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Wii's Wider Appeal

I saw Robin Williams late Monday afternoon getting a booth tour from Electronic Arts executive Bing Gordon. The only thing was that Williams was at the Ubisoft booth.

A die-hard gamer, Williams is one of many celebrities that attend E3 annually to see the latest games. I also saw Williams two years ago at the Sony booth, where he was very graciously signing autographs for game makers. In addition to having his own comedy riff on gaming, Williams has a daughter named Zelda (he let his son name her after the popular Nintendo game series).

Despite the terrible name ("Wii" makes "Xbox 360" sound hip), Nintendo's next-generation console has really impressed me. I had hands-on time with Ubisoft's Yakuza action game Red Steel today behind closed doors. Within 5 to 10 minutes, I was easily using the new controller to wield two swords and fire an assortment of weapons at well-armed enemies.

The remote control-like device rests in your right hand and controls the right sword or the aiming of the firearm. The left hand's controller takes care of the movement within the game world and the second sword, when applicable. By swinging these controllers around in the real world, your on-screen avatar follows your control. Red Steel is the best-looking and most seamless gameplay I've seen on the system so far.

While there are 4 million-plus fans who buy the new Madden game every year, a large number of gamers find the control scheme complex (especially when using the precision passing option). I played the Wii Madden NFL 2007 game today behind closed doors on the hot and stuffy second floor of EA's mammoth booth. The game, which was developed in Vancouver (the rest of the Madden games are made in Orlando at EA Tiburon), adds a whole new dimension to the sport.

I was able to kick, hike, pass and run the ball with ease with the Wii's controller. I hiked the ball by pulling the controller in my right hand back. Then, with the men in motion, I quickly chose a receiver and made a passing motion with my right hand to throw the ball. To kick, I pulled the right-hand controller straight back. If not pulled directly back, the kick goes wide right or wide left.

It doesn't take much practice to get these controls down, and it really opens up the game to a wider audience. It also introduces some physical activity to game play. More than anything else, it adds fun. The graphics were good -- maybe not as impressive as the PS3 Madden game I saw in another closed-door meeting -- but much better than GameCube. And at the end of the day, I'll take innovative gameplay over flashy graphics.

By Bob Greiner  |  May 10, 2006; 11:59 PM ET  | Category:  E3: Game Play
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