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Nintendo Fusion Tour in San Francisco

by Aaron Kaluszka - October 29, 2006, 12:01 pm EST

Aaron takes a trip across the bay for a fun night of Wii games and rock music.

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On Thursday night, the Nintendo Fusion Tour visited The Warfield Theater in San Francisco. This year’s tour included five punk/emo/rock bands, Hawthorne Heights, Relient K, Emery, Plain White T’s, and The Sleeping. This year’s concert series was particularly special as it is one of the first opportunities for the general public to try out the Wii.

I arrived right around the official start time of the concert and most of the lines had cleared out as people concentrated either inside the theater or around the Wii booths. Overall, there was an interesting mix of rock fans and gamers. Some were there just for the concert, ignoring the games completely, and others were just there for their first hands-on opportunity with the Wii, leaving after they had their fill of games. However, with free access between the concert and the game systems, attendees could check out games between bands or while bands they weren’t as interested in were performing. Nintendo’s real goal, to get casual and non-gamers playing the games, was well-served by this setup.

The Warfield isn’t a terribly large theater and unfortunately, fire hazard concerns limited Nintendo to four single-player Wii stations and four DS stations. Due to this limitation, Nintendo chose to show off the four games that they felt would best introduce casual and non-gamers to the Wii. The four games available for play were Wii Sports (minus Boxing), Wii Play (Shooting only), ExciteTruck, and WarioWare: Smooth Moves. I was told by several of the event staff that The Grove in Anaheim a few days earlier had been the ultimate venue since it was outside and they were able to set up all ten of their Wii stations without restriction. While not ideal, it was certainly better than in some cities, where there was only room for a single Wii stand. The DS systems sat mostly untouched; all of the games on display have already been released and many fans brought their own DS systems and could be seen gaming or PictoChatting while waiting in the Wii lines.

While the majority of people at the concert were high school and college age, many younger kids and their parents were also in attendance to try out the Wii games. Even given the limited presentation of the Wii games, those who came to play them seemed to have fun. It was interesting seeing different people react to the controller for the first time. With a constant crowd behind them, cheers and boos could often be heard as players tried out the controls. Some picked up the controls naturally while the less game-exposed waved the Wii remote around wildly. Even though the remotes were tethered to the stations, Tour assistants were pretty insistent on use of the wrist strap.

Though many of the concert-goers were anticipating playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the popularity of the game would have caused too many problems in The Warfield; in one city, 80 people had immediately lined up for Zelda and the line had to be closed shortly after the concert began. With my press access, I had the chance to jump ahead of the lines and play all of the available games, including those that others were not allowed to check out. They had to settle with the “privilege" of watching. Nintendo even stopped the ExciteTruck demo to give me the chance to play Zelda. As the Zelda logo appeared on screen, a great cheer arose from the group in the back corner of the hall standing behind me. Much to their chagrin, they didn’t get to try it out for themselves, though if Wii had voice commands, they would have done a great job.

While I’m still uncertain as to which will be the definitive version of Twilight Princess, my experience with the Wii version was much better than it was at E3. I still found the D-pad activation of items cumbersome with the way the remote is held, but there’s not a lot that can be done given the layout of the remote. However, the new gesture sword controls were much more fun, though I can see this particular game becoming tiring. Zelda’s difficulty has also been increased, with archers firing relentlessly, making it harder to take them out with Link’s own bow and arrows. I did have a few problems with the control going wacky in arrow-targeting mode; I’m pretty sure that the lighting in the hall was interfering with the sensor bar. The game has definitely moved onto my “buy" list.

The Wii systems on tour were final hardware, though they did not include the Wii Channels firmware, so no custom Mii creation was possible. Since the tour started in September, the builds of the games were at least that old. Still, each of the games had been updated since E3 and sported some more polish. ExciteTruck now had four playable levels instead of two and seemed to have somewhat tighter controls. WarioWare: Smooth Moves included a few new microgames, including three-dimensional nose-picking, writing with a pen, jumping rope, high-fiving a Nintendog, and a game where a champagne bottle had to be shaken and the cork shot at a group of people. Wii Sports had its five games playable and Wii Play had seven of nine games available, which I will cover in their own impressions articles.

A few cosplayers made it to the concert; I saw exactly one Mario and one Luigi. Coincidentally, they did not know each other. In addition, Pikminlink of Link cosplaying fame turned up, though out of costume, and was the only other person lucky enough to be allowed to play Zelda.

Relient K got everyone’s attention both inside and outside the theater with a rocking rendition of the Super Mario Bros. overworld and underground themes. Though Hawthorne Heights was the headlining band, Relient K has been around longer and stole the show with more excited fans singing along to their music. They closed with the fitting Super Mario Bros. game over music.

Upon finishing their Wii trial, attendees could sign up in a drawing to win a DS Lite. The winner was announced to The Price is Right background music before Hawthorne Heights’ performance. Games were shut down as Hawthorne Heights came on stage in order to give time for Nintendo to pack up the equipment and get going to their next destination. By this time the lines had begun to wane.

In the end, I walked out much more excited about the Wii. I imagine to Nintendo’s delight that a lot of other people did too.

Click here to see pictures from the event.

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