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The Wii Christmas Buyer's Guide



Instead of my usual weekly Cblog article, I thought I'd do something which some of you may find of practical help while doing your Christmas shopping. Much to the chagrin of teh hardcorez everywhere, the Wii is still in pretty high demand and I'd wager a fair few of you may be buying or gifted one in the near future. Yet perhaps due to its 'casual' reputation, a lot of people still find it difficult to find information on the games that suit their needs or those of the families they're buying the console for. I've been playing the Wii as my sole console (unless you count PC) since launch and have bought an enormous number of games over the past four years, so I have more experience than a lot of people in rooting out the gems amidst the mountains of garishly-coloured shovelware. This isn't a 'Best Games' list as much as one which will hopefully be useful in sending you to the best titles that are, as the interwebs would say, relevant to your interests. Hope it's helpful!

Is it worth buying a Wii at all? Unsurprisingly, I would say yes. Look deeper than its casual reputation and the copious quantity of garbage Nintendo has inexplicably allowed to infest its library and there's an exceptionally strong set of games lurking beneath the surface with enough variety to satisfy almost all gamers. Aside from the first party releases, tts best games are fairly niche and best considered as complementary experiences to the AAA titles you'd get on the HD consoles. An added bonus is that due to many of its finest games not selling well, they're now very easy to pick up at ridiculously low prices. It's also the best console to play with the family, as in addition to the granny-friendly stuff like Wii Sports, there are plenty of good games that can act as a 'bridge' to get your nearest and dearest playing the sort of stuff closer to your gun-toting heart. On the downside, there's an awful lot of shite to wade through in picking the best games – but hopefully I'll be able to help you with that. There's also the possibility of a Wii 2 coming out next year with better all-round everything, so you may want to wait and see what happens. Nevertheless, once you know what you're looking for, the Wii is a very strong investment for affordable, off-centre gaming.

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FAMILY FRIENDLY: I'd wager a lot of you will be buying the console with a view to giving or playing it with family members. So here are the best games that can be enjoyed by everyone, even you. Wii Sports is excluded for being a pack-in, although you'll enjoy it far more than you think you will – so long as you avoid boxing and baseball, that is.

Boom Blox: The least likely Steven Spielberg project ever, Boom Blox is a nuanced little puzzler that uses the Wii remote as a slingshot to knock down block structures. If it sounds mundane, the physics system is excellent, there's an insane amount of variety, a charming art style and a huge number of taxing combinations. By far the best 'casual' third-party Wii game, it's very simple to play and uses motion control excellently. (Rated E, Amazon price $30 new)

Just Dance 2: Okay, you hate me and are not going to read any further, right? It's true that Just Dance doesn't really work very well in terms of motion accuracy. But to be honest, it doesn't really matter. It's a simple idea (use the remote to imitating dancing poses on-screen) that everyone can get involved with and look like a tit for three minutes, engendering an hilarious atmosphere that makes the inaccuracies of the game itself kind of redundant. Both Just Dance games are basically the same, although the sequel is reportedly more precise in reading movements and has a greater number of modes and tracks. (Rated E10+, Amazon price $30 new)

Wii Sports Resort: A solid little game that comes with a Motion Plus (I think you can also buy a pack-in of this game with the Wii) and offers another set of minigames to go alongside Wii Sports. There's nothing as straight-forwardly compelling as Tennis from the original package, but it's as polished and dependable an experience as you'd expect from Nintendo. (Rated E, Amazon prince incl. Motion Plus $47 new)

Avoid: Anything with 'Party', 'Games', 'Carnival' or a word ending with 'z' in the title. If in doubt, stick to first-party releases. Just Dance fluke aside, don't touch anything with Ubisoft on the box.

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BRIDGE TITLES: These games are more complex than the Family Friendly offerings but still accessible to virtually everyone, whilst also potentially helping family members to graduate onto more in-depth gaming experiences.

