Mario Galaxy recommendations, but we haven’t bought those yet. Plus thats $100 for just two games. I’ll be waiting until prices drop or they’re available used for cheap.

    Virtual Console has a very good selection now, and it gets better every week. I’ve mainly been buying my favorites from the NES, and have a couple SNES titles as well. If there’s any old NES/SNES games you’re missing, check what is available:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Virtual_Console_games_%28North_America%29

    For accessories, we have four remotes with two nunchuks and one classic controller. There aren’t any compelling games for Game Cube, so for now we’re skipping the Game Cube controller.

    Note that the Wii is not an HD system. It will do at most 480p if you get a component cable. Don’t waste money at Gamestop or anywhere else on their rip-off $20-30 cables either. Go to http://www.monoprice.com/ [1] and get the cable for $6.39.

    [1] I am not affiliated with Monoprice.

  20. Thryah says:

    I agree with the comment about the nyko charge station, it works great, saves you batteries, and it also gives you a textured rubber back for the remotes, which comes in handy during really intense sessions. The package we got also included a composite video cable for the Wii, most of the games aren’t in HD at all, but you can tell a bit of a difference if you really look.

  21. Andre says:

    I fought back and forth with myself whether my wife and I were going to make the purchase but I think we’re gonna try to get one after the holidays (that is, if a generous family soul doesnt get one for us!)

    Thanks for the in depth review!

  22. infix says:

    “Stop Shopping!” – Rev. Billy

  23. Anitra says:

    As someone else said above, WarioWare: Smooth Moves is a great “get off the couch” game for up to 12 people – and you only need one remote! We had a blast playing last Christmas with the whole family.

    I’d also add that while you may want to get 4 remotes, it is unlikely you will get any games that will need more than 2 nunchucks.

    If you are having a hard time finding a Wii, make friends with your local game store employee(s). If they like you, they may hold a system for you, at least for a few hours.

  24. Trent, what’s your opinion on the resale market for the wii? Seeing as how this is a PF blog, there is some decent money to be made by simply reselling the system for what people are willing to pay for it ($400-$500)

  25. Kat says:

    My boyfriend got a Wii for his birthday and as a non-gamer, I LOVE it. It is SO easy for anyone to use, even his 80 year old aunt was playing it!

    I would recommend the Big Brain Acadamy as another game. It looks like it would be easy and for kids, but it really gets to you to use all areas of your brain. And I second Wario Smooth Moves.

  26. Melinda says:

    Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. We got our Wii about 3 weeks ago, and we are STILL playing it. Totally worth the money in my opinion.

  27. Leanne says:

    I was having a lot of trouble deciding on a Christmas gift for the hubster, and this article clinched it! Then the search was on. I had relatives in another city (and province) lining up, with no luck. This morning, after a very foggy, rainy drive, and two hours standing in the rain, I SCORED!!! He had better like it :) I have never liked video games, but I’m looking forward to trying this system out. I think our whole family will enjoy it, not just the boys. Now, to find a Guitar Hero III…

  28. Diana says:

    This was great. We were given the heads-up by a Toys R Us employee that if the system (any system) was in the paper’s flier that morning, that meant that they would have no less than one unit available for purchase that day. With that tip, I ended up fifth in line at a Circuit City in early November.

    I’ve already purchased the Wii Play (on a previous suggestion by you) and the rechargeable battery pack and Super Mario Galaxy (both based on some recommendations at the Amazon.com comment boards). We plan on getting Guitar Hero III, but wanted to wait until after X-mas – which will workout better, I think, since that’s when Nintendo is saying they’ll be able to have the fix for the analog sound problem.

    I’m looking forward to some of the Big Brain Academy stuff as well as the Wii Fit!!

  29. Tijmetje says:

    This is a rather late reply, but I’ve been randomly going through PF blogs lately using the “similar post”-like feature most of them have. I’m not much of a gamer, but this is a console I would actually like to have some day. Though there’s often a social part in console gaming, the wii seems to take it to a new level.

    Mostly, though, I want to thank you for the link to that Animal Crossing cartoon. It pretty much made me cry, which was not what I expected from a cartoon about gaming.

    Also, of course, I want to thank you for your blog as a whole. I found it recently through another PF blog or a carnival or something like that, and I’ve subscribed and been reading it ever since.

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