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Review of Wii Sports Club: Initial Setup and Tennis

Well, it’s been a pretty busy week for Wii fitness fans. We’ve seen Wii Fit U, and I’m expecting Zumba Fitness: World Party any day from GameFly now. After being neglected for a long time, it looks like active gaming is seeing a little bit of a resurgence. Let’s hope it lasts.

Of course, the mother of all motion games is making a comeback as well. Specifically, starting today, you can get a new game for the Wii U called Wii Sports Club. Wii Sports Club brings back Wii Sports to the Wii U, but with improved HD graphics, more precise MotionPlus support, and online play.

Wii Sports Club is only available as a downloadable title from the Nintendo eShop. When you enter the eShop, you’ll see a banner you can click on.

Once you’re in, it’ll give you the option to download it for free. Before you get too excited, what you’re downloading is just a shell, but you’ll have to purchase each individual sport you want to play.  Currently, Tennis and Bowling are available, but Boxing and Baseball are coming soon. There are two options for purchase: you can buy an individual sport for $9.99 and keep it forever, or you can “rent” a day pass for any sport for $1.99; obviously if you plan to play the game more than 5 days, you’re better off just buying the thing. In addition, for a full 24 hour period after installing Wii Sports Club, you can play any sport for free.

Some in the media have reported rumors that Nintendo will eventually release Wii Sports Club as a traditional retail boxed game rather than a download. My guess is that as usual, Nintendo will hold off on this option until it’s sure that it can’t squeeze any more money out of us early adopters.

The download took about 10 minutes for the main Wii Sports Club game plus the update, and then once I started up the game it took another 5-10 minutes to install. I have to admit, I’m not crazy about the time it takes to download Wii U games–at this rate I’d still much rather get a disc and install it myself.

But soon enough, the Wii Sports Club home screen showed up, along with familiar upbeat music.

wii sports club opening screen

You’ll be brought through a couple setup screens to configure the game. The first one says:

Do you want to enable SpotPass so that you can receive important notifications (including advertisements and promotions), ranking data (which includes Mii character information), and other information from Nintendo? Note: If you choose not to enable SpotPass, some services will be unavailable. 

Here’s the translation: If you let us spam you with ads, we’ll allow you to enjoy the game to its fullest. But I figured Nintendo ads are rarely annoying, so I Enabled it (if it becomes too intrusive, you can change it any time in the Settings menu).

The next screen said:

In Wii Sports Club, you can view the Miiverse posts of other players, including their custom, handwritten posts. Do you want to display other players’ posts?

I chose “Display” for now, but I can see this potentially getting annoying as more and more players join and it becomes harder and harder for Nintendo to moderate those who want to be obnoxious and annoying.

Next, there’s a little disclaimer:

When you play an online game, information such as your Mii character’s image, nickname, and club will be shared with your opponent. Additionally, data such as high scores and Mii character information will be stored on the server and used when compiling rankings. 

I admit, I’d be a little more nervous if I were on the Xbox where my real face might be shared, but I’m perfectly happy to let my little Mii go out there and show his face.

Finally, after a bit of a delay, you’re asked to do the familiar thing of pressing A and B together. Once you do this, you get these messages:

Welcome to Wii Sports Club! This is a game both for players who want tough competition as well as for players who just want to relax and play some games. 

First, let’s complete your simple setup.

The first thing you’re asked to do is to join a “club”. When you join a club, you can play as a member of that club. The cumulative stats of you and your fellow club members will be pitted against other clubs. You can also receive “Pep Talk” messages from other members of your club, which are basically canned messages that will show up at certain times of your game play.

You’re shown a list of states and provinces in your part of the world, but you can choose any of them. Since my home state is New York, I chose the New York club, but since I was born in New Jersey and lived there most of my life, I considered that one too. You can change clubs every 24 hours.

The first time you play, you’ll be told about your 24 hour trial where you can try out the whole game. You finally get to the main menu:

wii sports club main menu

Tennis allows you to play an online game, an offline game (similar to the old Wii Sports, where you can play against the computer or with local players), or training. Feeling pretty confident of my tennis skills from Wii Sports, I went right to the online game.

Online tennis matches are single-game matches that are like tie-breakers, where you play up to 7 points. You have to play doubles matches, whether you’re playing alone (in which case you control both players) or have two people playing (in which case each of you controls one person with a different Wii Remote Plus).

