The user interface got the same look and feel in all the build-in software, the Channels and in two games. It might be used in more games but so far I have only seen it in Wii Play and Wii Sports.
I’m using a normal TV which does support 60Hz (480i) but I also did some tests with 50Hz (576i), never had any problems with either. I was not able to test EDTV/HDTV (480p). I used standard settings of 4:3 as my TV does not support widescreen (16:9). In case you do have a widescreen screen then it would be great if you could leave a comment and let people know about how well this works.
The main menu on the Wii is called ‘Wii Menu’ and it is here you can select between the Channels, as well as selecting Wii Options and Message Board.
The whole system is controlled by moving a pointer (cursor) on the screen; this is of course done using the Wiimote. Just point on the screen and move the pointer around. Since multiple Wiimotes can be connected each controller has its own color for the pointer, so controller 1 is blue, controller 2 is red. I don’t know about controller 3 or 4 as I only got 2 controllers. (If you know about the colors then please leave a comment).
The way the pointer is moved around works very well; it is very intuitive and after a few minutes, worst is if you get back to a console or a game that does not support this. It feels so 80’s to move the pointer with a pad. It is possible to rotate the pointer by rotating the controller, not that this matter (might do in future software) but is a nice touch.
When the pointer enters an area on the screen that can be selected (such as buttons) then the Wiimote will vibrate a bit. Some times (Wii Play & Wii Sport) a short sound is played in the Wiimote when the A or B button is pressed when doing a selection.
For some strange reason the pointer does not move smooth in the Wii Menus or in the Channels, this is very strange as I would expect the Wii to have enough power to handle the Menus and Channels without any slow down. When you then enter Wii Play or Wii Sports then the pointer moves very smooth. I find this a bit disappointing to be honest.
It is always very clear what on the screen can be selected, often big buttons are used or animating arrows. One nice touch is that in channel selection the arrows will zoom up when the pointer is above them and show a + or -; this is to indicate that the + and – buttons on the controller has same function. In some screens with text where it is possible to scroll up down the buttons will be shown as the digital pad from the controller.
The pointer does resemble a hand, some say a cartoon hand but this hand got 5 fingers and most cartoon hands got only 4.
Text is written with large fonts that makes them very readable; even on a normal TV.
Some might have wished that the main Wii menus could be customized, either just colors or with a whole theme. This is currently not possible and I don’t expect it to be included in the future. IF it did then how much should be customized? All the Channels? The games that uses the UI? In case they did add themes then they would have to be stored in the internal storage space, so they would have to add a theme manager so people could remove and download new themes to save the space.
When using the Wii Menu as well as the Channels there is ambient sound in the background. Each channel got its own sound. Here I really miss the possibility to turn off the background sound. There are no place where sound volume can be set. If you sit and design the Mii’s then it can get rather annoying to listen to the same sound again and again. So here is there a small minus point for the UI.
The sounds that are played from the Wiimote can be disabled from the HOME menu; it would have been perfect if the status was remembered from game/Channel and that it wasn’t a general one used all over.
Pressing the button on the controller with the small button will almost always show a ‘HOME Menu’ screen. From here it is possible to return to the Wii Menu or to reset the software. It is also here the settings for the controller can be found, it is possible to adjust volume and enable/disable the rumble. The battery level for each controller is also shown.
There is often one message when you enter the message board (if you played anything or used some channels). This is kind of ‘today’ message where you see a summary of what you have done. This includes how long you spent in each game or Channel. It can be rather distributing to see that you played 4 hours Zelda. Actually I would have liked an option to turn this off as I don’t really need this. Sometimes you also see messages created by the games, such as “The Mii BLAH was added to the game XYZ” you see these and you probably delete them right away. But of course you can also see messages from friends here, which can be deleted or you can leave them and of course you can also reply. The messages might flash which indicates they are new, or at least that was what I thought but they would often continue to flash after I read them.
Writing messages is very easy, there are two modes, one where you see a keyboard on the screen (looks like a PC keyboard) and you just press the keys with the pointer. The other reminds me of a mobile phone, with the 3 by 3 buttons for the letters. Both support prediction of words which I never use, often quicker just to enter the word than look it up. Only small thing missing is support for graphics smiley .
When changing from the different menus and channels I often had a black screen, as if the Wii was loading the new menu/channel from the internal memory. Just watching a black screen for a few seconds often brings one though to my mind “Did it crash?” When returning to the Wii Menu it is as if the Wii will do a reset, making the whole delay longer. So far it didn’t crash but I think they should have avoided the black screen, just something animating would have helped with the overall experience. (Correction, found some other crashes, see below)
Crash / Bad user interface
I started Wii Sports and wanted to change to Wii Play, so I changed the disc while Wii Sports was still active. I then just for fun tried to select an event in the game, ended up with a black screen (was after all the wrong disc). After awhile I got an error message, telling me to eject the disc and turn power off and restart. Well, I was not able to turn power off by using the power button on the Wii nor did the reset button work. I had to unplug the Wii.
I did a few more tests today of the same type and was presented with the screen I expected, telling me what Disc to insert (with the name of the game), so it might be that the Wii does handle this automatic and that I yesterday just found the one sport where it didn’t work.
I have the Wii set to English but I decided to give it a try in another language. My Wii supports following languages: German, French, Spanish, Italian and Dutch. Since I just speak German beyond English I changed to German, the change was instant without any restart. I went through some of the menus and Channels and also Wii Sports and Wii Play and found no problems anywhere. This is as people would expect it but earlier on Xbox 360 I have seen many cases where it didn’t work, text overlapping graphics, downloading bars overlapping text but this has later change.
The user interface is as I would expect it from Nintendo: Useful, simple, easy to use and intuitive.
The few issues I had (sound, no smooth pointer no smiley…) might be changed in later updates.
Oh, one small issue, they should make it easier to find ones own Wii Code (select address book and go left!!!) I had to tell a few friends how to do this but I only knew this because I looked in the manual.
So all in all I’m a fan of how Nintendo did the user interface. They should just force other game developers to use the same system for selection (with the pointer), some games (Rayman 4) requires the user to use the pad for options menu when you pause the game.