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I’m one of the lucky geeks who managed to snag a Wii on launch. I’m tearing myself away from its loving embrace long enough to write this, but few other priorities in my life have made the cut. Work has, barely — and come to think of it, I took a “personal day” on Monday after launch to log as many hours of Zelda as humanly possible.

I followed my original plan to go to the Fred Meyer in Ballard, and the scheme worked out beautifully. I called Ben, who lives across the street and is possibly more obsessed with Nintendo than I am, right before leaving on Saturday afternoon, and convinced him to give up his plans to camp by Toys ‘R’ Us and join me fighting off the old people.

We arrived around 4:30 and were a little shocked: already the line to claim one of the 90 confirmed units stretched from the store’s entry way to halfway down the length of the building. While Ben staked out a spot, I took a quick count of the number of people in line and determined we were numbers 57 and 58. We both breathed a sigh of relief.

An alpha-nerd, who had been in line since early that morning, approached us with a sign-up sheet soon after we arrived. He had been in contact with the store manager, who had taken a look at the pack of ravening geeks laying siege to his retail establishment and decided he would raffle off the units. As the person with the most to potentially lose in such a scenario, this man took it upon himself to maintain a list of rightful future Wii owners to make sure that didn’t happen. The manager agreed to put up a sign proclaiming the system “sold out” as soon as the line hit 90 persons, which it did around 6:15. The first person turned away was an eight-year-old accompanied by his parents, who promptly began bawling. I felt bad, but not bad enough to give up my place in line.

Eight hours sounds like a long time to wait in the cold for the release of a video game console, but the time actually flew by. Everyone in line, almost without exception, had brought their DS with them, so gauntlets were being thrown down wirelessly in no time flat. Plus we were right outside the Fred Meyer, so whenever we decided we needed anything we just went in and bought it. I personally purchased a fried chicken dinner and two folding camp chairs, and I saw others in line buy everything from blankets to new DS games. I spent a little time getting to know my fellow campers (especially if they happened to be smoking sweet, sweet tobacco) and had some interesting conversations. My tattoo was a definite hit with everyone who saw it, which isn’t really surprising considering the sample group. Speaking of demographics, the median age in the line seemed to be mid-twenties. Only a couple kids were present, and very few teenagers. I met one guy who admitted his intent to sell his new console on craigslist for $500 that night (200% markup there), but everyone else seemed to be genuinely looking forward to playing with their new toy. And of course there was a high school kid who came wearing a Power Glove, which is pretty apt if you think about it.

Finally the moment came: the manager handed out claim tickets, using the list earlier assembled by the alpha-nerd, and started letting people into the store six at a time. At no point did chaos erupt, although there was some disappointed grumbling when word spread that the store only had 30 copies of Zelda. By the time Ben and I were admitted, they were definitely sold out of Zelda (luckily I already had mine via amazon), and I got my grubby mitts on the last spare controller. Holding the tiny white box in my hands, I muttered a prayer of thanks before shuffling back out to the car for the long drive home, bursting with anticipation.

So how is it, you ask? Words fail me. You’ve probably seen the television commercials with people swinging the controllers around like tennis rackets and bats, shooting them like guns, etc., so you already have an idea. Yes, it really does work, and yes, it really is amazingly fun. Since the launch, I’ve walked every guest to my apartment through a few rounds of Wii Tennis, and even the people who never play video games have had a great time. Reports abound on the internets about people introducing their elderly relatives to the console with similar results, and all signs indicate that Nintendo has succeeded in its mission of bringing gaming to the masses. While its competitors concentrate on making games from 1997 look as good as possible, Nintendo continues to reinvent what games are. They’ve really restored the fun to the industry, and I tip my hat to them.

The console itself is very Apple-like in appearance and interface, with bright white and rounded corners dominating every aspect. The polish I’ve come to expect from Nintendo is readily apparent — as a little example, the remote control gives your hand a little “bump” when you move the cursor over a clickable button on the interface. The included software, including the Store, the Photo Channel, and Mii Channel, work great and are surprisingly fun to use. In particular, the Mii Channel, where you create little avatars for use in certain games, is a blast. I’ve spent almost as much time creating virtual versions of my friends and celebrities as I have playing actual games — not counting Zelda, of course.

About Zelda: *drawn-out moan*. Every publication from here to Sydney is calling it Game of the Year, and even without having personally played every game released this year, I have a hard time seeing how this assessment could be wrong. If the Wii cost $300 and just had Zelda hardwired into it, it still would have been worth every penny. The first time you shoot an arrow by pointing the remote at the screen and hear the bowstring tightening from the little speaker in your hand, you’re hooked. It’s simply sublime.

That’s all I can really say on the topic for now, although I’m sure there will be more in the future. If you don’t have a Wii yet, get one! It’s guaranteed to be the best $250 you ever spent. You’re probably going to have to wait until after Christmas, since they are flying off shelves as fast as Nintendo can make them. I tried to buy one for my little brother on Amazon, which used a lottery system to dole out its allotment, and by the time the registration closed the odds of getting a Wii were 28 to 1. According to the handy chart included on the page, this is less likely than my getting hemorrhoids. I didn’t get one. Sorry, Alex! On the bright side, I didn’t get hemorrhoids either. I didn’t do that well in statistics, but it seems like I dodged a bullet there.

Posted in Musings.

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