You choose right-handed or left-handed play, and then choose whether you wish to play anyone from around the world, only our friends, or only people in your club.

The system will then try to find a match for you. While you’re waiting you’ll be able to warm up by hitting tennis balls at targets. On this particular day, being the launch day, it never took me long to get matched to an opponent. Generally speaking, the system will try to match you with someone who’s about the same skill as you.

To start, both players point their Wii remotes to an icon of their Mii and press “A”. A set of bars in the lower right-hand corner will indicate how strong your Internet connection is. I noticed at times the play would get choppy or slow down, which was probably a result of either my Internet or my opponent’s Internet connection getting sluggish.

Right away, I noticed some differences in the aesthetics of the game. First, the tennis court is much more graphically detailed than its counterpart in the old Wii Sports. The grass is no longer a bright cartoony green, but a beautiful rendering of actual grass court, complete with dirt wear marks, stands, and a city in the background. The players seem a lot better proportioned, and the graphics were smooth.

I could also noticed the improvements in the Wii Motion Plus. Similar to the ping pong paddles in Wii Sports Resort, when I turned my wrist, the tennis racket in my Mii’s hands turned precisely as well.

In my first-ever experience, my opponent’s Internet connection was lost within a few minutes of playing.

I got a second opponent, a member of the Arizona Club. I put up a good fight, but he beat me 6-3. I learned quickly that my confidence in my skills was a bit misguided, as I tried to play using all the tricks I’d developed in Wii Sports, but the Wii MotionPlus is a lot more precise (and a lot less forgiving) than the old Wii Remote.

I made a couple adjustments and won my next match against Jakey from the California Club. By now, I was addicted. Playing against real people is definitely a lot more exciting and motivating than playing against a computer AI.

All during the game play, you can send messages to your opponent by using the cross buttons on your Wii remote. It can be as simple as “So Close” or “Well Done”, or you can customize the messages to a certain extent.

I’d definitely recommend that you go through the training again to learn how to control the racket with the more precise Wii MotionPlus. Unlike the old Wii Sports, where you’d just wind up and whack the ball with the right timing, in Wii Sports Club the position and angle of your Wii remote make a difference, as does the precise movement of your arm and wrist.

There are three training games, each which helps you master racket movement, and which are actually fun games in themselves. Ring Master has you trying to hit a tennis ball between giant rings on the court; Tennis Moles is sort of a tennis version of “Whack a Mole” where you try to hit your tennis ball on as many moles as you can; and “Rubber Ducky” is a game where you have to try to hit a tennis ball on all parts of the court to try to get a Ducky to chase after the ball as long as possible.

As brilliant as it was to see Wii Sports back in action, the experience wasn’t without its flaws.

From time to time my tennis racket would get distorted and feel like it wasn’t moving right during the gameplay. The system does say that when this happens, point your Wii Remote Plus at the screen and press the cross cursor to reset your racket’s position. But sometimes when this happens in the middle of gameplay, it’s not as easy to remember or do that.

In general, the controls seemed erratic, but it’s hard to say whether this is due to my own lack of skills with the MotionPlus or if there’s something wrong. But bottom line, unless online players find a way to cheat (which I hope doesn’t happen–that totally ruined games like Mario Kart Wii for me), we’re all playing on a level playing field.

In theory, I like how they allow you to post messages to your opponents, but I also hope that people maintain a certain level of civility, or I may find myself unplugging and just going back to offline play.

But these things aside, I think Nintendo yet again made a great move. Supporting online play adds a whole new dimension–it’s fun to compare your stats against other players around the world and you really do feel a sense of community among your “club” as you try to help it advance in the rankings. They managed to keep the fun, cute cartoony feel about the game, while still updating it for HD. And they did a nice job of updating the game for the Wii Remote Plus; while the new precision is going to be something that’s going to take getting used to, there’s no better motivation than competition to keep working at it.

Now of course this is a fitness gaming blog, so I should say that this is hardly strenuous exercise, although as we’ve talked about in the past, adding things like wrist weights while you’re playing can really help you with strength building and conditioning.

Overall, I’d give Wii Sports Club a 4.5 out of 5. I’d say it’s definitely worth the $40 to pay for all four games when they come out.

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