Games: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games

December 29, 2010

As I mentioned in my post a couple days ago, my first experience playing the Wii was the Mario & Sonic Olympic Games – the Summer Games, that is. When I was at the library today to pick up some books, I noticed the rack of video games available, and promptly added Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games to my pile of materials to check out.

I was curious how in the world a Wii controller could be used to simulate skiing or skating. Some Wii games certainly approximate the physical moves of the real world better than others do. I didn’t like the way archery worked (in the Summer Games) at all. Unlike real archery, where the action of each hand is naturally linked by the physical bow that both are holding (one by the handle, the other by the string), in the Wii game you held the Wii controller in one hand and the nunchuk in the other. Real archery requires a steady hand to keep arrow pointed the right way, but the rest of it is physical strength, not trying to coordinate unrelated motions between your two hands.

The javelin throw (also in the Summer Games) made a lot more sense. A pumping motion with your hands (one holding the controller and the other the nunchuk) may not be the best simulation of running, but it makes sense – and does tire one out if you keep it up long enough. Then you have to time things right to stop and throw, and while strength doesn’t play a role at least it does feel like a throwing motion.

Swimming felt a lot like running, other than having to periodically press the B button to simulate taking a breath. I suppose any sport that requires alternating left and right feet – or hands – can be simulated by that pumping motion of the controller and nunchuk. But how would you do that for downhill skiing, where your feet stay largely in place as you glide downhill? Or bobsled racing, where your feet don’t move at all once you board the sled?

The winter sports turn out to be mostly about how to make turns. So the forward motion is pretty much taken for granted (after all, once you get on a steep slope, it doesn’t take much to get going downhill, it’s a matter of which way you go). The skill is in taking the turns well so obtain maximum speed – and certainly not going off the path and hitting barriers, which definitely slows you down.

So these games are not at all physically demanding. You stand in place with the Wii controller in front of your chest, and just turn it to one side  or the other to steer your character down the hill. I’m not saying it’s easy – I’ve yet to successfully finish “training” on the bobsled (though I succeeded with downhill skiing). Just that it doesn’t get my heart rate up at all.

From reviews I’ve read at, the games are actually fairly easy to a lot of people. (With the balance board, which can be used with some of these games, it is more difficult. But I don’t have the balance board and don’t plan to get one – knowing my sense of balance I’d probably fall off it. I’ve already fallen off the Active Life mat just from trying to jump fast.) But I’ve said before that my balance and coordination are not very good.

So I think I’ll have fun with this – for the one week I get to keep it from the library. I wouldn’t go out and purchase it, but it’s a fun way to spend part of the Christmas break with my kids. (I’m still getting plenty of more physically demanding play with Active Life Explorer and Wii Sports. I even won two tennis matches this morning!)

And the Winter Games theme certainly fits well with all that snow outside.

Wii exercise

December 27, 2010

When the Wii first came out, I had no idea what it was but I took a dislike to it because I didn’t like its name. The first time I saw it in print, I thought someone had left out the F of WiFi. And once I found out it really was spelled that way, I wondered how in the world you were supposed to pronounce a double i. Wee-ie, as in radii? Or with a short i sound held out longer? What kind of company makes a product with a name like that?

I first saw a Wii in use at my brother-in-law’s when we went there two years ago for Christmas. There room where the Wii was set up was where pretty much all the kids hung out – and a few of the adults. Even if I had been interested in learning to play, I’m not sure when I would ever have had a chance. The kids played bowling, tennis, golf, baseball, and boxing. I’m not much good at any of those in real life, and it seemed silly to play a game that simulated them, even if it was easier than the real sport.

Then someone brought a Wii into work to have a tournament played during lunchtime. The first one was Mario Kart, and I got a headache just watching someone take the car around all those turns at high speed. A later tournament was just bowling, but somehow I missed the sign-ups. I heard that Wii bowling was much easier than real bowling, and wasn’t sure it was such a great thing to be able to score lots of strikes in that case.

