Updated on 09.19.14

A Frugal Man And His Wii: Q&A

Trent Hamm

Wii...One of the most frequent issues that readers write to me about is my thoughts on purchasing a Wii. I mentioned briefly before the five financial lessons that a Wii purchase taught me, but this didn’t seem to sate the questions from readers. So I’m going to take a brief sojourn here and answer all of the questions I’ve received about the Wii. If you have more questions or your own comments, please drop them in the comments.

Answering Reader Questions About My Wii Purchase

Where did you buy it?

First of all, Wiis appear to still be very difficult to find. I bought mine at a local Target that just happened to have two of them left after a shipment came in. I have only seen a Wii actually on a shelf in a store twice and I’ve seen an empty shelf many, many times. I paid the typical $249.99 plus tax price, but I had a 10% off your entire purchase card for Target at the time, so I used it then.

How much have you played it?

I bought the Wii just before I moved (around July 1) and between the moving, a death in the family, and many, many relatives coming to visit, I haven’t had as much time to play as I’d like. I have probably averaged about twenty minutes a day, with the actual reality being about an hour every three days. My wife has played a similar amount, but our play has only overlapped in part. Also, many of my visiting family members played as well.

What are the essential purchases you need?

The system comes with Wii Sports (a truly great game for everyone – it’s just amazing), a single remote, and a single nunchuk controller. The remote is the primary controller for the system – the only time that you use the nunchuk controller (it plugs into the remote to make a nunchuk-like controller with a cable connecting the two pieces for two-handed gameplay) is with the boxing part of Wii Sports and with some of the additional games for the Wii that you might buy.

If you expect to primarily play it with one or two players and don’t know what games you might be playing (the situation I was in), I would also buy Wii Play. It’s a collection of nine more simple games (simpler than the Wii Sports ones, but along those lines) that also includes another remote in the box. That ups you to two remotes, which will enable you and your closest friend (in my case, my spouse) to play all of the Wii Sports games and all of the Wii Play games together.

Does Wii Sports actually get you moving around?

Without a doubt, yes. I’ve worked up a sweat many times playing the games, especially the boxing and tennis games on the included Wii Sports.

What’s the best value for the system?

The Wii also lets you download “classic” video games for a varying cost of $5 to $10 a pop (they’re saved on the Wii itself, so you can just keep replaying them as if you had the old cartridges), and I’ll be the first to confess that this has drawn most of my Wii play time – and perhaps most of my wife’s, too, as she has played Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 extensively. While I’m not sure they would wow the kids, I grew up playing games like Metroid and Super Mario World, and to be able to have them again on a console hooked up to the television is not only steeped in nostalgia, but a ton of fun as well.

If you played video games as a kid, download a few of your old favorites and play through them again on here. You’ll need to buy the Classic Controller, but after that the games cost between $5 and $10 and you keep them permanently. I’ve found that a few haven’t aged all that well (Punch Out comes to mind), but some have just completely drawn me in again. For my gaming dollar, nothing is as worthwhile as downloading an old console game on the Wii and trying to play through it again.

What’s the best game you’ve played?

Wii Sports, without a doubt. It’s an incredibly well-designed game. Even better – it’s in the box, no extra purchase required. Aside from that, I’ve invested the most time beating Super Mario Bros. 2 again (a downloaded game that cost me $5) and also playing the Wii game Mario Strikers Charged (a very strange soccer game given to me as a birthday gift).

Isn’t it a waste of time?

I mean this as honestly as I possibly can: with the exception of watching two television programs to catch appearances by friends and family members, I have not watched television in six weeks. The only time I’m in front of the television is to play a game on the Wii. It helps me unwind, brings up nostalgic feelings, is a lot of fun to play, and I can put it down with ease and go on to other things. Even better, my wife and I both play it quite a bit – together. Plus, it’s the first console I’ve ever owned where other family members have gotten involved with playing – I haven’t seen my oldest brother touch a video game since his days on the Atari, but he was mixing it up playing baseball and bowling.

If there are more questions, please drop them in the comments.

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  1. Ben says:

    Don’t ever feel guilty about having a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with a little sanity or a good way to unwind, (and in the case with the Wii, exercise a little.)

