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.