It seems that 2009 has dragged Nintendo's Wii console into the realm of the hardcore, with such rated titles as MadWorld and House of the Dead: Overkill scaring twentysomething personal trainers and Olivia Newton-John devotees everywhere.
Indeed, having seen Wii Fit and Wii Sports, one could be forgiven for assuming that the Wii comes bundled with a copy of Cosmo and a coupon for half off your next Dark Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks Ponsonby Road. Perhaps that was the case at launch, but you can no longer reliably purchase Bridget Jones Diary and a Wii title from the same store without some careful scrutiny of the latter for content likely to give you nightmares.
The latest title to push the limits of respectability on the Wii is The Conduit.
Part first-person shooter, part puzzle-maze adventure and part tech demo, The Conduit has been in development since October 2007. Little wonder, as it's sporting a flash new graphics engine designed to wring every last bit of performance out of Nintendo's comparatively asthmatic console.
Games without accompanying stories may have kept us occupied in the 80's, but these days you'll need at least a hint of a plot if you want to be taken seriously. The Conduit ticks all the boxes here; an alien invasion, a Secret Service agent called "Mr. Ford", futuristic weaponry, a Washington D.C. backdrop and plenty of puzzles to keep you occupied between waves of enemy combatants. This may be well and good, but there's only one reason to release a Wii exclusive title, and that's to make use of the Wiimote and associated peripherals.
There's not a lot of point in relaying which buttons and triggers perform which actions, because you can change every single one of them to whatever you prefer. Similarly, any discussion surrounding sensitivity of motion or restrictive turning circles, or indeed HUD transparency and orientation is entirely unnecessary for the same reason. The Conduit will invariably invite criticism from console and PC fanboys for obvious control challenges, but it does very little to justify them. Developers High Voltage Software have connected The Conduit's gameplay with the Wii in an almost parasitic manner, meaning that with very little practise you can swoop around the dark corridors of an underground facility and pick off enemy henchmen with relative ease.
The underground level displayed in the brief hands-on session we attended with Sega is but one of nine in the final game.
Throughout these levels are scattered a collection of firearms that would make Dick Cheney giddy, including pistols, assault rifles, SMG's, shotguns, and even a rocket launcher. You also have access to classified weapons developed in secret by the US instead of curing diseases or ending poverty, such as the "Mk4 Deatomizer" and the "Mk16 Carbonizer" that fire futuristic streams of plasma, or bolts that attach themselves to enemies that are foolish enough to seek cover. And if all that isn't enough, you'll also be able to pick up alien weapons, with appropriately alien-like appearances that resemble something you might discover in the props bin behind the latest Star Trek film's recording studios. These weapons not only look the part, they fire "biomass" objects that have the potential to seriously ruin your day, and although we didn't get to use them in the demo, the accompanying tech sheet is fairly specific. Let's just say that nobody is likely to enjoy being struck by a "hive of explosive bugs".
In addition to this fearsome armoury, you'll have a secondary utilitarian weapon known as the "All-Seeing Eye". Unlike the Gypsy that conned you out of $20 at last year's A&P show, this object is actually useful in predicting the future. It can be used to identifying objectives, locate hidden items, and you can also apply it to solve localised puzzles that take you from level to level.
Graphically, well, it's one of the very best titles I've ever witnessed on the Wii. If you're expecting something cutesy and cartoonish from Nintendo's stable of stereotypes, you're in for a surprise. Of course, it can't compare with a modern PC or next-gen shooter, but then it's not trying to, and in any case a modern PC or next-gen console doesn't come with such unique input devices. The textures and lighting effects are convincing, and in particular the water movement looks incredible. Especially considering that the result of any graphics benchmark test between a Wii and a Soviet-era typewriter would be simply too close to call.
But it's not going to sell on the graphics, that's not the point of The Conduit. The point is to create a shooter for the Wii that makes full use of everything the console can provide, and that objective has been reached admirably. If you don't enjoy The Conduit on your Wii, then it seems unlikely that you'll ever enjoy any Wii FPS title produced in the future either.
Keep an eye out for it on the 26th June, it's a lot more fun than pretending to twirl hula hoops whilst standing on a board, and you won't have to draw your curtains to play it.