    The bonding you can get from playing the older games is kinda funny. My wife wouldn’t touch my Xbox 360 until I started getting some older games and puzzleish games like Zuma or the Solitaire one from Xbox Live. Now she has taken an interest in my hobby.

    Unless your hobby is buying Ferarris, there’s nothing wrong with buying something that is a “waste of time” if it makes you happy.

  2. Lauren says:

    Regarding virtual console games… the majority of them can be played on Game Cube controllers instead of the classic controller (I believe TurboGrafx games are the exception). Which is another great deal, as you didn’t mention that the Wii is compatible with 100% of Game Cube games, many of which are tons of fun and can be found for $10 to $15.

  3. Justin says:

    The Wii is absolutely a “community system”. My wife, who hasn’t played video games since the original NES, is a huge Wii fan, and plays incessantly. More importantly, we can finally game as peers. (My Halo skills serve me very little against her in Wii Tennis.)

    My huge family ranges in age from 11 (little sister) to 56 (parents), yet all of us had a ridiculously good time on the Wii at my housewarming party. My dad – who never let us own a console growing up, believing games to be a waste of time – absolutely hogged the system and asked me how he could get one.

    Wii Sports and Wii Play provide an incredible amount of play value. The only other game I own (Rayman’s Raving Rabbids) has seen almost no playtime relative to those two, yet they “cost” me a total of $10. (Sports comes with the console, and Play is only $10 more than buying a controller solo.)

    In addition, there are non-gaming advantages. I work from home and we only have one computer, but because the Wii has built-in wireless networking and a downloadable web browser (Opera), my wife can surf from the couch when I’m hogging the laptop. Sure, emailing with the controller is about as fun as SMSing, and it takes some finesse to get YouTube videos filling the screen properly, but it’s better than nothing, and a free feature of the system. (The News channel is also good for wasting some time, but less so than the web browser.)

    The Wii is one of those products that makes more sense in reality than it does on paper. Just buy one, get used to it, then have a party: the Wii will be the life of it.

  4. Austin says:

    The Wii is the best party game system! I got one as a gift and was unsure that I would play it. I’m not a gamer at all. After getting a second remote, it all changed. When my group of friends get together at night, the Wii takes over. We have become very competitive at bowling and tennis. Watching two people box is hilarious. And yes, most people get sore after playing even for 20 minutes.
    Also, my parents ~60 were thrilled with it and I thought I was going to have to buy myself a new one after they played Tiger Woods.
    When it is 104 F outside, the Wii gets a lot of atention.

    At less than $400 for the Wii, an extra Wiimote, nunchuck and two extra games, it is a value when you consider the money you save from going out on the town with friends or that $600 PS3 you could’ve got.

  5. Justin says:

    Oh, and lest someone pop up with the inevitable “but isn’t it just replacing real ‘outside playtime’?”: I have become *more* active since buying the Wii. Playing Wii Tennis is fun – especially on 100° days with 80%+ humidity – but there’s no way I’m going to stare at a telly when I’ve got a park, a soccer ball, and a couple of friends just a phone call away. The Wii is reserved for times that “real” exercise is impractical.

  6. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Is Tiger Woods for the Wii good? I heard some people saying that it was only barely better than the golf game that comes with Wii Sports, which is okay but far too short (and seemingly too sensitive on the putting).

  7. benp says:

    If you like old video games, you should know that you can download programs called “emulators” that literally emulate the old game station hardware. You can then use these programs to play “roms” which contain the information on the game cartridges. Its quite informative to see how small these files seem nowadays. The emulator programs are generally less than a MB and 16bit games are on the order of a couple of MBs.

    The copyrights are a little tricky, since technically only a few of the title are copyright free, but in practice only a few games fight for their copyrights. Technically its also not a copyright violation if you own the original cartridge although most people obviously don’t. Personally I don’t feel too bad about downloading an 10-15 year old game that would be impossible to buy a non used form. Some of the 8bit ones are still a lot of fun.

    PS: The sites that host the rom’s are generally still working on their business model, so they have lots of pop ups and are kind of shady, so be careful where you click.