Mario Kart Wii: Everyone loves Mario Kart and most will have played a previous iteration. This is a solid entry into the franchise, slightly more complicated than past versions but not at all difficult to get the hang on, even if mastery will take some time. Battle mode has sadly been gimped, but four player racing is as outstanding as ever and the online mode, which can do with a friend, is one of the console's best. (Rated E, Amazon price $45 new)

New Super Mario Bros. Wii: Once again, everyone is familiar with 2D Mario and the old-school mechanics make this an enormously entertaining game to pick up and play for a few hours after Christmas lunch. The co-op mode is where it's really at, allowing you to team up with or gang up on family members, with options for less experienced players to jump into a bubble for the more difficult sections. It's one of the weaker 2D Marios relative to the series' legacy of masterpieces, but hard to beat for collective platforming experiences. Expect arguments when someone collects all the Propellor Mushrooms for themselves. (Rated E, Amazon price $40 new)

Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles: Not what you were expecting? Capcom have been pretty lazy with the Resi series on the Wii, but Darkside Chronicles is an on-rails shooter that is a pretty good stepping stone to introducing younger players to the Wii's shooting controls. It's just about deep and entertaining enough to offer long-time gamers an engaging zombie experience, but the point-and-click shooting is simple enough for everyone and the dynamic difficulty will help in a bind. (Rated M, Amazon price $20 new)

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THE BEST MOTION CONTROLS: The Wii's motion controls have come in for a lot of criticism and often deservedly so, but if you're buying the console then you owe it to yourself to check out the best on offer, even if a lot of other games won't live up to the same standard. At least you'll know how good the console could have been, had third-parties put some effort into it.

Red Steel 2: Correcting virtually all the blunders that made the original the byword for motion controlled inadequacy, this FPS/sword-fighting combo requires the Motion Plus (you can get it packed in for an extra fee, or with Wii Sports Resort) and puts it to full use. The toon-shaded art style is gorgeous and the sword attacks are flawlessly responsive, with the Motion Plus even making the pointer gun aiming feel extra smooth. There's not a huge amount of replay value (the lack of a New Game Plus once the game has been completed is a staggering oversight), but the ten-hour experience is an outstanding proof-of-concept for the Wii and one of the console's top games. (Rated T, Amazon price $19 new without Motion Plus, $46 [!] pack-in)

Zack & Wiki: The Quest For Barbaros' Treasure: Although going for a higher price than expected on Amazon, this overlooked treat from early in the Wii's life recalls the Monkey Island ethos and humour with some ingenious puzzles and entertaining use of motion-controlled items. The cartoon aesthetic belies how challenging the game is and even though a single run-through of the game won't take long, there are plenty of rewards to go back and find. Used at Nintendo's E3 presentation to show the Wii's capabilities, Zack & Wiki is a funny and enthralling game in its own right and only enhanced by clever use of motion. (Rated E, Amazon price $40 new)

The Godfather: Blackhand Edition: Completed ignored at the console's launch, this is one of the few GTA-style games on the console (Scarface is also available, but there's not much else) and one which uses motion controls in a more inventive and responsive way than almost any game since. The cornerstone of its fighting system relates your left and right hands to those of your character, allowing you to throw punches, strangle people or throw them off rooftops with different movements. It's physically exciting and while the gameplay doesn't match Rockstar's ambitious series by a long shot, is more than solid enough to prove an outstanding investment. You will probably have to buy it used though. (Rated M, Amazon price $23 used on Dec. 13th 2010 )

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PLATFORMING: The Wii has brought the platform game back in a big way, so you're on the right console if that's what you're after. First-party games are as exceptional as you'd expect from a developer with Nintendo's experience in the genre, so I've picked their best release plus two cheaper ones from third-parties.

Super Mario Galaxy 2: One of the best games of this generation, Nintendo took what made the celebrated original and refined it down to concentrated platforming brilliance with barely a scrap of waste to be found. Its obstacle course design is closer to the 2D Mario games than the more recent 3D iterations (try the original Galaxy for a slightly more open-world design) and is thus slightly more accessible to new players, even though navigating in 3D spaces can be a bit daunting at first. An absolute must. (Rated E, Amazon price $40 new)

De Blob: A strong choice for an enjoyable budget platformer with a quirky aesthetic, De Blob puts the player in control of a glob of paint who must infuse a police-state city with colour. Using motion to jump isn't ideal but won't take too long to get used to and while the gameplay isn't up there with Nintendo's finest, it's silly and well-designed enough to keep you going. Includes some multiplayer modes which I know nothing about. A sequel will be released across all consoles next year. (Rated E, Amazon price $20 new)

A Boy And His Blob: A beautifully designed reimagining of an old 2D game, Boy And His Blob runs over 80 levels and features some ingenious design courtesy of different flavoured jelly beans that have a wild variety of effects on your character's pet blob. Like most platformers it doesn't have much replay value, the button configuration could be better and the difficulty is a set a tad higher than might be expected, but this is a charming and very solid alternative to the likes of Kirby's Epic Yarn from Nintendo. (Rated E, Amazon price $15 new)

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SHOOTING: Although disparged as a 'casual' console, the Wii's pointer aiming controls have been steadily improving since the Red Steel debacle at launch (although the game is not quite as bad as is made out and vastly superior to the likes of Call of Duty 3, Far Cry Vengeance and Quantum of Solace, which should be avoided at all costs) and is now considered by many – including myself - to be a close challenger to mouse and keyboard as the FPS control method of choice. Later Call of Duty games like Modern Warfare Reflex and Black Ops are definitely worth considering despite being a little stripped down from their HD counterparts, but this list comprises three more distinctive titles.

