To paraphrase, or rather capitalize upon, the catch phrase of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, “wow-wow-wii-wa!”

Nintendo’s Wii is strong. Way strong. Like, “okay, we thought Nintendo had a nice new console to play Zelda and Mario on, but now we actually like the whole crazy controller thing” sort of strong. (The controller is a two-piece, fully wireless device that tracks its position and orientation, allowing you to point at the screen like a wand or laser pointer, twist and turn the controller like a 3-D steering wheel, or play games with more traditional buttons and an integrated joystick.) The surprise is that Zelda didn’t convince us. Excite Truck began the process, and Wii Sports was the tipping point. We’ll explain with what can only be described as highly mediocre (sorry), but original photography, below.


So this is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the only game in this box that we originally wanted to play. Good news: judging by the first 30 minutes of play time, it’s the most sophisticated Zelda yet, directed with a cinematic sophistication that feels far more nuanced and Metal Gear-like than (cough, cough) Wind Waker, or better, Ocarina of Time. It’s instantly apparent that Nintendo is aiming for an experience adults and serious gamers can find visually appealing, but there’s also a lot of tutorial stuff going on at the start, and thus far very little of the controller utilizing, sword-swinging action we’d have expected. That’s sure to come just a little bit later, but the early goings are slow: use Epona the horse to corral some goats? Someone’s going to give Link a fishing rod? Sure, why not.


The really good stuff started when we booted up Excite Truck and Wii Sports. More on them, and the Wii’s interface, after the jump.

A few quick comments on the system’s interface before we move on. It’s peppier and more Japanese (read: pastel and white)-influenced than the GameCube’s dark, techy interface, which we actually liked except for the sound effects, and clearly leads to a huge variety of not-yet-unlocked wireless network features. We’re presently struggling to get the Wii connected to our 802.11B/G network here – it’s failing for non-obvious reasons, sort of like our DS handhelds have – but even if we do, Nintendo apparently won’t have the Wii network and its downloadable games ready until launch date. That left us to play with a few system settings – setup of the included “sensor bar,” which mounts above or below your TV and tracks some of your wireless controller movements, widescreen video mode, and things like this, Photo Channel.


You can access pictures stored on SD Cards by cameras or cell phones, drop them onto the Wii, and apparently send them to other people via Wii e-mail. Interesting.


This keyboard pops up on screen to let you enter anything from network settings to details about yourself. You point the included remote at the television set and the on-screen finger moves wherever you’re pointing. It all works surprisingly well, and the controller provides just enough vibration feedback to make you feel like you’re actually accomplishing things with your button presses.


Want to play a game? Go to the console’s Wii menu and you’re prompted to insert a Wii (DVD-size) or GameCube (mini-DVD-size) disc; the ones on screen are constantly rotating, and sink into the mirrored floor when a game is actually loading. Each game puts up a nice full-screen animated logo – Zelda’s is perhaps the most sophisticated – when it’s ready to start.


Here’s Excite Truck. Further details will be coming later, but the first comments we’ll make are these: classic gamers should imagine what the old arcade game Off Road would be like if it was mixed with Cruis’n USA, Burnout, and the Warthog jump videos people used to make with Halo. Excite Truck has you use the remote controller as a virtual steering wheel, properly sensing turns, forward and backward positioning of your truck for jumps, tilting, acceleration and braking.


It works. It’s fun. And you spend a lot of time flying through the air, having fun, and seeing cool sights. Exciting? Burnout is more intense, but this is surprisingly captivating.


So here’s the deal with Wii Sports. Ask us a week ago whether we wanted it in the box, and we would have said “no.” But after playing it, we have to admit that it is surprisingly fun, and a spectacular demo of the system’s new wireless controller. Without dragging this out a lot, the following points can be made quickly: the graphics are almost embarrassingly, demo-quality weak by contemporary standards, and two of the included five sports games aren’t doing a lot for us. But the three games that we do like are really pretty cool, and one of them is shockingly so.


First, consider the warning screen that appears before you play any of the sports – it’s actually worth reading. We really, really didn’t think we were going to enjoy moving during gameplay, but yes, you’re going to do it, and you’re going to like it. Just don’t elbow or smash someone in the face with the remote controller while you’re playing.


Tennis? Yup – this is one of the good-ish games. The screenshots here don’t illustrate how simple play is, but if you can think back to the way tennis games were 10 years ago, you’d have an idea – your characters run around on the court and you use the controller to swing your racket. It’s very simple to serve and play, only a modest evolution of Pong for this particular console.


The insanity starts with Boxing, which is Punch-Out minus what those in the industry call “assets.” It looks just like Punch-Out (minus the cool characters), feels just like Punch-Out (minus the cool special moves), and totally keeps you moving both of your arms like a boxer. It’s the only Wii Sports title that requires the remote to be connected to Nintendo’s cabled Nunchuk attachment, and gives you the chance to use both arms to block or throw punches.


Even as a demo, Boxing is so good that you’ll be thirsting for a Punch-Out sequel – we liked everything except the fact that three knockdowns didn’t result in a TKO. Nintendo appears to have left more than a few strings untied for what’s inevitably to come in the future.


Golf is similarly simple, but pretty good. Here, your only goal is to swing and aim properly, minus most of the distracting factors that are in modern golf simulations.


The three-dimensional graphics here are again simple, but for golfers, this will be a fun title to putt around with until a real golf title is available.


Baseball is, in a word, stripped. It’s just hitting and pitching, nothing else, and pitching is pretty weakly executed. Someone at Nintendo clearly felt – and correctly – that it would be cool to hold the Wii controller like a bat and swing at pitches. But throwing the pitches, and watching fielders run around automatically to catch and return the balls, is not so exciting.


Finally, there’s Bowling. We like a good bowling game as much as the next guy, but this is again stripped down to the point of near pointlessness. You’re auto-positioned at the end of the lane and basically just swing your arm and drop the ball. Again, it’s not so exciting, but as a party game, some people may enjoy it.

There’s more to come on Wii in our next post.