  8. Chris says:

    I was fine with emulation for many years, mostly because nintendo and other companies refused to come up with a way to allow us to play our old games without dragging out outdated hardware and dealing with issues like nes games that won’t work (I stopped buying used games the day I bought a nes game that simply wouldn’t play on my system)

    Now that companies have made a good business model out of old games I am again on the emulation is wrong train. I will bust out the java nes emulator sites for a kick at work during downtime, but beyond that i’d rather support the developers and buy the game son the wii/xbox 360 live arcade. (I still haven’t buckled down and bought anything on the wii virtual console but I did have to buy the old tmnt arcade game on the xbox when it came out, 5$ is far less than the amount of quarters i blew on that thing in my childhood).

    I heartidly agree with ben that you don’t need to defend your hobby choice anymore than you have, and I agree with Lauren that buying an old gamecube controller is a much better deal than buying the classic controller, mostly because it gives you access to gamecube games which are extremely cheap.

    However I do need to disagree with one note from your previous column, you said that the wii is “by far the least expensive console” If someone wants to get into videogaming and wants the best deal and access to the largest library of cheap games, then a ps2 is a much better deal. It’s still extremely relevant for at least another year, it’s current cost is 129.99 with a possible drop to 99.99 this year. Developers are still making games and it has a library of titles that must be at least six times larger than the gamecube.

    However if you want the activities that the wii brings to the table and a console that is assured to have titles developed for it (be relevant) for at least 5 more years than splurge for the wii.

  9. Sabrina's Money Matters says:

    It sure beats taking out the game, blowing on it, and hoping it doesn’t skip and act stupid. We have two original NES systems, but they’re more fun to look at than to play.

  10. jasonn says:

    I’d take a pass on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 for the Wii. The controls are really, really bad. I mean, just downright frustrating. If you are strangely curious at how bad they are, give it a rental and see for yourself. Otherwise, I’d stick with Wii Sports, as they managed to at least get the controls down.

  11. SwingCheese says:

    Haha, Sabrina, my husband and I have an original NES, and find ourselves doing a lot of that!! Oddly enough, putting the game in the freezer for a couple of minutes usually does the trick, although I can’t begin to fathom why. The games usually work long enough for me to get my Tetris fix, though!

  12. Rosco says:

    I’m pretty sure you DON’T need the Classic Controller to play the emulated NES games. If you turn the Wiimote forty-five degrees so that the “+” is on the left, you can use it just like the original NES controller.

  13. Erica says:

    The Wii was a fantastic purchase. We have had people over to play and not one has not enjoyed it, moreover it’s the ones who least enjoy gaming and generally don’t do very well that end up beating everyone at bowling, speaking from experience here :)

  14. Deila says:

    Sabrina & SwingCheese~

    I, too, have my original NES, and would have difficulty getting it to work (blow in the console, blow on the cartridge). That is, until I took it apart and cleaned it. I Googled the directions and it was FUN to take apart and clean. Now, no more blowing!… and every game plugs right in and works GREAT!

    As for gaming to be a ‘waste of time’, I get most of my good ideas while playing… and, also, I use that time to passively think and solve dilemmas in my life. A 3rd benefit, I can jump on my mini-trampoline while playing!

  15. I own the Wii Sports, Wii Play and Mario Party 8. That’s all I need. And I can play by myself on ALL of the games, or with my Husband, or with up to 2 other people (once we get 2 more controllers and have a permanent place to live in :P)

    Fantastic game, my arms hurt so much after playing tennis (even if you don’t have to swing that hard), and we have a TON of fun playing together in the hotel rooms…

  16. Ben says:

    I used to put a game in the nes, and slide another cartridge in on top to lock it in place. This worked pretty well.

    Googling how to take it apart and clean (the conductors were crappy) is time worth spending.

    If you are going to find a used NES, get the top loading re-designed one. You won’t have any problems with the flashing screen of death!

    My parents are thinking of getting a Wii for a family christmas gift. I still haven’t tried it yet but I’ve been meaning to give it a shot.

    Xbox 360 just dropped to 279.99 for the core unit if you’re looking for classic game capability and a next generation, HD level gaming system. It can be the best of both worlds.

  17. junger says:

    Trent, I just got Mario Strikers charged for my birthday — want to share friend codes? I’m looking for someone who won’t destroy me in it — I’m still learning!

  18. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    That’s right – to play the NES or T-16 games, you don’t need a Classic controller – it’s just for the Super NES, N64, and some Genesis games.