Metroid Prime Trilogy: Three outstanding games for the price of one, including one of the contenders for the best game of the last generation. A mix of shooting, platforming and exploration, the pointer controls are near-perfect and even the weakest of the three titles in the package, Metroid Prime 2, is great fun. Offering hours of top-quality sci-fun entertainment, the only downside is that the game can be difficult to find and isn't available on Amazon. There's bound to be a bargain going on eBay though. If there's a single one of these three games you haven't played, hunting it down will be more than worth the effort. (Rated T)

GoldenEye 007: No, it's not a reissue of the N64 game, but does take inspiration from it for a single-player mode that offers a little more variety than your average Call of Duty and plenty of bullet-related violence. Once you've tweaked the controls to your liking – the defaults aren't ideal – you'll also find solid split-screen and online multiplayer modes waiting. You can also use the Classic or GameCube Controllers if you want a more traditional dual-analogue experience (although the button layout on the GCN pad is very odd), but expect to get annihilated if you go online - I'll be waiting. An enjoyable game all around with some very high points, but not quite as refined as it could be. (Rated T, Amazon price $50 new or $60 with Gold Classic Controller Pro)

Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition/Dead Space Extraction: The Wii hasn't had an original, full entry into the Resident Evil series and is unlikely to now, but did get what is considered the definitive version of one of the most acclaimed games of the GameCube-era. (Rated M, Amazon price $11 new). Dead Space Extraction is admittedly on-rails and rather short, but immensely atmospheric, well-made and going quite cheap. Fair warning though, it will be arriving on PS3 with Move Compatibility at the launch of Dead Space 2. (Rated M, Amazon price $20 new)

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OTHER: These are five of the best games on the console that offer something outside the mainstream, easily overlooked by anyone who hasn't done some pretty exhaustive research. Since many people bought the Wii for new kinds of gaming experiences, these should all be considered definite contenders for Christmas.

No More Heroes: The sequel is more technically impressive but lacking some of the original's flair and bombast. Travis Touchdown is one of this generation's most distinctive anti-heroes, scything bloodily through hordes of enemies to reach the top of an assassins' league table. Motion controls are put to restrained but utterly satisfying use, the story and gameplay are every bit as twisted and meta as you'd expect from the man who brought you Killer7, and the fighting system, which includes numerous lucha libre-style takedowns, is glorious. I can't recommend this highly enough for anyone with a snarky sense of humour and passion for a more deranged kind of fun. (Rated M, Amazon price $31 new or $10 used)

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor: A sequel to the N64's on-rails shooter, all I really need to say is that this game was made by Treasure, of Gunstar Heroes fame. Insanely difficult, insanely entertaining... actually, just insane. (Rated T, Amazon price $23 new)

Little King's Story: Yes, it looks like a four-year old's pop-up book, but this is actually a fully fledged, thirty-plus hour RTS with a very off-kilter sense of humour and some dubious imperialist politics. The lack of pointer-controls is disappointing (the Wii re-releases of the Pikmin games show what could have been), but Xseed's unassuming little game is one of the Wii's most addictive, provided you're not too put off by the eye-meltingly bold colour scheme. Retailing at a ridiculously low price, you'd be mad not to at least give it a go. (Rated E, Amazon price $17 new)

Muramasa: The Demon Blade: An entirely motion-control free 2D slash-'em-up by the creators of Odin Sphere, this is among the Wii's most beautiful games. The controls are uncomplicated but require great mastery on the highest difficulty level, with a number of hidden moves to discover alongside an enormously intensive levelling up and accessory system that will send RPG fans into spasms of glee. With a story and art style inspired by Genroku-era Japan and two different character stories to play through, Muramasa is yet another overlooked, underpriced Wii great. (Rated T, Amazon price $15 new)

