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Do Nintendo and Microsoft's new consoles have what it takes to beat Sony?

In part one of his feature comparing the next-gen consoles, Eurogamer.net deputy editor Tom Bramwell looked at the pros and cons of the PS3.

Here, in part two, he discusses what the Wii has to offer, where the Xbox 360 fits into the picture, and why it's too soon to start placing bets on who will take the lead.


So. The PlayStation 3 has its problems, that much is clear. But what about the Wii?

Out of the box, Nintendo's new machine is small, handsome and easy to use. Calibrating the unusual Wii remote control is incredibly simple - with a discreet sensor bar located either on top of or below your television, you do some pointing and it works everything out. You can be playing a game within ten minutes.

Creating your own account is breathtakingly simple - like the DS, complexity is at a premium. However there are some helpful improvements to the core functionality here, like a greater breadth of wireless networking security settings, and if you want to tweak something you can if you look closely enough.

Online options are unavailable in Europe prior to the December 8 launch, but apart from a few hair-raising problems in the US (such as some consoles being "bricked" by a small downloadable patch - something Nintendo's moved very fast to correct), the main issue here is price and content.

Nintendo doesn't have any proper online games yet, so it's hard to critique its online service or WiiConnect24 facility, but the price of old console games will be a bit jarring to most. Like PS3's downloadable PSone games, the Wii shop's offerings will doubtless appeal to newcomers keen to relive experiences like Super Mario Bros. - but for old hands the catalogue is both very thin and overpriced.

It's hard to care about any of that, though, in the face of games that genuinely satisfy. Zelda makes a resoundingly good first impression, coming across as a much richer and more consistently interesting game than its derided GameCube predecessor ("derided", in Zelda's case, meaning that its Metacritic.com average is just 96/100) - while Wii Sports, the bundled game, is a surprisingly impressive poster-child for what the Wii seeks to do.

On the one hand, its best games (tennis and bowling) are very accessible and entertaining, regardless of your level of gaming prowess. You can play out a big rally or screw a ball into a satisfying strike with enjoyably realistic motions of the controller.

On the other hand, purists will be satisfied by the depth. Tennis rewards timing and varied shot selection, just like real tennis, and allows dedicated gamers to play out much more difficult matches than newcomers. The other games have varying levels of depth, but all will appeal on some level.

Nintendo's suggestion that bundling Wii Sports will entice non-gamers in the early adopter's household to take an interest is hard to argue against - and although it's hard to imagine that selling more systems, it's not hard to imagine it selling a few more games.

Elsewhere the Wii line-up has found varying degrees of traction with critics, with games like Super Monkey Ball from SEGA and surgery game Trauma Center from Atlus winning some plaudits, while Ubisoft's intriguing Red Steel first-person shooter has been commended for its controls but derided for its ageing game design.

What's particularly impressive about the Wii, though, isn't that it has solid launch titles; it's that it has already managed to transcend novelty - something that took the DS, often viewed as the Wii's spiritual predecessor, nearly a year to achieve.

With games that have demoed well at trade events - like WarioWare, Metroid Prime and Super Mario Galaxy - just a few months away, there's a lot more incentive than early adopters are traditionally given.

The Console War

For those of you wondering where Xbox 360 fits into all of this, the answer is that it doesn't. In the first 12 months since launch it's already built a loyal following and a catalogue of software with vast appeal, albeit in fairly small doses.

Neither Sony or Nintendo can compete with the Xbox 360's breadth of online options, its community-minded services and its range of downloadable content. And neither will, probably, for at least 12 months.

In software terms, only Sony is really competing for the same ground, and right now it isn't competing - not least because it's impossible to buy a PS3. I would be surprised if it becomes much easier very soon either, with that figure of 4 million units by the end of March - Sony's general target - looking flimsier by the day. After all, they said Japan would get 100,000 units, and it didn't; they said the US would get 400,000, and I've been unable to find anybody who says they managed that either.

But Sony's biggest problem at the moment is that it's lost the PR battle so comprehensively it can seldom open its mouth to do anything other than change foot.

The PS3's high price point has been widely derided, its "power" said to be largely comparable to that of Xbox 360 and its software line-up too sparse. Sony has been accused of introducing Blu-ray to market prematurely, and even of stealing the concept of a motion-sensing controller from Nintendo - only to fail to utilise the technology effectively.

Then there's Sony's online service, seen by many to be a poor imitation of Microsoft's - not to mention the smaller public relations battles being lost on a daily basis, like the PS3's inability to deliver high quality images on older Sony televisions that only support 480p and 1080i resolutions.

But this merely brings us back to the original point: you can't draw conclusions yet, and certainly not for Europe. Early hands on impressions of both PS3 and Wii are insufficient to leave any mark on the long-term answer to the present console "war", and probably won't be relevant to it in the long run either.

Nintendo's is the "better" of the two launches in virtually every respect, with Sony's an unfinished symphony, but both companies' successes in the next five years will be determined by factors inconceivable in November 2006.

Huge industry figures like EA's Larry Probst consistently pour praise and a demand to keep faith on the PS3, whilst complimenting the Wii's imaginative approach and saluting Microsoft's endeavours - but this is more than just hedging bets, it's a long-view that incorporates a lot of difficult variables.

How will the expensive PS3 do in the southern regions of Europe where PS2's low price has endeared it, but even the Core System model of the Xbox 360 has struggled? Will Nintendo's fashionable new manifesto for gaming translate to genuine third-party growth and shared commercial success, or will this be another Nintendo console that - for all its progressive tendencies - lives or dies by the games that come out of Kyoto? And will Microsoft's advertising blitzkrieg and successive exclusive winters prove as significant as the Redmond giant imagines?

None of these questions can be answered yet. But in this writer's estimation, what we can say now is that while some things may have changed, most things are still the same. Microsoft is as loud and imposing as ever. Nintendo is convincingly in control of and capable of expanding its own business, but not necessarily anyone else's. And although Sony has been weakened by its own hubris, it's still impossible to write off the PS3 until we've seen what it really has to offer.

In other words, the events of the last few weeks may have huge consequences, but it won't be until the next few months have passed that the picture will become in any way clear.

Tom Bramwell is deputy editor of GamesIndustry.biz sister site Eurogamer.net.

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Tom Bramwell

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Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.

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