  19. Dawn says:

    My son and I love Wii sports. I think it is a great investment for families.

    My son will happily do chores AND extra work if he knows the fruit of his labor is going toward a
    Wii game or accessory.

    I almost pulled a muscle playing tennis

  20. Nathan says:

    Just a word of caution: $300 on videogames costs the same as $300 on a year playing Magic. Still, provided he gets a year of enjoyment out of it, Trent is getting a better deal with the Wii, as he plays it with his wife, family, and friends.

  21. Justin says:

    @Lauren: Absolutely; it doesn’t get stated enough that the Wii has 100% GameCube compatibility. It even has four GC controller ports and two GC card slots, and takes GC discs natively. As soon as I bought my Wii, I gave my GC and a wired controller to a friend, and kept my favorite games and the WaveBird. The Wii is literally two+ consoles in one. That said, I wouldn’t recommend using the GC controller to play SNES or N64 games. It just doesn’t map well. The Classic Controller is your best bet there.

    @Chris: Agreed. The PS2 has legs like you wouldn’t believe. I’m waiting until the day it hits $50, then going on a spree for all the gaming I’ve missed over the years. (Ico, Shadows of the Colossus, Ratchet & Clank, etc.)

    @Ben: Don’t buy the 360 core system! Trust me, you want the hard drive. MS promised that no games would require the HD, but that’s proving more and more difficult for developers, and rumour is that’s not going to last much longer.

  22. icup says:

    I don’t know if you knew this, but there is a netflix-esque service for videogames. think its called gamefly or something. Works the same way. I’m not a member myself, but have a friend who says its a good way to weed out the games that look good but end up being bad.

  23. Chris says:


    also good to weed out games that only take 7-10 hours to play through and don’t wind up giving you much for your $50

  24. Dave says:

    Regarding the controller, the classic controller is much better than the gamecube controller for some games. I tried playing Donkey Kong Country with a Gamecube controller, and it’s basically unplayable. Oh well, $20 is worth it, IMO.

  25. m360 says:

    maybe I’m too simple but I like the older systems. I Picked up a nintendo a few years ago for $12 and have spent about $10 more on about 25 games. I don’t play most of them but they are good collectors items. Some of them are rare. My favorite ones are yoshi and DR Mario. I have a dance aerobics game wich looks like fun but I need to find the mat that goes along with it.

  26. kc says:

    you can pick up additional wii accessories and games for a very good price on ebay. so if you ever want to save $10-$15 on a game, you can find one that is new and sealed on ebay

  27. Mike says:

    Hey Trent–I thought you might find this Wii idea interesting: Over the course of the past few years, I’ve built a very simple and inexpensive backyard movie theater. I hook up a laptop, DVD player or video camera to a projector and project it onto a home made 10’x15′ screen. This spring, my girlfriend bought a Wii for our house (you know where this is going!) Tomorrow night, we are hosting a “Wiiesta” inviting friends and their kids over for an outdoor tournament (and serving fajWiitas!). One friend has her own Wii, so she will bring her two Wiimotes and we can play a real four-person tennis match.

    Obtaining a projector is the only real expense. At first, my girlfriend borrowed one from her company. We used it often enough that I decided I wanted one of my own. I found a refurbished one for $800, but they have come down in price since then, and more are showing up on e-Bay. Some places rent them, or you may know someone who owns one.

    For the screen, anything goes. Some people project onto the side of their house or garage; paint some plywood white; stretch out a silver tarp or bed sheets. I went a little more expensive: a friend was working at a company that makes vinyl outdoor sign banners, so I paid about $100 for a big, blank white banner with grommets. I stretch it with bungee cords over a simple 2×4 frame. My friends love it!

    I also took the projector to Colorado for my parents’ 50th anniversary and projected hundreds of old photos onto the dining hall wall at a dude ranch. It was a big hit. So for me, the projector has been a very worthwhile investment that I plan to continue using for years.

    If anyone is interested in creating their own back yard “drive-in” theater, visit backyardtheater.com. They have great forums on everything from screens to projectors to audio systems and more.

    I strongly recommend experimenting with a borrowed or rented projector before investing in one: some folks may have unreasonably high expectations for the resolution; it ain’t high def (unless you REALLY shell out some bucks for a projector and professional screen).

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