(EURO Only) Disaster: Day of Crisis: Never released in the US due to Reggie Fils-Aime's displeasure at its technical shortcomings, Disaster sold about three copies and yet, despite looking like a dog's breakfast, is an hilariously bold and over-the-top parody of the Hollywood disaster movie. Incorporating a huge variety of gameplay styles (Time Crisis shooting sections, driving, survivor rescue), this is a game which refuses to let you get bored. Even the segments that don't work so well are over soon enough that it's hard to feel too aggrieved by them. By the time you're fighting off a giant bear or outrunning a tsunami, all will be forgiven. Great fun, with additional 'Disaster Files' providing some surprisingly fascinating education on real-life versions of the in-game disasters. (Rated 16+, Amazon price £15 new)

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DOWNLOAD: Despite having the least proficient online service of the three consoles, Nintendo's WiiWare does have a pretty decent selection of strong games available for download. There also the Virtual Console, but if you're a Destructoid visitor then I'll assume you'll know what you're looking for there.

LostWinds/LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias: These two games are short but sweet. If you can justify spending 1000 Wii points for games that can completed in a single extended sitting, the Canvas Curse-inspired gameplay, which sees the Wii remote pointer controlling gusts of wind that can be used to solve puzzles, provides an aperitif of platforming excellence.

Bit.Trip series: These throwback platformers are fast-paced and designed to recall the days of the Atari. Gameplay is very simple, but infamously challenging: you have to help 'Commander Video' collect gold and avoid obstacles as he runs towards the finishing point of each course. At 800 Wii points for 50 levels, these games are exceptional value for money.

Art Style: ORBIENT: Another simple but addictive idea, ORBIENT gives players control of a white star which grows in size by absorbing other coloured stars, using the A and B buttons to control gravitational pull. Crashing into red stars, asteroids or black holes causes damage. Although a high-score game that could easily be done on an iPhone, at 600 points it's a decent bargain.

NyxQuest: Before Nintendo brought back Kid Icarus for the 3DS, developers Over The Top Games did it for them. It's a pretty standard but enjoyable platformer, with no great innovation on show but everything designed intelligently and with attractive art design. At 1000 points it may be a smidgen overpriced, but there's plenty of fun to be had nevertheless.

World of Goo: One of the most intricate and intelligent puzzle games released in recent years, World of Goo demands high levels of creative thinking to beat its challenges, involving the manipulation of 'Goo balls' into bridges and towers in order to cross the map back to the World of Goo Corporation. Released on WiiWare and PC to enormous acclaim, the 1500 point price seems high but is justified by a game that is of a higher standard than most retail releases.

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Of course there are innumerable other excellent games out there (mention any favourites of yours in the comments), but for all those first-time Wii buyers out there having trouble sorting through the shovelware, the twenty-five games listed above will set you in very good stead no matter whether you're looking for something more family-oriented or are after a spot of the old motion-controlled ultraviolence. Next Sunday is my birthday so I don't know whether I'll be posting or not, but hope you found my Buyer's Guide useful (forgive any typos that might have slipped through the cracks - as you've probably noticed, this post was quite long!), enjoy your Wii and send me your friend codes - yes, you've got those to look forward to...
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About Xander Markhamone of us since 3:08 PM on 02.07.2010

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I'm a 26-year old English writer, formerly known on the CBlogs as Xandaça. I've been an avid gamer since I was a wee lad, gripping a NES controller in my hands and comprehensively failing to get past those infuriating Hammer Bros on Level 8-3 of Super Mario Bros. I've stuck with Nintendo since then (not for any animosity towards the other console makers of course - Nintendo just make games I enjoy and have grown up with), apart from a brief sojourn with a Sony PlayStation, several woeful attempts to play Half-Life 2 using a laptop touchpad and sporadically wrangling a turn on my sister's beloved Sega Saturn.

In addition to burping out the occasional novel, I'm a passionate critic, writing reviews and articles of films, book and games for my school magazine and university newspaper, for which I created and edited its film section. In addition to starting up my own blog, covering television, games and movies, I am also a writer for Destructoid's cine-geek sister Flixist. While primarily a film geek, the evolution of the games industry over the course of its short lifetime has fascinated me and provided vast quantities of content for some incendiary pieces of work - perhaps a few more might spring up on here?

My Favourite Games of All Time (because who doesn't love having a few Of All Time lists?) are GoldenEye 007 (which I still play through at least once a year to remind me of its glories), Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Gunstar Heroes, Super Mario Bros 3 (I don't know who told Shigsy Miyamoto-san that raccoons could fly, but I'll love them forever) and No More Heroes.

I hope you find great enjoyment in my many scribings, and please keep an eye out for upcoming news on my novel(s) and do pay a visit to my blog sometime. And yes, the Dtoid community's 'no copy and paste' rule will be fully respected!

Good gaming, everyone!