I finally got in on the action when they had Mario Olympics. Archery was surprisingly difficult (and didn’t seem to have that much in common with the action of real archery), but through repeated practice I got better at it. (Then I found out archery wasn’t even included in the tournament!) I turned out to be better than average at swimming, however (mostly a matter of timing the breathing right). I even got a bronze medal (well, at any rate, a nice bronze-colored ornament which now hangs from my computer monitor), and I might have done better if I hadn’t missed the final “breath” (pressing the B button at just the right time) as I approached the finish line.

When the next tournament was Mario World Cup Soccer, I tried a practice round and promptly took my name off the sign-up sheet. Way too complicated, especially as – unlike Mario Olympics – you see the whole field rather than from your player’s point of view. I think most of the time I was running in the wrong direction, because the ball changed hands – er, feet, that is – so fast.

Chatting with another non-participant, however, made me think about getting a Wii with my profit-sharing bonus money (assuming we got one this year, which we did). She exercises regularly using Wii Fit, and I had also read how families playing the Wii together got a decent amount of exercise doing it, even if not as much as with real sports.

So when WalMart had a Black Friday sale on the Wii, I got one. It was my first time going in shortly after midnight, and the store really wasn’t as crowded and crazy as I had thought it might be. (Of course, we’re not exactly near a major population center, either.) I got my 25th anniversary Mario Brothers edition Wii, bundled with both the Mario Brothers game and Wii Sports. And with the $50 gift card that was part of the deal (just for that day), I got Active Life: Explorer, which I had determined from reading product reviews would be the most fun of the active products – and therefore likely to keep us playing and getting the most exercise.

So far, my younger son is convinced that Active Life Explorer is “one of the greatest active things there is.” So far, he and I are only about 4% of the way through the Treasure Adventure in the Forest Land, so we’ve only played a handful of the games available. (You can also play the games just by themselves, without the “adventure” scenario.) Some of them are all about running, which means running in place on the mat (which came bundled with the game) as fast as you can. After two games of that, each of which last probably less than a minute, I’m breathing hard.

Other games, such as stomping on crocodiles (kind of like Whack-a-Mole but using your feet) or catching jewels, require less stamina but more coordination and quick reaction times. Those aren’t exactly my strong points, but I managed to succeed in both – even if it did take a few tries on the jewel catching. (We bought a PS2 and a dance mat a few years ago for our older son, who took to it fantastically well, but my younger son and I simply couldn’t get the timing down. This game is a bit more our speed.)

I’ve also tried bowling, tennis, and golf in Wii Sports. Bowling is indeed much easier using a Wii than a real bowling ball. My first game, I scored 118, which is probably close to my typical score at bowling if I’m doing well. My third game this morning, I scored 192, which is at least twenty points higher than my absolute best score even in a bowling alley, when I was in a league and practicing regularly.

I tried golf out of curiosity, but I simply can’t get the hang of the swing. I eventually finished a three-hole game – 17 strokes over par. On one hole, I hit the ball out of bounds twice (though frankly the out-of-bounds grass looked just like the rough to me). On another, I hit the ball from one sand trap to another. But at least I didn’t lose any in the water…

Tennis is the game I’m enjoying most, so far. I took a tennis class once, in ninth grade, and I don’t remember much of it except that I sometimes lost without even serving the ball successfully, and that I never could decide, when the ball came more or less to the middle of the court, whether to hit it backhand or forehand. I definitely still have the same problem with the Wii. (Fortunately, though, it seems to take care of the serves for you.)

I’m not sure how many games I played before finally winning one. The game adjusts your opponents’ ability level based on your scores, so it is somewhat less than satisfying to see that I can finally win when the opponents are as poor players as I am. But this morning I finally managed to win in Best out of 3 mode (on about my third or fourth try), so I guess I’m improving. And I can keep returning the ball long enough that I feel like I’m actually getting a little bit of exercise. (Of course, playing tennis after Active Life Explorer means that I’ve already got my heart rate up a bit.)

Most satisfying, I discovered that when I am done playing, I have no appetite for the chocolate I bought for the Christmas stockings, and instead feel much more like getting some fresh fruit. And I hope that as I exercise more, I will start getting in shape enough to go get some other exercise, not in front of the Wii.