Games

Re-Evaluating the Wii Wheel

I sorta made a point of disparaging the idea of the Wii Wheel last week. Well, I was wrong.

One of the most misleading aspects of game journalism as a whole is the relentless air of positivity that goes into game and gear previews. On one hand, it's true that you don't necessarily want to dismiss the potential of a game based on an early build or a demo; on the other, if something looks like it's going to be lousy, even if it's a hotly anticipated piece of software from a major publishing company, shouldn't we go ahead and feel free to say so?

It is in this spirit that I ranted for a paragraph or so about just how awful an idea the Wii Wheel was, how its presence sullied the good name of Mario Kart and put it in the company of such peripheral bad ideas as the Wii Baseball Bat and the Wii Tennis Racket (I mean, really, just the Wiimote, all by itself, had been proven dangerous -- did we have to find ways to make it bigger?). I know that the Wii Wheel isn't exactly an uncommon target for criticism, but between the Wii Zapper fiasco (so when's the next "Wii Zapper Compatible" game coming out, anyway?) and this, Nintendo's propensity to hop on the plastic-shell bandwagon seemed too troubling not to call out.

Given the quickness with which I jumped on the bandwagon of Wii Wheel rippers, then, it seems only fair that I should now admit that I was wrong.

There is no game out there right now, not a single one, that has brought my family together for game time more reliably and consistently than Mario Kart Wii. Let me be clear: we are not a house of Mario Kart enthusiasts; I've had only a passing interest in the franchise for most of its life, apart from a brief time with the original when I was utterly obsessed. The DS version is fun enough, but it didn't exactly steal my life away, and I'm a little bit ashamed to admit that I've never even played Double Dash. The kids have played a couple of previous iterations of the franchise as well, finding the most interest in the DS version, but even that struck them as not exactly worth giving up things like Dogz and Spider Man: Friend or Foe.

Mario Kart Wii, on the other hand, has a Wheel.

As suggested by my wife, a teacher, it seems to be a matter of context; in education, the use of appropriate contextual cues can not only make learning easier, but can also make the students want to learn. It seems like such a simple concept, but I had never considered that a simple wheel, attached to nothing at all, could make playing a game so much more fun than holding the Wiimote and pretending that I was gripping the three-o'-clock and nine-o'-clock positions on a wheel. In doing so, I obviously made a huge error in judgement, because not only does the wheel seem to drum up interest in the game, it gives the kids confidence. The game then transcends the label of "daddy's video games" and becomes, simply, a toy. Turn the wheel left, car goes left. Turn the wheel right, car goes right. Hold down the '2' button the whole time, and you're driving. Easy as pie.

My six-year-old has won a few 50cc races, which was a surprise to me given that she has never shown a propensity for games that require quick thinking and fast action. These wins have been utter events in our household, things that can be attributed not only to her increasing-all-too-fast age, but also to the fact that turning a steering wheel probably seems like a pretty basic mechanic, even for her; combining the function of an analog stick and various buttons is still a bit abstract for her mind, while turning a wheel is entirely logical and mechanical, and the confidence of knowing exactly what that wheel is supposed to do was enough to convince her that she could win. And so she did.

This all may seem like fairly minor stuff in the grand scheme, and it's true that the Wheel is not going to win you any tournaments the way the more traditional Nunchuck/Wiimote combo will. Still, for casual players, children, and anyone else that Nintendo is trying to "bridge" to more serious gaming via Mario Kart Wii, the wheel is absolutely useful, and borders on essential.

And no, I can't believe I just said that.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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