Wii's first attempt at online gaming falls short

  • Nintendo recently released the first Wii game to offer real-time online multiplayer, but it still has a long way to go just to catch up to where its competitors were in the last generation.

    Nintendo's favorite guinea pig, Pokemon, introduces the Wii to online gaming with Pokemon Battle Revolution.  The game itself has almost no depth to it, and it's essentially marketed that way.  It's nothing more than a chance for fans of the pocket monsters to take gaming online and connect their Nintendo DS battles to a Wii console.

    As a first stepping stone for Nintendo's first-party online console gaming, PBR is adequate. Similar to the DS environment, users are given unique "friend codes".  Users can then register each other's codes to hook up and compete in a Wi-Fi battle.

    Even without friend codes, though, users can take on an opponent in an online competition by randomly linking two people waiting for a battle.  At the end of the match, if both players agree, friend codes will be swapped. This is actually a big move for Nintendo. Almost all DS online games either require users to register friend codes offline, or lock you into random multiplayer match-ups that offer no form of communication with the other players.

    Still, this kind of online gaming system is somewhat antiquated in our opinion. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have a universal account platform, meaning that a PS3 owner with the username "X" in an EA Sports game will have the same username in the downloadable game Go! Puzzle.  The friend codes in PBR are exclusive to that game, and that's even more confusing: Instead of a simple nickname you have to remember a 12-digit code.

    There's also no "matchmaking" system like what's seen for the Xbox 360.  This means a 10-year-old kid new to the world of video games could easily be pitted against a 40-year-old gamer who has mastered the intricacies of raising specific Pokemon stats. There's no way to set up matches between equally ranked players.

    On the flip side, though, Nintendo really impressed me with the Wii-to-DS connection, which is also seen for the first time in PBR. With its vast history in portable gaming, Nintendo fortunately has much more experience in this area. Interoperability between its consoles and handhelds dates back to the Nintendo 64 and original Game Boy.

    Prompting Pokemon Battle Revolution to search for a DS opens up a seamless wireless communication that the portable system can link to very easily.  It's not like the PS3, which requires a confusing configuration process before it can even recognize a local PSP.  It also works well for local multiplayer battles, because all the action takes place on the TV screen but individual strategies are concealed to each player's DS screen. 

    On the Wi-Fi front, though, Nintendo is trying to create a balance between a family friendly online experience and one that can compete with the other consoles, and the bottom line is, based on what I saw in Pokemon Battle Revolution, it's still got a long way to go.